Editor’s Comments: The Ozymandias Effect

May 26, 2016

Great poetry often encapsulates a truth that echoes beyond centuries, cultures, and technologies. As such, “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley’s best-known poem, shows us the poignant ruins of a civilization abandoned in the desert. A toppled sculpture of a once-greatfigure lies half-consumed by the sands. The poem’s message is one of earthly impermanence—of the evanescence of man’s creations at the mercy of nature.

With the effects of climate change intensifying—and the strength and frequency of disastrous weather increasing—protecting our structures, water sources, and infrastructural networks has become a more urgent priority. These are the constructions that sustain ourcommunities, ensure our safety, and support our economic success. Only with forethought and evidence-based decision making will they endure.

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In a recent New York Times article “NASA Is Facing a Climate Change Countdown,” John Schwartz reveals NASA’s efforts to protect its launch infrastructure and mitigate the effects of climate change on its coastal assets. He paints an Ozymandian picture of concreteblocks, once used as antennae tower tie-downs that are now exposed due to the encroachment of the sea. Sand once covering the corners has been swept away. Waves that once touched shore 50 yards away now inch closer.

The space agency has more than $32 billion dollars’ worth of structures and facilities around the country, according to Schwartz’s research. And two-thirds of that land is within 16 feet of mean sea level. NASA has chosen to take a proactive approach based on theagency’s extensive research.

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For decades NASA has monitored the Earth’s climatological patterns from space via orbiting satellites and remote imaging. With empirical data and the ability to forecast future events, NASA reports that as an agency it made a choice several years ago to begin preparingfor the inevitable.

“We had to acknowledge that we should recognize climate change and extreme weather as a formal risk that we should be actually managing,” Kim W. Troufectis, a NASA strategist told Schwartz. Subsequent climate change-strengthened storms like Hurricane Sandy only reinforced that decision.

Within this issue of Water Efficiency magazine we discuss strategies for preparing for the effects of climate change—heat, drought, fire, intensified storms, and saltwater intrusion. We consult specialists for their perspectives on climatological patterns, disaster planning, and damage prevention.

We explore a shifting standard in “New Sizing Metrics for Water Storage” as climate change makes additional water storage necessary. Tank suppliers are seeing an increase in the size of the vessels their customers require as fire suppression and disaster relief become more prevalent.

We interviewed facilities managers and plant engineers about the critical components of a good disaster plan for “Keeping the Plant Running.” These individuals, many of whom kept their facilities functioning throughout extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, offer practical insight for disaster preparedness based on experience.

In addition, we explore the possible effects of global sea rise on our ground water and drinking water supply with hydrologists and USGS experts in “Saltwater Intrusion.” As storm surges and extreme weather events bring saltwater inland, underlying aquifers are at risk as well as subsurface infrastructure like pipes, cables, and foundations.

Just as NASA reinforces its launch pads and relocates its seaside space centers, pro­tecting America’s infrastructural networks and coastal assets is a matter of risk manage­ment. Now is the time for data-driven decision making and resource allocation. Perhaps some of our creations, like Shelley’s great sonnet, will withstand the trials of time. What measures are you taking to ensure that your pipelines, edifices, and infrastructural networks endure?
About the Author

Laura Sanchez

Laura Sanchez is the editor of Distributed Energy and Water Efficiency magazines.

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