Climate adaptation and Infrastructure Asset Management

Postgraduate students are looking for ways to introduce climate adaptation into the transportation sector.

Gemma Mathieson (left), Jessica Vien S. Mandi (right)

Between 1990 and 2020 emissions in New Zealand increased 21%. Numbers briefly went down over COVID, but now that things are normalising, emissions are once again on the rise. To combat the growing human-generated greenhouse gasses the Ministry for the Environment aims to decrease emissions almost in half by 2050.

A sixth of all emissions come from the transportation sector, which has been the largest growing emission distributor due to traffic growth. But how can emissions be decreased in the transport sector when there are not enough alternatives to get around?

This is one of the objectives that students in the Infrastructure Asset Management programme look at. Second-year masters student Michelle Windsor believes the with the world getting warmer “climate change is a reality that infrastructure needs to adapt to.”

Ms. Windor’s taught masters includes a 30-point research paper in infrastructure decarbonisation where she is “trying to better understand [the] tipping point to help understand where decarbonisation efforts are best placed” and “how renewal programmes can be best optimised to minimise emissions, not just minimise cost.”

First year Infrastructure Asset Management doctoral candidate Gemma Mathieson is spending her PhD finding ways to make roads last longer by using alternative materials.

Traditionally roads have been created with asphalt or with chip seal using a traditional bitumen binder. Ms. Mathieson’s research looks at adding an epoxy to the bitumen binder which could increase its road life from eight to 40 years. This would reduce emissions by lowering the traffic caused from road closures and lane reductions during road replacements and maintenance, and a lack of commuting construction trucks and crews.

Additionally the epoxy would be more heat resistant, and less prone to cracking.

Ms. Mathieson hopes to “[bring] in C02 emissions and greenhouse gasses into predictive performance modelling” to find out the emissions affect her research has. As engineers of infrastructure they need to “optimize for budget, and carbon reduction,” her work is an example of resilient infrastructure.

As Ms. Mathieson is still in the first year of her PhD, further research is needed to be done on the environmental long-term effects of the epoxy.  

Jessica Vien S. Mandi, a second year Masters student graduating in September 2022 with first class honours, is also studying resilient infrastructure within the Infrastructure Asset Management program. She plans on using the knowledge she has learned and apply it to her home country, the Philippines. She sees resilient infrastructure as an opportunity to “cope, adapt and transform amidst disaster and climate events,” which would lead to “a resilient society, environment, and economy.”

The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world for climate change. The country requires resilient infrastructure to “facilitate sustainability, especially when disruptions occur.” Jessica Vien S. Mandi believes that without it the Philippines “can never rise from adversities.” Those adversities include, on average, the 20 tropical cyclones that hit the country every year.

Jessica Vien S. Mandi’s research aims to develop a measure of resilience to guide investment decisions for infrastructure developments in the Philippines, which would alleviate large-scale vulnerabilities. Implementing these resilience guides would make infrastructure longer lasting and less likely to break or fall apart during the occurrence of natural hazards, in turn reducing climate change vulnerabilities.

While progress is slow, it is good to know there are programs and people out there that support climate adaptation, and are finding ways to reduce our carbon footprint.