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Civil Engineering and Designing for Climate Change by City Tech Blogger Alexander Haynes

My name is Alexander Haynes, and my academic major is civil engineering. Civil engineers design, build, and maintain the infrastructure of our modern society.  Engineers are hired by owners to create structures based on their vision and an architect’s design. Engineers also design structures based on the environment around us, such as the effect wind will have on a building, the impact vehicles will have on a bridge, and even how the weight of materials used will impact the structure. Many variables go into the creation of construction, but how do these variables of civil engineering pertain to climate change?

With the landscape changing around us ever so quickly, we as humans need to adapt to the environment around us as well. To do so, we engineers must design for these conditions. If an area is prone to earthquakes, such as in California, buildings and other structures are designed to withstand the force of ground vibrations that commonly occur there. Other places such as New York will not account for earthquakes when designing as they are not a common occurrence based on research and studies presented in that area. New York does, however, take into account soil loads because of the tall buildings that are prominent there. The right soil or bedrock (which is mainly used) stops a building from sinking.

Flooding is a very prominent occurrence happening around the world. It has caused engineers to take flood variables into account when designing structures or renovating buildings as our sea levels rise each year. Tokyo has implemented a way to control flooding around Northern Tokyo. Tokyo uses a series of piping that brings water to its underground water tanks. It is a 6.3 km system of tunnels held together by many structural columns that were created by engineers. This design came about after the tragic events of Typhoon Kathleen in 1947 and Typhoon Kanogawa a decade later. Kathleen destroyed around 31,000 homes and killed around 1,100 people, and Kanogawa devastated homes and businesses with high floods. With the implementation of such a massive structure, engineers have helped to reduce and save money on damages that could have happened if such a system was not implemented. New Orleans is another area that is prone to heavy flooding, and floods have destroyed many homes since Hurricane Katrina in 2008. Houses in that area are built high off of the ground, saving homes as well as the people who live inside. Engineers are also designing better ways to control rivers in New Orleans to lessen the impact of floods.

Underground floodwater chambers in Northern Tokyo

Many new commercial and residential buildings currently are created to lessen the impact of our carbon footprint on earth, based on the rating system used in building the structure.  One such system is called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). It has helped us by using the sun, its energy, and even water more efficiently, enabling us to cut back on the daily use of resources. Some unique qualities from LEED buildings are green roofs for carbon absorption or mini windmills to conserve energy. It uses a four-tier system with designated points: Certified (40 – 49 points), Silver (50 – 59 points), Gold (60 – 79 points), and Platinum (80+ points). The higher a structure is on a tier, the more passive or energy efficient it is. An example of a passive structure would be the Exploratorium at Pier 15 in San Francisco, California. The structure was renovated to utilize sunlight, greatly cutting back on the power needed to light the building during the day. It is also designed to collect rainwater and uses it for flushing toilets, saving on water. Saving water is very important as California does not receive lots of rainfall.



Exploratorium at Pier 15






Construction itself can produce greenhouse gases. The machines and vehicles used for construction produce carbon dioxide (CO2). Vehicles are necessary to carry materials to the site, and machines, such as cranes and drills, are required to put the site together. The vehicles used are mostly trucks to haul heavy building materials, and all vehicles and machinery utilize diesel fuel. Diesel is the most convenient and cost-effective fuel system at present as there are no other means to power the vehicles needed to construct. Even the fabrication and extraction of the materials contribute to climate change. When creating concrete, the process results in CO2 being released into the air. This is a major problem, as concrete production contributes the 4-5% of the world’s emissions today. CO2 is emitted from both the fossil fuels as energy to make cement, and from the cement itself when the chemical process is completed. While civil engineering has helped design for climate change, it also contributes to it around the world.





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