Climate Adaptation for Road Infrastructure in Coastal New Hampshire

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Jo Sias Daniel UNH - Department of Civil Engineering Principal Investigator
Jennifer Jacobs UNH - Department of Civil Engineering Co-Principal Investigator
Paul Kirshen UNH - Department of Civil Engineering Co-Principal Investigator

Students Involved:

Lief Friedricks University of New Hampshire

This New Hampshire Sea Grant proposal will further the mission of resilient seacoast communities by the coupling of nonstationary climate change and sea level rise information with pavement design and performance methods to inform vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning. The motivation for this work is that the region’s physical infrastructure is at increasing and critical risk from climate-driven stressors due to both ambient and periodic extremes in precipitation and temperature, as well as from sea level rise resulting in increased inundation and rising groundwater tables. Anticipated changes could change the frequency, duration, and severity of road failures as well as the time and cost of reconstructing the pavement systems. Climate change and sea level rise pose challenges that have been broadly recognized by the road engineering community. However, relatively few infrastructure researchers, let alone municipalities, incorporate climate change impacts on roads into their work due to significant knowledge and data barriers. Thus this work has implications across the Northeast as well as nationally.

This research will develop the data and tools needed to assess climate impacts on roadways and create and engage a new N.H. Seacoast Transportation Climate Working Group to make the results readily useable by regional stakeholders. This will be accomplished by (1) developing and engaging a N.H. seacoast transportation climate working group, (2) conducting pavement assessments, and (3) evaluating different adaptation strategies. The N.H. seacoast region’s municipal and state road agents are our primary end users and regional planners are our secondary end user community. The PIs will work with established organizations, UNH Technology Transfer Center and Coastal Adaptation Workgroup, to reach the targeted end users. Benefits to the end users include an expanded network of collaborators and climate change transportation infrastructure impacts and adaptation knowledge appropriate for municipal planning and decision making. In addition, graduate students, undergraduates, and a high school teacher will be involved in this research.


The three main objectives of the proposed research are to:

1. Develop and engage a N.H. Transportation Climate Change Working Group

2. Assess the impacts from predicted climate and sea level changes on pavement design and performance

3. Develop a method of evaluating different adaptation strategies that may be used by the stakeholder community and use it to demonstrate the value of adaptation


Working group workshops will be used to engage the stakeholders and end-users from the beginning of the project. The general approach for the pavement evaluation will be to make use of available mechanistic-empirical design methodologies with various climate data, sea level rise and material properties to evaluate changes in pavement performance over time. Various adaptation strategies will be evaluated, and a case study will be performed.


The project will develop methods and tools to understand and assess climate induced impacts on N.H. seacoast roads and to increase the capacity of state agencies and municipalities to prioritize risks and to adapt their management practices.



N.H. Sea Grant-funded researchers help decision makers discuss climate change impacts on roads near the Seacoast

In 2015, N.H. Sea Grant-funded researchers assembled a transportation climate working group and hosted a workshop to facilitate discussion about road construction, repairs and maintenance as they relate to the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise on the N.H. seacoast.
Relevance: Many of the roads near the New Hampshire seacoast are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including sea-level rise. However, very few infrastructure researchers and municipalities incorporate the impacts of climate change into their decision making relating to road construction and maintenance.
Response: N.H. Sea Grant-funded researchers created the N.H. Seacoast Transportation Climate Working Group consisting of representatives from the N.H. Department of Transportation, planning commissions, town public works departments, the N.H. Coastal Adaptation Workgroup and the University of New Hampshire Department of Civil Engineering.
Results: In 2015, the researchers hosted a workshop for the working group to discuss a variety of topics relating to road construction, repairs and maintenance that could be affected by sea-level rise and other climate change impacts to the N.H. seacoast.

Researchers develop three models to assess effects of climate change on N.H. roads

N.H. Sea Grant researchers developed three new models in 2015 that will help scientists, engineers and municipal leaders assess the impacts from predicted climate and sea-level changes on N.H. seacoast roads and improve pavement design and performance for more resilient road infrastructure.
Relevance: Roads built near the coastal zone of N.H. are at risk of more frequent inundation due to sea-level rise and rising groundwater tables, but little is known about the impacts on the road infrastructure and extent or severity of road flooding based on climate change predictions.
Response: In 2015, N.H. Sea Grant-funded researchers developed a variety of tools to assess the coastal roads, including: GIS tier-based road classifications that categorize roads by pavement structure, traffic level and impacts to communities if the road was unable to be used for a period of time; a methodology to produce three-dimensional spatial representation of road vulnerability from groundwater and surface water under future sea-level rise scenarios; and an updated and modified model for groundwater flow that accounts for the effects of changing sea levels on groundwater levels.
Results: Researchers combined the GIS tier-based road classifications, road vulnerability and the depth to groundwater to identify sections of the roadways within each tier classification where the groundwater is close to the ground surface. This information is vital to help scientists, engineers and municipal leaders assess the impacts from predicted climate and sea-level changes on Seacoast roads and improve pavement design and performance.