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UMD Joins Partnership to Strengthen Building Codes Through Climate Science

Details Will Be Topic of Session at Closely Watched U.N. Climate Conference

By Maryland Today Staff

Cars in a flooded roadway

Cars sit abandoned on a flooded expressway in the Bronx following a night of heavy wind and rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ida on September 02, 2021 in New York City. A new partnership between UMD, NOAA and ASCE aims to update engineering codes and practices to take climate change into account.

Photo by Getty Images

As nations gathered to address climate change at a United Nations summit in Glasgow, the University of Maryland joined Wednesday with a federal agency on the front lines of global warming and a major engineering group in an effort to accelerate the development of climate-smart engineering practices.

The collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Program Office and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) will help integrate NOAA-produced climate science into the society’s codes and standards. Among the goals are heading off climate-linked disasters like September’s deadly flash flooding in New York City, as well as addressing the increasing vulnerability of roads, bridges and local utilities.

The partnership calls for a series of exchanges between NOAA and ASCE, which will be facilitated by the UMD Center for Technology and Systems Management, led by civil and environmental engineering Professor Bilal Ayyub and the center’s associate director, Dan Walker. Maryland’s engineering researchers will play a key role in addressing the grand challenge of climate change, said Samuel Graham, Jr., dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering.

"The built environment—homes, stores and office buildings—are as affected by climate change as the natural environment and if designed improperly, help to contribute to the problems we are seeing today,” he said. “Translating that knowledge into building best practices is what our new joint endeavor is all about. We're glad to partner with the government and industry to help protect people and property.”

The partnership between NOAA, ASCE and the University of Maryland will be detailed in a virtual panel at the U.N. Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) at 1 p.m. Tuesday on the conference’s U.S.-focused YouTube channel.

NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said the partnership can speed up the move toward more climate-resilient infrastructure in the United States and globally.

“Our goal is to bring climate information into the nation’s standard-setting process to increase the pace of climate adaptation and reduce design, construction and maintenance costs as well as the costs of climate-related natural disasters,” he said.

The exchanges facilitated by UMD will clarify the needs of the engineering and standard-setting communities, as well as the extent to which NOAA can provide the data and the weather and climate projections needed to update and refine codes and standards.

Awareness of the need for climate resilience is growing in the built environment’s various siting, design and construction communities, but crucial questions remain—especially when it comes to extreme weather events, said Ayyub, author of an ASCE “Manual of Practice” on climate resilience.

“Chief among these is the well-documented gap between current understanding of the evolution of the probability of weather and climate extremes and engineering practice,” Ayyub said.

NOAA and the A. James Clark School of Engineering contributed to this article.

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