Rethinking failure: Engineering for climate extremes

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Monday, 3 February 2014
Hall C3 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Mari Jones, NCAR, Boulder, CO; and G. J. Holland and J. M. Done

Weather related extremes put engineered systems under strain, with catastrophic consequences when they fail. Many systems related to water resource management, particularly flood control, have been designed empirically from observed extremes to last for 50 years or more. In recent years, increases in population in vulnerable locations in combination with anthropogenic changes to the built and natural environment have all increased the risks posed to water infrastructure (storage and flood prevention) and to the reliability of the systems. Furthermore, in a changing climate how can engineers ensure that their design will last and still be effective for the full life of the structure? Is it appropriate to continue to support the status quo, and to manage flood risk as we have in the past?

In August 2013, NCAR hosted a small workshop to explore alternative approaches to determine the risks from extreme weather, and to use these in new ways to rethink engineering solutions to catastrophic climate events. The participants were all actively involved in assessing and responding to high impact weather events such as floods, and represented engineering consultancies, academic institutions, government agencies and non-governmental organizations. A primary goal was to foster and support collaborations between experts on water resource management and climate scientists. The specific topics examined by the workshop (listed below) will be discussed: • the knowledge required by engineering designers and risk managers to address the risks from high impact weather events; • how this knowledge can be best supported by science; • approaches that may help in designing built water systems in a more reliable, resilient and sustainable manner; and • the allowable mechanisms of failure, to achieve designs which respond more flexibly to future weather related extremes.