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Modelling Climate Change Risks to a U.S. Air Force and Army Base

Sunlight peeks through the ceiling of Hanger 5 at Tyndall Air Force Base, damaged by Hurricane Michael [Times photo by Tailyr Irvine]

By Dr. Marc Kodack

As U.S. military installation planners incorporate climate change into their work, such as the development of installation master plans, they often draw on existing military sources of data and handbooks (see ArmyNavy) to prepare those plans. Planners may also incorporate findings from academic studies that are relevant, particularly if they include individual installations in the research. As an example, Tadić and Biraud (2020) from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory modeled what precipitation and maximum daily temperature would be for three, 30-year windows (2015-2035; 2035-2065; and 2085-2100) under two different emission scenarios for Travis Air Force Base, California, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Temperatures are forecast to rise across the three time periods in both emission scenarios for Travis from 1.1-to-2.70C (2-to-4.90F). Similarly, Fort Bragg temperatures are forecast to increase 0.9-to-2.20C (0.6-to-40F). Precipitation changes are weak for both scenarios across all time periods for both installations.

The primary goal of the study was to assess climate extremes with respect to their frequency and severity given that the two installations are in different climate zones. The two variables chosen for analysis were precipitation and maximum daily temperature. The two emissions scenarios assume (1) that emissions peak around 2040 and then decline or (2) they continue to rise for the remainder of the current century. Global climate data were statistically downscaled using multiple methods to examine smaller geographic areas that included each installation.

Maximum daily temperatures are expected to increase at both installations to the end of the 21st century. However, Fort Bragg may experience less precipitation under both emission scenarios, whereas Travis’ will remain the same under the first emissions scenario or slightly increase under the second. For both installations, extreme precipitation and temperature events that currently have an annual 1% probability of occurrence are likely to occur 13-30 times more often for temperature versus 0-3 times more often for precipitation. Thus, risk is increasing significantly for extreme temperature events, whereas risk is slightly increasing for precipitation.

Through the kinds of analysis that Tadić and Biraud (2020) conducted, military planners can better understand the range of climate risk that the installation may experience decades into the future. How to address these risks, such as the temperature increases Tadić and Biraud forecast for Travis and Fort Bragg, will depend on the specific plan, e.g. a Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan. Climate change is ubiquitous and will affect each plan differently.

But a plan is only useful if the resources are there to realize it. In that context, the U.S. military will need to make significant changes and investments to address the significant effects climate change will have on installations in the future.

Dr. Marc Kodack is Senior Fellow at the Center for Climate and Security and former Sustainability and Water Program Manager in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Energy and Sustainability. 

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