Scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute used a new computer model to show how an increase in precipitation caused by climate change can lead to massive global road destruction.
By combining road network data with topography, the researchers were able to see “tipping points” in which even a small, localized increase in rainfall can affect carriageways.
“To prepare for climate change, we need to know where flooding is causing the biggest disruption to transport routes. Small damage caused by flooding can cause abrupt and widespread disruptions in road arteries,”said lead author and network scientist Jianxi Gao, assistant professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic.
Gao and his team combined traditional scientific models used to predict how specific disturbances will affect road networks with environmental scientific models used to predict how landforms will affect flooding in an area, creating a more accurate method for predicting how how potential precipitation and flooding can affect roads.
For example, Gao found that a 5mm increase in rainfall in Florida destroyed 50% of the road network, and that the same amount of rainfall in China's Hunan province destroyed 42% of the local road network.
To test the accuracy of their model, Gao and his team compared their predictions for the roads in Southeast Texas and Houston during Hurricane Harvey with an actual report of damage and traffic blockages.
Hurricane Harvey caused some of the worst road crashes in US history, and our model predicted this damage. We have now developed mathematical equations to predict such disasters, the researchers said.