An Architectural Design Approach to Climate Adaptation - Part 1- The Only Constant is Change
Updated: Feb 16
This article is the first post of a multi-part series, dedicated to the most pressing issue humanity has ever faced, the immense emission of Carbon Dioxide, some of the cascading effects across many interrelated subjects, and proposed resiliency and adaptation solutions for South Florida from policy to physical infrastructure.
Planet Earth has not seen this amount of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere for an estimated 3 million years, but even more troubling than that, is the speed with which this change has occurred. Temperature and Carbon Dioxide are inextricably linked, following each other closely. Shown below, temperature change (light blue) and carbon dioxide change (dark blue) measured from the EPICA Dome C ice core in Antarctica (Jouzel et al. 2007; Lüthi et al. 2008). Previous large shifts in Carbon and Temperature occurred across long periods. The current drastic increase has taken place in two centuries, leading to significant extreme shifts and jarring new patterns.
We live within a sliver of atmosphere, that lines our planet. Leaders from around the world have vowed to try to limit the warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celcius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. Entire countries have already warmed by 2 degrees Celcius, and other areas are warming even faster.
The annual global surface temperature is now increasing at an average rate of about 0.18 degrees Celcius (0.32 Fahrenheit) per decade. That trend shows no signs of slowing with nineteen of the twenty hottest years on record in the past two decades.
Stability is Over
The frequency of local-temperature anomalies is steadily increasing. The global average temperatures are expected to increase between 1.5 and 5 degrees Celsius relative to today in many locations by 2050. Warming is "locked-in" for the next decade because of physical inertia in the geophysical system. A misleading and dangerous aspect of these figures includes that a small shift in the average temperature can have dramatic changes at the extremes. Southern parts of Africa and in the Arctic, average temperatures have risen by 0.2 and 0.5 degrees Celsius and by 4 to 4.3 degrees Celsius, respectively. In general, the land surface has warmed faster than the 1.1-degree global average, and the oceans, which have higher heat capacity, have warmed less. This will put human lives at risk, disrupt food production, can affect physical assets, infrastructure services, and natural capital. Source: McKinsey and Company
The cities that will thrive in the twenty-first century will be where governments invested in comprehensive mitigation and resilience strategies, to not just help mitigate the effects of the climate crisis but to also massively enhance economic prosperity, attract the most talented people – and, not incidentally, make cities far better places to live. At-risk are our livelihoods, ecosystems, quality of life, city credit ratings, insurance options, and much more.
The urgency of timely, ambitious, coordinated, and transformative actions is imperative.
The Only Constant is Change
The geography on Planet Earth has looked significantly different, and will again, however this time, most likely at a much more rapid pace than in the past. We have identified where change is occurring, and that is where we have the opportunity to shape the future.
The Oceans Are Heating
Data since the 1940s shows that the heat content of the oceans has been increasing. Waters closest to the surface have warmed significantly over the past two decades. The ocean has borne the brunt of Climate Change impacts, absorbing over 90 percent of the extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by excess greenhouse gases since the 1970s and somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of the carbon dioxide. That means water has buffered land-dwellers against the worst effects of climate change; without it, the atmosphere would have heated up much more than the average of 1 degree it already has. Source: National Geographic, Oceans, and ice are absorbing the brunt of climate change - Alexandra Borunda.
Historical Changes in Heavy Precipitation
Weather patterns are becoming more extreme and inconsistent, leading to many floods and many droughts, wreaking havoc on the ecosystems, our food supply, our cities, and financial sectors.
The figure below shows the variability and change in the annual number of days with precipitation greater than 3 inches (1900-2016) averaged over the Southeast by decade (right) and individual station trends (1950-2016). The number of days with heavy precipitation has increased at most stations, particularly since the 1980s. Sources: NOAA NCEI and CICS-NC, Fourth National Climate Assessment.
A Multiplying Effect
Climate models find that further warming will continue to increase the frequency and/or severity of acute climate hazards and further intensify chronic hazards. The likelihood of extreme precipitation could grow fourfold in parts of Central Africa, China, and the east coast of North America compared with 1950-81. Source: Woods Hole Research Center; McKinsey Global Institue Analysis
Annual Number of High Tide Flooding Days
The figure below shows the annual number of days experiencing high-tide floods based on observations for 1960-2016 for Fort Pulaski, near Savannah Georgia (black) and projected increase in the number of annual flood events based on four future scenarios: a continuation of the current relative sea level trend (gray) and the intermediate-low (dark blue), intermediate (light blue), and extreme (red) sea-level rise scenarios. Source: Fourth National Climate Assesment.
Climate Change is Not a Distant Problem
South Florida is already facing increased days of the sunny day flooding each year, with 2019 seeing some of the most extreme yet, particularly during the September King Tide. The image below is from November 14th, 2019, in the Little River neighborhood during another King Tide event. Streets were nearly impassable, with water covering streets hundreds of feet from the canals. At the time of this photo, a large water pump with 8” intake and 8” discharge hoses was running diesel, attempting to remove water from the street.
Updated Projections, in the Wrong Direction
The Southeast Florida Regional Compact has updated the "Unified Sea Level Rise Projection" as of December 2019, to include higher and faster Sea Level Rise than previously projected, only five years ago. The South Florida region went from expecting between 14 to 26 inches of sea-level rise by 2060 to predicting 17 to 31 inches of sea rise. These new numbers come from a group of more than a dozen scientists, researchers, and local government staffers from South Florida as an update to 2015 predictions. The unified numbers from the 2015 predictions are applied when creating policy, as well as building standards and critical infrastructure protection. Likely, cities will now update their standards using the new projections.
The Future is in Our Hands
Despite the current bleak reality, we have both an understanding of what is going on, at least at a high enough level, as well as the technology and ability to shape our future and the future of many generations to come. We must reduce our impact on the planet immediately, and demand bold action.