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Climate Variability and Change in Mobile, Alabama

8. Applications of Mobile Climate Information

8.1. Assessing Vulnerability in Mobile

Understanding Vulnerability

  • Vulnerability = f(exposure, sensitivity, adaptive capacity)
  • Vulnerability is the degree to which an asset is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes
  • Exposure is the nature and degree to which an asset is exposed to significant climatic variations;
  • Sensitivity is the degree to which an asset is affected, either adversely or beneficially, by climate-related stimuli
  • Adaptive capacity is the ability of a system (or asset) to adjust to climate change to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences

Source: IPCC, 2001

The climate information developed in this report will inform a climate change vulnerability assessment. Vulnerability is a function of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity.

Looking at the transportation assets deemed "Highly Critical" in Task 1, exposure of these critical assets to future climate effects will be considered, by using the climate information developed for this report. Understanding the degree to which assets' exposure to temperature, precipitation, streamflow, sea level rise, and storm surge will change in the future will provide insight into how existing vulnerabilities may be exacerbated, and which new vulnerabilities may arise. The vulnerability assessment will utilize information on design lifetime, temporal scale of climate effects, and magnitude of climate effects to evaluate exposure.

Sensitivity of assets to this exposure will then be evaluated, using a combination of a literature review of transportation sensitivities, interviews with local transportation managers, records of previous damage (or lack of damage) during historical weather events, and detailed asset-specific engineering assessments. An initial look at general transportation sensitivities to climate stressors was conducted under Task 2; the results of that research are presented in a separate report, Assessing the Sensitivity of Transportation Assets to Climate Change in Mobile, Alabama.

Adaptive capacity will also be addressed during the vulnerability assessment, but was not considered in Task 2. Adaptive capacity will be investigated through interviews with local transportation managers as well as expert understanding of how well certain assets and operations can adjust to changes in climate.

Together, this evaluation of the exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity of the critical transportation assets will provide insight into the larger scale vulnerabilities of Mobile's transportation system to climate change. The goal is to identify highly vulnerable singular assets, as well as an understanding of the vulnerabilities of the Mobile transportation system as a whole. To support these goals, a detailed engineering assessment will be conducted on selected, representative assets that are believed to be highly vulnerable. These assessments will offer a more precise understanding of how specific assets could be impacted by climate change, the associated costs, and information on options to mitigate those impacts.

Finally, an important goal of Phase 2 of the Gulf Coast Study is to develop tools and resources that will assist other MPOs, counties, and state DOTs in conducting similar analyses and in reducing their respective vulnerability to climate variability and change. The processes and lessons learned throughout this report, and in other tasks, will help inform development of these resources.

8.2. Informing Similar Work Elsewhere

There are a number of other transportation climate change vulnerability assessments underway across the nation. As this work is among the earliest and most in-depth, the findings and lessons learned may help inform those efforts going forward. While there are similarities across all of the projects, each project is unique, and will bring its own lessons learned to light. Together, all of these projects will help build a strong foundation of knowledge that future vulnerability assessments can build upon.

For example, the USDOT has recently funded two sets of climate change vulnerability assessment pilots. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funded the first set of five pilots. The pilot studies were designed to test and improve a draft framework for conducting vulnerability assessments of transportation assets and services, with a primary focus on highway assets. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is funding a second set of pilots aimed at transit assets and services. These pilot studies will build upon lessons learned through the FHWA pilots and findings in Phase 2 of this study.

There are a number of organizations and partnerships active in the Gulf Coast area that are focused on understanding the impacts of climate change to Gulf Coast communities, and promoting ways to increase the resiliency of the communities. Some examples include the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program at Louisiana State University, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, the Mobile Bay Keeper, and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Although these programs are not affiliated with this project, the findings will be made available to these and other local programs, providing one more resource upon which they can draw. Moreover, later phases of this project may benefit from research findings and activities undertaken by these regional organizations.

Finally, an important goal of Phase 2 of the Gulf Coast Study is to develop tools and resources that will assist other MPOs in conducting additional analyses. The processes and lessons learned throughout this report will help inform development of these resources. Many of analyses conducted under Task 2 were resource-intensive, but there were key lessons learned, and streamlined processes developed. The tools and resources ultimately developed under this project will reduce the barriers to conducting similar analyses at local scales across the US.

Updated: 10/31/2014
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