Advancing and Applying Climate Science Technology

When architects get together to discuss the built environment, they often don’t use climate data in their presentations. As a climate scientist, that’s just what I did when I recently spoke at the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY) Design for Risk and Reconstruction (DfRR) symposium on extreme heat. I presented findings from a recent case study developed by Dewberry’s resilience experts to a diverse and influential crowd of architects, planners, engineers, allied professionals, governments, foundations, scientists, researchers, and other interested stakeholders (special thanks to Staff Engineer Krista Rand who helped with the presentation).


Application of ACROS

The basis of my presentation was to show the features of our recently built Airport Climate Risk Operational Screening Tool (ACROS). Combining climate change assessments with practical impacts on the built environment, this tool was developed specifically for airports across the country. However, the methodologies can be extended and applied to other infrastructure and planning projects.

ACROS identifies approximately 700 different climate change impacts and makes recommendations for risk screening, planning mechanisms, and adaptation options. ACROS uses inputs including climate information and modeling, data from the airport asset matrix, and background information, such as airport surveys and adaptation research. The ACROS tool is on the forefront of applied climate science, since it’s only been in the last five to ten years that our climate models have improved enough to simulate the realism and spatial resolution required for such a study. As mentioned previously, this tool doesn’t only utilize climate data, but it combines both the quantitative climate science with qualitative information, such as relevant literature reviews, external risk and adaptation assessment, and subject matter expert opinions. This methodology has allowed us to build a rich database of airport assets and operations and is beneficial to the end user as it gives our assessment a depth that many other purely quantitative assessments can often miss.

Climate Vectors

After all of the infrastructure- and operations-related elements were added to our model, we assessed climate information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which required some post-processing and additional modeling to create about a dozen specific “climate vectors.” The term climate vector is one we coined to denote aspects of climate that are relevant to airport operations or infrastructure. For example, one climate vector we used was the number of days per year an airport has temperatures above 90-degrees Fahrenheit. Once we developed the current and projected climate data, we combined these results into an overall risk-screening tool. One of the goals in developing the ACROS tool was for it to be as comprehensive as possible—identifying approximately 700 unique climate impacts means ACROS is extremely comprehensive.

Large Increases in Extreme Heat Projected: JFK Airport Results

When we applied our ACROS tool to the John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport, the busiest international air passenger gateway in the U.S., we found many helpful indicators. Despite the fact that not all of our climate vectors were heat related, almost all of the high-impact results were from heat-related vectors, such as hot days, humid days, hot nights, and cooling degree days. The reason for this is that we, as a climate science community, are substantially more confident about temperatures increasing, compared to changes in other variables such as precipitation, drought, or wind.

Climate Vectors Impact Results

The hot days graph above is an important factor when thinking about impacting building materials and HVAC system capacity. The humid days graph characterizes building comfort as well as indicated mold growth. One other thing to keep in mind is that especially in the eastern U.S., heat waves are almost always accompanied by relatively high dewpoint temperatures. The hot nights graph helps us to understand the overall HVAC utilization on a building.

With the climate projections at hand, the overall impact assessment involved three factors: the projected change in the climate vector, an asset’s or operation’s criticality, and the vulnerability of that asset to climate change. The criticality is something that was left open for the user. They could change this variable within our model if they were uncertain, or if they wanted to explore the outcomes.

The Path Forward

What this means for architects, engineers, and related stakeholders is that we can now accurately identify what building materials or systems will be most impacted by elements of climate over multiple decades. This won’t only help planners and building managers think about what investments will be needed long-term, but it’ll also assist in quantifying the investment in sustainable buildings and systems. We will also continue to improve our tool and hope to develop higher-resolution climate projections for local-level decision-making.

Learn more about ACROS from this report.

Learn more about ACROS from this webinar video:

TRB Webinar: Planning for Climate Change Adaptation at Airports
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