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Scientists are trying to learn all they can about climate change. Some of their findings could improve coastal construction techniques, resulting in more-resilient communities. Also, as construction teams learn about building in coastal environments, they can share knowledge that results in finished projects having long-term tolerance to climate-based shifts.

Analyzing Which Areas Have the Biggest Storm Surge Increases

Storm surges can be devastating because they’re above-average water level rises that can cause significant damage to coastal homes. However, determining the maximum storm surge for a particular area isn’t easy because factors such as wind speeds and the storm’s angle relative to the coast can affect a surge’s severity. The characteristics of a coastline’s continental shelf can cause differences of more than 10 feet in maximum storm surge heights.

However, the more accurately people can predict a given area’s likely storm surge heights, the better details they’ll have for devising the best coastal construction techniques. Researchers learned more about this matter by examining six decades’ worth of storm surge trends on 79 locations along European coastlines.

The team discovered that while some areas were at a greater risk of extreme flooding due to increasing surges, that wasn’t the case everywhere. That finding should aid people tasked with building in coastal environments.

More specifically, the coasts of Germany, France, Spain and The Netherlands were some places where flooding extremes had become less likely over the study period. The researchers also determined that some areas experienced sea level rise and worsening surges, while those effects canceled each other out in other locations.

The team generally concluded that Europe’s storminess had altered the likelihood of locations experiencing extreme sea-level events, and to the same extent as non-storm-related sea-level rise. They also determined human-induced climate change was a partial factor. The group intends to adapt its modeling method to the United States and elsewhere, which could help professionals learn which coastal construction techniques will be most effective for particular areas.

Spurring Adjustments to Building in Coastal Environments

People have developed many creative coastal construction techniques over the years. One method to reinforce coasts and bluffs involves inserting fiberglass nails into the soil to make it stronger and more stable. This is a non-invasive, corrosion-resistant approach suitable for sensitive areas.

Regardless of the specific coastal construction techniques used, people have shown a greater awareness of the need to stay aware of the changing circumstances associated with climate change and use different building approaches when necessary and possible.

For example, 17 experts contributed to a 2023 paper asserting that global action to mitigate climate change exposure and vulnerability has been too incremental to provide the required improvements. They specified how policies and projects are usually too short-sighted and poorly monitored, often focusing on only one climate change-related hazard.

This research paper considered 61 case studies profiling the state of coastal adaptation methods worldwide. The coverage also spanned from low-level climate change impacts on coasts to the most severe effects. One takeaway was that the world’s global coastal adaptation efforts were only 50% of their full potential at the time of the study. They also mentioned how sea-level rise has already affected some of the lowest-lying coasts.

One professor involved with the research said if ambitious adaptation work did not occur to protect the world’s coasts, some would experience significant risks by the end of the century, including widespread and potentially irreversible changes in some locations.

Collaborations such as this could be instrumental in getting people outside of the climate science field — such as architects and engineers — to realize they must start implementing proactive coastal construction techniques to avoid catastrophic consequences. Finding out what works best will create a future of more resilient infrastructure worldwide.

Studying Beyond Coastal Construction Techniques

Even as many researchers diligently look for appropriate coastal construction techniques, some are also interested in the migratory impacts of climate change becoming more severe and causing people to move inland. The results of a 2024 study suggested that younger people will be more likely to engage in climate-related migrations, leaving aging coastal populations behind.

Researchers clarified that the trend would result in the destination locations needing more doctors, dentists, construction workers and other people to provide essential services. Additionally, once people start moving to inland areas to escape the worst of climate change, their decisions will have amplifying effects by making others want to follow their lead.

Those involved with this study referred to these effects as “indirect population processes,” estimating that they could result in anywhere from 5.3 to 18 times the number of people migrating due to climate change as those experiencing direct displacement due to sea-level rise. Additionally, the researchers projected that the median age of people remaining in coastal communities could increase by as much as a decade by 2100.

Although this research did not delve into building in coastal environments, other researchers have plenty of opportunities for further study. For example, older adults may need work done on their homes to help them age in place safely, in addition to learning about options that could stave off climate change’s effects.

The Time to Adapt Is Now

Climate change research is one of many things informing what professionals decide to do when building in coastal environments. However, these studies highlight how it can be valuable in helping those in the construction industry and related fields learn more about how they should prepare for the future, realizing there’s no time to waste.

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