As our climate changes, the way we engineer our cities must, too. That’s the message from University of New Hampshire professor Paul Kirshen, an author of a recent report that assessed Bostons vulnerability to coastal flooding.
“Each year, weather-related disasters affect hundreds of millions of people and cost billions of dollars. Climate change is exacerbating the problem and presents formidable challenges for communities,” Kirshen says. “Events like Hurricane Sandy draw attention to the importance of taking steps today to prepare for the likely events of tomorrow.”
Kirshen discusses how engineering planning in the past, which has always built infrastructure for the long term under unchanging climate conditions, is no longer relevant. “Today, we have to design with the explicit recognition that the climate is changing and this requires an emphasis on flexibility and adaptive management,” he says.
Kirshen, a research professor of civil engineering in UNH’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space and Environmental Research Group, coauthored the report released last week by The Boston Harbor Association stating that had Hurricane Sandy struck five hours earlier, more than six percent of the city would have been flooded, with floodwaters reaching Faneuil Hall.
He’s also leading a multi-disciplinary team designing a climate adaptation plan for the town of Exeter, N.H., adjacent to the environmentally sensitive Great Bay Estuary. A water resources engineer by training, Kirshen straddles the worlds of civil engineering and environmental science in work that is inherently interdisciplinary in order to effectively address the complex, shifting landscape of climate change.