Technology: Climate Change Could Wreck a Quarter of U.S. Bridges in 21 Years - Climate: the United States could stay in the Paris Agreement - PressFrom - US
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Technology Climate Change Could Wreck a Quarter of U.S. Bridges in 21 Years

19:31  25 october  2019
19:31  25 october  2019 Source:   popularmechanics.com

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a train crossing a bridge over a body of water: Increased thermal expansion sounds like a bad time.© Colorado State University Increased thermal expansion sounds like a bad time.
  • America has over 600,000 bridges. Steel girder bridges, among the most common, could face serious infrastructure problems thanks to man-made climate change.
  • Rising temperatures would mean increased thermal expansion, which would put increased pressure on joints keeping the bridges in place. That makes a collapse more likely.
  • America's infrastructure as a whole needs serious work.

Rising temperatures due to man-made climate change could present a major challenge to American infrastructure. A new study from Colorado State University looking at America's steel bridges shows that while current temperatures don't present a challenge, nearly 25 percent could see a section collapse in the next 21 years. The numbers move upwards after that, going to 28 percent by 2060 and 49 percent by 2080. Disturbingly, nearly all of the bridges studied set to fail by 2100.

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The team, comprised of engineers Hussam Mahmoud and Susan Palu, looked at 89,089 "simply supported steel girder bridges," a common design in the country post-World War 2. These bridges are made up of longitudinal beams which span two piers. These bridges are not perfect. They regularly suffer from debris clogging their expansion joints, which keep the bridge steady as the temperatures make the steel expand and contract. When debris clogs these joints, the bridges need regular maintenance.

Clogged expansion joints are a serious problem for these bridges, because that prevents steel from naturally expanding in rising temperatures. Thermal expansion is common among many materials, each of which have their own thermal coefficient to help engineers use them and determine how to keep them steady. But if temperatures consistently rise, the bridges will likely encounter far more thermal expansion than their original builders planned.

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It's a recipe for disaster, the pair of engineers argue.

“We as engineers must start to look beyond what we have initially been taught on how to analyze systems and start to think about what climate change is going to do to our understanding of component-level behavior and system-level performance,” Mahmoud says. in a press statement.

Bridges all over the country are vulnerable to increased thermal expansion, but in general the colder a location, the more precarious the future of infrastructure. The pair point to the "Northern Rockies and Plains, Northwest and Upper Midwest" as particularly vulnerable, while bridges in the warmer Southwest were built with higher temperatures in mind.

It's a growing crisis. For the second year straight, the country's infrastructure has earned a grade of D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Mahmoud, who is also chair of the ASCEs' Steel Bridges Committee, is currently working on developing methods to rank the American bridges most in need of repair, and how to identify the right number of safety inspections each bridge needs without interfering with business as usual.

Because if climate change and America's infrastructure malaise continue hand-in-hand, business as usual might become a thing of the past.

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