How has Climate Change Impacted Travel
By: Emma Thomas
One of the leading products of climate change is a general rise in the Earth’s temperature. This increase in warmth can cause roads to soften and expand. According to the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR), this process, known as thermal expansion, strikes when a roadway expands at a crack or joint where moisture has leaked in. “That crack weakens the pavement and causes it to buckle and warp….”
The measures to prevent this are already in place; for example, Sam Stephen of roadbiotics.com reports on a Cool Block Pilot Project in Chelsea, Massachusetts. This project involves paving the roads with lighter-colored asphalt to reduce the risk of buckling. Research shows that building lighter-colored roads, due to the reflection of sunlight, has the potential to lower air temperatures by more than 2.5 degrees.
Figure 1 – Rail Track Bucking in Australia (Mandal, Lees 2016)
Like roads, high temperatures cause rail tracks to expand and buckle. Furthermore, intense heat can cause the rails on the track to misalign and cause derailment due to ‘sun kinks’ (A term for when steel tracks expand and cause buckles from the sun). For example, in June, Amtrak’s Albany, N.Y., to Montreal was canceled due to excessive heat. The service was suspended because a 47-mile stretch ended up taking close to four hours because the train was forced to slow down to only 10 miles per hour. The reduction in speed allows less pressure to be exerted on the railway tracks from the train, hence the measure taken.
Rain, flooding, and rising sea levels can also disrupt trains and delay them, particularly for underground pathways and tunnels, since they are already below sea level. For example, Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey and brought with it the cancellation of Subway service for over a week in 2012.
Extreme heat can affect aircraft performance and can cause airplanes to face cargo restrictions, flight delays, and cancellations. The increased temperature makes the air less dense; planes require a higher lift. This requires a more significant runway for the plane to take off from, which may not be available at some airports. If this is the situation, the weight of the plane will have to be reduced; hence cargo restrictions are faced, negatively impacting the customers and the efficiency of flight services worldwide. Furthermore, high temperatures can cause the tarmac to soften, causing aircraft wheels to get trapped. Approximately 50 flights in Arizona were grounded due to extreme heat.
Another product of climate change is an increasing change in wind speed and direction. These wind shears result in turbulence (sudden speed and altitude changes).
Higher sea levels are also a consequence of climate change. Though shipping lanes will be able to accommodate larger ships when sea levels rise, there would be a lower clearance under waterway bridges. In Inland waterways where water levels are expected to decline, ships could face weight restrictions as channels become too shallow.
Moreover, flooding could close shipping channels and disrupt transportation overseas. Extreme precipitation could also cause increased runoff, which in turn causes silt and debris to build up, hence leading to shallower and less accessible channels.