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Global WarmingClimate Change Is Making Travel That Much Harder

Climate Change Is Making Travel That Much Harder

Climate Change Is Making Travel That Much Harder

Airport delays
Photo: Sean MacEntee

In June, Amtrak’s Albany, N.Y, to Montreal train route was cancelled resulting from excessive heat. Service was suspended because a 47-mile stretch of the trip took 4 hours after the train was forced to slow to 10 miles per hour. The speed restriction was imposed because temperatures above 86°F (30°C) could make the rails misalign and cause derailment. In July, rail service between Albany and Latest York City was suspended after heavy rains completely washed out the tracks near town of Poughkeepsie.

The design of most of our  transportation infrastructure was based on the climate of the mid-20th century. As climate change continues to warm the planet and make weather more extreme, much of that infrastructure will develop into less secure and reliable.

A few of today’s popular tourist destinations may develop into intolerable as heat waves make some places unbearable and increase the prospect of forest fires. Some may disappear altogether as rising seas flood low-lying islands and coastal areas. Warming oceans have already resulted in bleached coral reefs. Shorter winters and fewer snow are cutting ski seasons. And extreme weather can damage a locale’s transportation and water supply infrastructure.

Air travel

Climate change has the potential to disrupt air travel in quite a lot of ways. For one, high temperatures may hinder airplane takeoffs and even prevent them.

A hot day at Reagan National Airport
Photo: John Sonderman

Higher temperatures make air less dense, so planes must generate more lift by going faster to take off. In some cases, they won’t have enough runway to realize the essential speed. Or they might be forced to cut back the load they’re carrying. Furthermore, temperatures of 100 degrees F or more may cause tarmac to melt, causing aircraft wheels to get stuck. And since tarmac can turn right into a heat island, high temperatures may limit how long ground crews can work outside. In response to the McKinsey Global Institute, 50 flights were grounded in Arizona in 2017 resulting from extreme heat. Without improvements to infrastructure, similar to lengthening runways, this might mean 200 to 900 flights grounded by 2030, and 500 to 2,200 by 2050.

Once airborne, flights are already encountering more severe turbulence. Climate change is increasing changes in wind speed and direction above 15,000 feet in jet streams, the belts of wind that circle the planet. These changes are called wind shear; they lead to sudden speed and altitude changes—in other words, turbulence. Since 1979, wind shear within the jet stream has increased by 15 percent. Turbulence is happening even when there are few clouds and no bad weather. This so-called clear-air turbulence will not be detectable by onboard weather radar or the naked eye, so it’s unpredictable.

In March, severe turbulence on a flight from Austin, Tex., to Frankfurt, Germany injured seven people. Between 2009 and 2022, 163 serious injuries resulted from turbulence, in response to The National Transportation Safety Board. One study projected that the frequency of  clear-air turbulence  in some places is predicted to double by 2050 and intensify by 10 to 40 percent. One other estimated that climate change could increase severe turbulence by 149 percent inside the subsequent few a long time.

Major airports are often built where there are suitable wind conditions, and this often means near low-lying coastal areas.

LaGuardia Airport after Hurricane Sandy
Photo: peoplesworld

One quarter of the world’s busiest airports are lower than 10 meters above sea level; 12, including those of Shanghai and Latest York, are lower than five meters above. As sea levels rise, storms intensify and storm surges increase, putting runways and other infrastructure in danger. Crews could also be unable to achieve the airport because ground transportation is affected.

Extreme cold snaps exacerbated by climate change may also impact air travel. All latest planes are tested to be sure that they’ll endure extreme heat and cold, but when airplanes will not be certified for essentially the most extreme cold, flights could be cancelled. Extreme cold could make different metals of the aircraft, similar to steel and aluminum, contract at different rates. Plastic and rubber parts can develop into brittle, and lubricants lose their effectiveness. If snow or ice accumulate on airplane wings, it could be harder for them to generate lift. For this reason they’re fastidiously de-iced and sprayed with anti-freeze. Severe cold weather may also limit the time that ground crews can work outside, and freeze fueling equipment.

As well as, if the operation of anyone airport is disrupted resulting from climate change impacts, delays and cancellations can ripple across your complete network, especially if the affected airport is a hub.

In 2021, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave aviation infrastructure a D+ grade. On top of this, to deal with the added challenges of a changing climate and weather extremes, airports will need extensive repairs and upgrades.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is struggling to modernize its air traffic control operations. In 2007, the FAA unveiled a multibillion dollar plan, Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) to interchange outdated infrastructure with modern technology. Nevertheless, NextGen is behind schedule and won’t be complete until 2030. In 2021, President Biden’s infrastructure act allotted $25 billion for aviation infrastructure, including $5 billion for air traffic control facilities and $20 billion for airports. This might be used to construct more modern and resilient airport infrastructure that may higher withstand climate change impacts.


While tracks are designed to operate inside a wide selection of temperatures, if temperatures exceed this range, tracks can develop into misaligned or buckle into what are called “sun kinks.”

Sun kink on the tracks
Photo: Railpedia.nl

During the last 40 years, sun kinks within the U.S. caused greater than 2,100 derailments. To reduce the stress on tracks, trains are made shorter, or are forced to hold less weight, or decelerate. A 2019 study projected that by 2100, delays resulting from temperature could cost the U.S. rail system as much as $60 billion cumulatively.

Excess heat may also affect the overhead wires that power electric trains. High temperatures could make wires expand and droop, damaging the overhead equipment. Freezing temperatures with ice can weigh down wires, causing them to sag or fail.

Much of the U.S. rail system is over 100 years old, leaving some parts especially vulnerable to other impacts of climate change. When rail lines were designed, civil engineers used old construction standards. Furthermore, they were designed using probabilistic estimates of rainfall intensities, most of which were from the Sixties and Nineteen Seventies. Tracks designed on the premise of those estimates are at greater risk of flooding, which may erode embankments along the rails or cause landslides that block the tracks.

Roads and bridges

U.S. roads are often product of asphalt or concrete. Asphalt is a combination of sand, ground up stone, and gravel sure along with bitumen, a sticky black type of petroleum. Asphalt absorbs heat, which may intensify the effect of hot temperatures, making roads so hot that they soften and might deform.

Concrete roads are product of 15- to 20-foot slabs of concrete with space in between to permit for expansion and contraction as temperatures change. If there isn’t enough space within the joints for expansion, nonetheless, a road can blow up. In 2021, when temperatures reached 90 degrees F within the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, 45 road blowouts occurred because the pavement overheated and popped. One study estimated that U.S. road maintenance costs $134 billion annually. If climate change continues at its current pace, by 2050 this price tag could increase by $785 million.

Roads are buckling all around the world. A 2017 study found that by 2080, heat waves might be chargeable for 92 percent of total damage of Europe’s roads and railways, because they’re unsuited for rising temperatures. As well as, roads that were built on frozen permafrost at the moment are cracking and warping because the permafrost thaws. And as dark asphalt absorbs the sun’s heat, it speeds permafrost thaw. One-fifth of the Qinghai-Tibet Highway in China has suffered damage because the road has develop into distorted and cracked. In Canada, 1,800 to 2,500 miles of roads that were inbuilt permafrost areas are in peril of becoming unstable.

London’s Hammersmith Bridge wrapped in foil to guard against heat.
Photo: Ian Alexander

Higher temperatures may also cause bridges to expand. Through the European heat wave of 2022, the Hammersmith Bridge in London needed to be wrapped in reflective insulation foil to forestall the metal from cracking.

In coastal regions subject to high tides and storm surge exacerbated by sea level rise, greater than 60,000 miles of U.S. roads and bridges are vulnerable to flooding. Nevertheless, because roads can develop into impassable at just below a foot of water, roads anywhere could be inundated by extreme precipitation. Last summer, huge floods in Yellowstone National Park caused rockslides and mudslides and washed out roads and bridges. Earlier this month, heavy rains in Chicago caused life-threatening flooding; sections of two interstate highways were closed down with ten cars trapped in water. And just this week, extreme rainfall and flooding closed many roads in Vermont.

Cruise ships and coastal tourism

Cruise ship tourism has a bigger carbon footprint than some other form of travel; a cruise can emit nine times more carbon per passenger than flying across the Atlantic Ocean. And extreme weather similar to intense hurricanes and storms is making cruising more dangerous, and causing delays and cancellations. Rising sea levels could make it difficult for cruise ships to dock at coastal ports because they’re vulnerable to changing sea levels, in addition to extreme weather. Rising seas also degrade beaches. For instance, a sea-level rise of 1 meter could damage 49 to 60 percent of Caribbean resorts.  And sea-level rise poses significant risks to the very viability of some low-lying cruise destinations, similar to Key West, Fla., Fiji, Palau, Seychelles, and the Maldives.

Coastal tourism, the biggest component of the tourism industry, is threatened also by the acidification of oceans. Half of the world’s coral reefs, which contribute $11.5 billion annually to global tourism income annually, have already been lost or seriously damaged. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, which has sustained serious damage from ocean acidification brought on by the ocean’s uptake of CO2, coral bleaching, pollution, overfishing—and an excessive amount of tourism—has lost greater than half of its corals since 1995. One study projected that virtually all of the world’s corals will experience severe bleaching by the top of the century if global warming continues on its current trajectory.

Urban tourism 

Venice, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has all the time been vulnerable to flooding, but within the last 20 years, there have been almost as many “high water” floods as throughout the previous 100 years. In 2019, floods here caused one billion euros in damage within the second worst flood in its history.

Venice on a high-water day. Photo: grumpylumixuser

The bad news for Venice, which is heavily depending on tourism, is that seas could rise almost 4 feet by 2100, in response to the European Geosciences Union. In other major cities, similar to Amsterdam, Tokyo, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro and Latest York, extreme flooding could also develop into an everyday occurrence.

What can travelers do?

“Embrace that you simply’re traveling in a world in turmoil,” said Thaddeus Pawlowski, director of the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes at Columbia University. “I believe we’d like to process that and make it a part of the way in which our worldview changes as we travel to places which are facing turmoil.”

Listed below are suggestions for coping with travel in a world impacted by climate change:

  • Select locations less susceptible to the impacts of climate change.
  • Research the climate and air quality of your destination. In the event you are traveling when temperatures are extreme, plan to reduce outdoor activities.
  • In the event you are visiting a region which may experience extreme weather, pack for it: sunscreen, hats, appropriate clothes.
  • When possible, travel during times of milder temperatures and fewer air pollution. Consider traveling within the “shoulder seasons”—the months between a region’s peak season and off-season.
  • Keep travel plans flexible and consider how you’d take care of delays or cancellations. Have alternative routes, transportation modes and accommodations ready just in case.
  • Buy travel insurance that covers disruptions resulting from climate change though it could be dearer.
  • Purchase refundable tickets.
  • Travel as sustainably as possible: fly less and take public transportation.
  • Find less-frequented destinations to go to.
  • Select local, plant-based meals.
  • Travel slowly and stay longer.
  • Support the local economy by selecting local sustainable businesses similar to restaurants, guesthouses or locally owned hotels.

“I really like to travel myself,” said Pawlowski, “But the reality is our travel has effects on the natural environment. Something like 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the tourism sector.” There are numerous experiences that folks can enjoy closer to home, like an Amtrak ride or a mass transit ride away, said Pawlowski. “Promoting local economies usually is an important type of climate motion, on every level, from transportation, to tourism, to constructing a more resilient and robust economy.”

“Take into consideration spending your tourist dollars in such a way you could develop into a steward of the natural environment, and never just contribute to its exploitation. Go on a service vacation to plant trees,” said Pawlowski. “Belize is a lovely place to go to they usually have these incredible coral reefs, but because of worldwide warming and the impacts of tourism, the entire reef system is under threat,” he said. “Now there are tourism operators who’re inviting tourists to come back help with coral nurseries and replant coral that could be proof against climate change.”

Ultimately, perhaps it’s not the worst thing to come across the disruptions brought on by climate change once we travel. “Possibly it’s an indication that we’d like to chop our emissions,” said Pawlowski. “It may well be a galvanizing reminder that we’d like more widespread climate motion.”




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