A 3-day workshop is planned 21-23 April 2010, in Fairbanks, AK, as a key step in developing a Federal-level research plan for arctic civil infrastructure. The main objectives of the workshop will be to (a) identify overarching, high priority research needs and (b) develop a plan, or roadmap, for addressing these needs.
The workshop will be organized by US Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research Development Center’s Cold Region Research and Engineering Laboratory, in coordination with the US Arctic Research Commission, the Denali Commission, the US Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District, and the University of Alaska, with the UAF Institute for Northern Engineering playing a lead role in planning and conducting the workshop.
At the request of the US Arctic Research Commission (USARC), the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research Development Center’s Cold Region Research and Engineering Laboratory (ERDC-CRREL) is taking the lead in developing a Federal-level research plan related to arctic civil infrastructure, with the objective of recommending priority activities over the next decade. Completion of this plan will address one of the five top goals highlighted in the 2007 “Report on Goals and Objectives for Arctic Research for the U.S. Arctic Research Plan”, submitted to the President and Congress by the USARC.
Adopting the definition used by the Public Infrastructure Technical Working Group (PITWG) in its contribution to the Adaptation Advisory Group Report to the State of Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet, a civil infrastructure system “includes facilities and utilities under public, cooperative or private ownership that deliver goods and services to communities”. Consistent with the findings of the PITWG, the research plan is motivated by the immediate and increasing effects of climate change on arctic civil infrastructure, such as that caused by melting permafrost, decreasing sea ice, strengthening storms, and eroding coastlines. Examples of these effects are numerous and often dramatic. For instance, the Immediate Action Working Group (IAWG) Report to the Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet identified a number of Alaskan coastal communities that are facing imminent loss of critical infrastructure due to coastal erosion, thawing permafrost and flooding.
The impact of climate-related changes on the Arctic’s transportation, communication, energy, and community infrastructure networks are considerable, largely because long-held engineering standards assumed that the environment would be perpetually stable. Instead, communities are faced with the challenge of developing plans that must consider dynamic environmental constraints with only limited guidance from forecast tools that have high degrees of uncertainty in their predictions. This is further complicated by the expected lifespan of many infrastructure systems, which is typically on the order of decades. This means that most existing infrastructure systems were not originally designed for these changing conditions and requiring adaptive technologies.
The research plan will be based on an overarching survey of major current and planned research activities within the public, private and academic sectors and a review of identified research needs. Input to the plan from the State of Alaska is of particular importance since they are a major stakeholder already experiencing and coping with the impacts of a warming climate. It is envisioned that the plan will be used to re-evaluate and update priority activities among the Federal agencies, to identify areas ripe for collaboration, and to measure the success of program investments.
The workshop will bring together 35-40 representatives from within the US that have firsthand knowledge of the challenges facing arctic civil infrastructure systems. The workshop will draw heavily on the results of other efforts to independently establish priority research needs related to arctic civil infrastructure. Example resources include:
Participants will compare needs statements to identify common themes. By focusing on these common themes, programmatic investments from the Federal agencies are likely to have the broadest positive impact. They will then turn their attention towards developing a roadmap to address these overarching needs, considering a timeline of priority actions, suggesting contributing agencies and institutions, and estimating required resources. Once established, the roadmap will be used to conduct a survey of current related activities within the Federal agencies, to determine if and how they are contributing to the plan.