Designing Port Infrastructure for Sea Level Change: A Survey of U.S. Engineers

Benjamin Sweeney, University of Rhode Island


Seaports are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to their coastal location. With the potential threat of up to 2.5m in sea level rise by 2100, resilient port infrastructure is vital for the continued operation of ports. There are strong economic and social incentives for seaports to provide long-term resilience against climate conditions. For example, service disruptions can cost billions of dollars and impact the livelihoods of those who depend on the port. Engineers play a pivotal role in improving the resilience of ports, as they are responsible for designing port infrastructure that will be adequately prepared for future sea level change (SLC). However, incorporating SLC is a challenging task due to the uncertainty of SLC projections, the long service lives of port infrastructure, and the differing guidelines and recommendations for managing SLC. Through an online survey of 85 U.S. port and marine infrastructure engineers, this research explores the engineering community’s attitude and approach to planning for SLC for large-scale maritime infrastructure projects. Survey findings highlight the extent that projects incorporate SLC, the wide range of factors that drive the inclusion of SLC, and the numerous barriers that prevent engineers from incorporating SLC into design. This research emphasizes that traditional engineering practices may no longer be appropriate for dealing with climate change design variables and their associated uncertainties. Furthermore, results call for collaboration among engineers, port authorities, and policy makers to develop design standards and practical design methods for designing resilient port infrastructure.

Subject Area

Climate Change

Recommended Citation

Benjamin Sweeney, "Designing Port Infrastructure for Sea Level Change: A Survey of U.S. Engineers" (2019). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI13858114.