A known fact is that climate change will eventually affect bridges. However, a lesser known fact is the extent to which bridges may be affected. This key question is addressed by scientists David Yang and Dan M. Frangopol in a study recently reported in ASCE Journal of Bridge Engineering.

The researchers used hydrologic modeling to convert climate simulation data to flow discharge data in the Lehigh River, which runs through the city of Bethlehem, PA. (Image credit: Google Earth/Image Landstat/Copernicus ©2018 Google)
We know climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of natural hazards like hurricanes, heat waves, wildfires, and extreme rains.

For this paper, we’re looking at increased temperature as well as increased precipitation and their impact on bridge safety. The challenge here was that we didn’t know how to quantify those impacts to predict scour risk.David Yang, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Lehigh University

In the United States, scour is the main source of bridge failure. It occurs when floodwaters wash away the materials on all sides of the foundation of a bridge, forming scour holes that weaken the structural integrity.In the study, Yang and Frangopol, a professor of civil engineering and the Fazlur R. Khan Endowed Chair of Structural Engineering and Architecture, had to fill the gap between the structural safety quantification and the climate data.