Transportation Climate Change Sensitivity Matrix

Posted on: 11/03/2018 - Updated on: 2/27/2020

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This workbook presents the Sensitivity Matrix, developed in November 2013 and expanded from a version developed under Phase 2 of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Gulf Coast project. Sensitivity is the degree to which an asset or a system responds to a given change in climate stressor, and is a key part of evaluating vulnerability and risk. The Matrix provided in this tool has been developed to allow users to more fully understand the sensitivity of various types of transportation assets to particular climate stressors. The asset types covered in this Matrix are (1) rail, (2) ports and waterways, (3) airports and heliports, (4) oil and gas pipelines, (5) bridges, and (6) roads and highways. The climate stressors covered in this Matrix are:
  • increased temperature and extreme heat
  • precipitation-driven inland flooding
  • sea level rise/extreme high tides
  • storm surge
  • wind
  • drought
  • dust storms
  • wildfires
  • winter storms
  • changes in freeze/thaw
  • permafrost thaw
Transportation planners can use this Matrix to screen for assets that are particularly sensitive and, therefore, potentially vulnerable to climate change. Understanding the highly variable sensitivities of transportation assets will ultimately help planners in the United States, from the local to the national level, to make more-informed decisions in terms of infrastructure development and maintenance prioritization. Some of the stressors, such as extreme heat or heavy precipitation events, can affect any of geographic regions of the United States while others, such as permafrost thaw and sea level rise, will obviously affect Alaska and coastal areas, respectively.
The Matrix provides the following information for each asset and climate stressor: 
  1. Relationship: qualitative description of the relationship between each climate stressor and each asset subtype; 
  2. Thresholds: any specific information about the threshold at which an asset subtype might be expected to begin experiencing damage; 
  3. Indicators: list of indicators that have been associated with increased sensitivity to that climate variable in the past, or could be associated with that climate variable in the future; 
  4. Key Sources: relevant sources of asset subtype information on design, maintenance, management, etc.; and
  5. Additional Notes and Examples: historical examples of sensitivity of the asset subtype to that climate stressor and any additional information.

Managing Organizations

The mission of the Department is to serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future.