Where to turn for climate-resilient infrastructure data?

Our team are using our data analysis expertise to lead architects, designers and construction companies across Europe through the overwhelming abundance of projected climate change scenarios, as part of a European consortium working with data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service. In this blog, data analyst HANNAH GOUGH explains how the end result will signpost crucial decision-makers to a set of trusted and reliable climate change standards to build climate-resilient infrastructure:

‘By using the Climate Data Store (CDS) the new datasets will be free of charge and easy to access, with detailed methodologies provided so that the quality of data can be improved upon as climate models iterate’

A bright yellow snowplough is the only splash of colour as it clears a road in a white landscape of heavy snow
Image by Franz Roos from Pixabay

 

A drive towards sustainable and future-proofing infrastructure means that climate change is beginning to be embedded into the standards that drive the design and maintenance of industries such as transport, buildings, and power distribution networks. These areas are rapidly developing, with new technologies and techniques being developed.

Alongside this drive for sustainability, the world of climate data is developing at a break-neck pace. Computer models simulating possible future climate and weather events are being created and improved upon in a frenzied cycle of world-class science research. The options are seemingly endless. Do you want a model that captures the entire world, such as one from the CMIP5 family (Coupled Model Intercomparison Project) Or one for a specific region, such as the CORDEX (Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment) models. Maybe maximum detail for a specific country is required, and something like the UKCP18 (UK Climate Projections) for the United Kingdom should be used.

Then there is the question of where you obtain trusted climate data? How do you use it? What are its strengths and weaknesses? What do the numbers mean? Are they differences or absolute values? Are data from climate models directly relatable to weather observations? What’s the best model? Should multiple models be used? The questions are never-ending and not many of them have a simple yes/no answer.

Building resilience into infrastructure

To help address these questions we at the Institute for Environmental Analytics (IEA) are using our expertise in translating data into actionable information, to provide standards bodies, architects and engineers with a set of reliable climate data. This will ensure that existing and future infrastructure is resilient to the effects of climate change. The project has been commissioned by the European climate data supplier, Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). It is led by Tecnalia  (Spain) and is being delivered by a consortium of seven partners from Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK.

This work builds on one of our previous C3S projects, SECTEUR, in which we worked with industries across six sectors and standards experts to establish their needs with regards to climate data and explored a way to ensure any climate data used is trusted and traceable.

By using the Climate Data Store (CDS) the new datasets will be free of charge and easy to access, with detailed methodologies provided so that the quality of data can be improved upon as climate models iterate. These data will focus on both extremes and averages.

Data presentation for engineering standard development is completely different to how climate model data are presented by climate scientists and this project aims to bridge this gap.

Tailoring climate data to the needs of users

The project ensures that the work is applicable to those in the standards and infrastructure industries by using five case studies and assessing their unique data needs:

  • Long term design and planning of roads in Spain (transport sector)
  • Climate change adaptation in railway infrastructure planning in the Netherlands and the UK (transport sector)
  • A climate stress-test for urban infrastructures in the city of Amersfoort, the Netherlands and Basque municipalities, Spain (urban infrastructure)
  • Design of power station and district heating in Vitoria, Spain (energy and building sectors)
  • Water and sewage infrastructure management in Rome, Italy (critical infrastructure)

Feedback about data presentation, structure and areas of confusion is also taken into account and used to improve documentation around datasets. For example, while daily data is provided, it is made clear that the output of the model for a certain date in the future is not a forecast for that day. Also, climate extremes may not be isolated and combined hazards may occur: a drought caused by high temperatures coupled with high winds may lead to an increase in wildfires and water shortages;  an increase in average temperatures may lead to certain buildings becoming uninhabitable for parts of the year, or energy costs increasing due to a heightened cooling demand.

Work is also being undertaken to communicate with standards bodies such as the European standards organisations consortium, CEN-CENELEC, to highlight the complexities of using climate data and how to start renewing it into standards. Specific standards for the handling and interpretation of climate change data are also being developed.

Translating complex information for industry 

The large uncertainty that exists in the future projections of extreme events, the inherent limitations and inadequacies of climate models, and the need for very high-resolution data (due to the local features of a site being of utmost importance) often limit the possibility to feed climate model data directly into standards. This means there is an absence of simple, practical examples of climate projections being used to design and operate infrastructure.

Expecting an entire industry to fully understand climate model mechanisms will lead to a habit of using the ‘easiest and cheapest data’ at the risk of lives. This project aims to provide a realistic, traceable and robust methodology for dealing with climate models of all types, signposting users to sources of climate data that are well referenced. While the project is focused on Europe, the lessons and outcomes are equally applicable to other regions.

How can the Institute for Environmental Analytics address your infrastructure challenge? Email enquiries to info@the-iea.co.uk

Read more about our expertise in translating climate data to improve resilience of infrastructure:

VIEWpoint – increasing the take-up of climate services in China

RE-SAT – renewable energy planning application supporting clean energy growth