Researchers Anticipate, Help Prevent National Security Consequences of Climate Crises

Researchers Anticipate, Help Prevent National Security Consequences of Climate Crises

Originally published by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Using new datasets and computer systems, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are simulating how climate change is affecting the country’s safety and security. This research can help politicians and decision makers at the federal, state, and local levels to quickly identify risk factors and develop real mitigation strategies.

For more than two decades, ORNL researchers have modeled environmental factors, such as temperature and precipitation and population distribution. Researchers are currently studying how climate change is affecting population density, critical infrastructure and security to better understand how extreme climate events can threaten physical security and trigger a domino effect of economic consequences and other national security challenges.

In some cases, rising temperatures that reduce the potential of agriculture can lead to mass migrations away from struggling societies. In other cases, violent hurricanes and winter storms can disrupt the operation of the electricity grid and cut off access to electricity and other utilities long after the initial climate threat is over.

“We are interested in contextualizing the tangible consequences that phenomena such as sea level rise and temperature and precipitation changes have on humans,” said Carter Christopher, head of ORNL’s Human Dynamics Section in the National Security Sciences Directorate. “Human security is a function of the security and resilience of a society, whether it is a rural area, a small town or a larger city, domestically or internationally.”

Researchers in the National Security Sciences Directorate and across the laboratory are studying the relationship between climate change and national security from multiple perspectives – providing important results that decision makers can use to plan how best to protect people before they end up in dangerous situations.

Assessment of risk and resilience

Bandana Kar, who heads ORNL’s Built Environment Characterization, or BEC, Group, focuses on researching and prediction of the risk and resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructure systems and cities. Using geographic information science concepts and technologies, including satellite remote sensing, geospatial modeling and data sets and computational science, Kar’s team assesses and identifies the risk factors present in communities and cities, as well as access to resources such as energy in these areas, which are essential for resilience and disaster recovery.

Output from Model of Models (an ensemble model) trained on almost real-time hydrological model and Earth observation output revealed which regions of Africa were most likely to face severe flooding in 2020. Credit: NASA and Pacific Disaster Center

Because the country’s critical infrastructure systems are interconnected, seemingly unrelated concerns, such as increased shipping costs and limited supplies of gasoline or other fuel sources, can affect supply chains and the communities that depend on them.

Having access to geospatial data sets and information on situational awareness before disasters enables emergency managers to plan evacuations or other mitigation measures as needed. The BEC Group generates critical infrastructure datasets and develops models and algorithms tailored to specific communities and scenarios to help predict climate impacts and prevent economic losses, as well as injuries and fatalities.

The Global Flood Modeling and Alerting project provides insight into the areas in Asia that may need to prepare for disruptive floods in 2021, with risk levels ranging from an advisory (yellow) to a clock (orange) to a warning (red). Credit: NASA and the Pacific Disaster Center

“We look at resilience from physical, sociocultural and technological dimensions,” Kar said. “Evaluating the physical conditions of infrastructure in the context of climatic conditions and sociocultural factors allows us to study how these factors change and affect people under different scenarios in a particular place.”

Kar is currently studying how hydro-meteorological events affect individuals and energy infrastructure over time. Together with her partners, she identifies potential weaknesses along the energy supply chain, where unexpected outages during extreme climate events can lead to power outages.

Vessels are also part of the Global Flood Modeling and Alerting project, which is funded by the NASA Disasters program. Using algorithms that combine hydrological models and remote sensing datasets, the project team predicts the severity of floods and identifies regions across the globe that are highly likely to experience floods based on past climate events and typical rainfall levels.

This study generates flood warnings that are disseminated internationally to residents and policy makers through DisasterAWARE, a platform created by researchers from the University of Hawaii that has 2 million users and provides daily forecasts for more than 15 types of climate events.

As part of the Situation-Temporal Awareness Tool for integrated oil and natural gas systems and restoration of power outages from large areas of severe weather disruption projects funded by the DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response, or CESER, Kar contributes to the development of models and simulations , which helps estimate the time needed to recover power after an extreme climate event, as well as the duration of liquid fuel availability at gas stations on evacuation routes and throughout the supply chain. These projects contribute to CESER’s Environment for Analysis of Geo-Located Energy Information program.

Modeling of population on an unprecedented scale

Researchers at ORNL’s Human Geography Group use geographic data science and computational methods to better understand the distribution and dynamics of populations around the world. Historical and current population trends based on demographic distributions and behaviors related to human mobility during the day and night constitute a baseline for societies at risk of environmental hazards.

“The Human Geography Group is uniquely positioned to address global human security through our scalable population modeling and research to uncover current and future inequalities and vulnerabilities across the human landscape,” said group leader Marie Urban. “Our goal is to continue to lead research in population dynamics, not only in support of the DOE’s national security mission, but also in support of the humanitarian community, policy makers and stakeholders in the development of a more sustainable future.”

ORNL’s LandScan population modeling program, funded by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, is based on U.S. census data to provide a more detailed picture of populations in residential areas, office buildings, schools, and other common commuter destinations. LandScan researchers are developing algorithms to evaluate population movements based on daily schedules as well as long-term migration patterns.

These algorithms model human activity and take into account various sociocultural, economic and demographic factors around the world that affect where people are during a day. The various patterns in the landscape, especially changes that occur between day and night, are captured in LandScan to provide a better understanding of population distributions. Analyzing these routines helps researchers study how unwarranted populations at home, at work, in the classroom and elsewhere in a given city would cope with sudden security threats caused by the rapid onset of a climate catastrophe.

“LandScan is designed to help governments and scientists plan and study the potential consequences of natural disasters – such as hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and landslides – and technological disasters, such as oil spills,” said LandScan program director Amy Rose. “For example, some of our federal users integrate LandScan datasets with hurricane tracks and forecasts, as well as other critical infrastructure data, to provide policy makers with estimates of how the hurricane will affect the population and economy of a community.”

The LandScan team is also investigating how rising sea levels and other phenomena are likely to change urban growth and coastal topology in the long run.

Building towards energy and environmental justice

Using the UrbanPop framework, researcher Joe Tuccillo is developing high-resolution reconstructions of the social composition of Census block groups containing 600-3,000 people. These data can help energy and climate justice advocates identify neighborhoods and communities that may lack access to clean energy sources or be disproportionately damaged by natural disasters and other environmental and national security consequences of climate change over time.

UrbanPop, which has received support through ORNL’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program and the DOE’s National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory, uses sample survey responses from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to estimate the composition of these groups. These data enable researchers to study the general demographic characteristics and behavioral trends of people in different geographical areas – information that can be used to assess a group’s risk and preparedness for climate-related threats – while maintaining the privacy of individual respondents.

“The goal is to create collective representations of how societies are in terms of individual demographics and behaviors that provide insight into collective activity patterns,” Tuccillo said.

Researcher Christa Brelsford focuses on human-environment interactions from a different angle. She models how the location and layout of buildings in the year 2050 will affect environmental factors such as temperature, humidity and wind speed worldwide.

She is particularly interested in learning how these changes can affect daily life, especially for communities located in economically and physically disadvantaged areas that may be more susceptible to floods, air pollution and other environmental hazards.

“It’s important for us to consider that the worst consequences of all these negative climate impacts will most likely be felt by the people who are already the most vulnerable,” Brelsford said.

In addition to developing new integrated modeling frameworks, Brelsford is examining existing population projections to determine the environmental footprint of major cities more than 30 years from now.

The expected influx of millions of new residents to cities around the world will have several consequences, including significant changes in the “microclimate” of each location. These small but potentially devastating phenomena can include heat waves and urban heat islands, which occur when cities withstand higher temperatures than the surrounding areas due to the proliferation of fabricated structures that absorb more heat than natural surfaces.

Brelsford’s research is supported by the Integrated Multisector Multiscale Modeling project, which is funded by the MultiSector Dynamics program area of ​​the DOE’s Biological and Environmental Research Office.

Through these research efforts, Christopher, Kar, Urban, Rose, Tuccillo, Brelsford and many others across the ORNL aim to provide leaders at all levels with the data and information they need to mitigate environmental threats and make informed national safety decisions, both domestically and abroad. .

UT-Battelle administers the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the DOE’s Office of Science, the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The DOE’s Office of Science is working to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit– Elizabeth Rosenthal

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