Bridging the Gap Between Climate Change Science and Civil Engineering Practice

February 5, 2014

Contributed by Richard Wright, PhD, P.E., D.M.ASCE

In 2014, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) will issue the National Climate Assessment (NCA), a periodic report to inform the nation about already observed changes, the current status of the climate, and anticipated trends for the future.

A federal initiative led in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and involving 13 agencies, the report integrates scientific information from multiple sources and sectors to highlight key findings and significant gaps in our knowledge, and also establishes consistent methods for evaluating climate impacts in the U.S. in the context of broader global change.

Most important to civil engineering practice, the report provides input to federal science priorities and is used by U.S. citizens, communities, and businesses as they plan for the future.

Upon the publication of the 2014 NCA, USGCRP will initiate its Sustained Assessment Program which will include cooperative R&D efforts involving USGCRP agencies, state and local governments and the private sector.  It is important that ASCE guide the Sustained Assessment in addressing the needs of infrastructure.

To help provide that guidance, the ASCE Committee on Adaptation to a Changing Climate (CACC) is drafting a white paper, Bridging the Gap between Climate Change Science and Civil Engineering Practice.   Its purpose is to:

  • Foster understanding and transparency of analytical methods necessary to update and describe climate, weather and extreme events for planning and engineering design of the built and natural environments.
  • Identify (and evaluate) methods to assess impacts and vulnerabilities caused by changing climate conditions on the built and natural environments
  • Promote development and communication of best practices for addressing uncertainties associated with changing conditions, including climate, weather, extreme environments and the nature and extent of the built and natural environments, in civil engineering practice.

ASCE CACC believes the white paper will become a significant resource guiding engineering practice for the built environment, technical activities of ASCE, and research and development efforts of federal and state agencies. The final white paper is scheduled for publication in early 2014. (To view the draft white paper, request a copy from

Richard Wright, PhD, P.E., D.M.ASCE, is vice chair of the ASCE Committee on Adaptation to a Changing  Climate and member of the ASCE Committee on Sustainability.  He is retired as director of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and as professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
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