Ports alerted to climate change shocks ahead
Stormy weather: Fortifications are needed to protect ports.
Ports will need to be fortified against the effects of climate change, including higher sea levels, storm surges and more erosion, according to the most detailed study of the problem yet undertaken.
The national climate adaption facility examined Sydney, Port Kembla and Gladstone ports - all of which are bottlenecks for imports and exports - and found they could face serious problems by 2070.
''The ports are already starting to see shocks in their supply chains from extreme weather, and without a doubt these are increasing and significant,'' said one of the report's authors, Jane Mullett, a research fellow at Melbourne's RMIT. ''Then in the longer term, the impacts of sea level rise and extreme weather will be felt more and more. So most of them are starting to think through these problems now.''
Dr Mullett and other researchers evaluated a range of climate change scenarios and interviewed port workers to build an online ''toolkit'' to help port authorities adapt to climate change. Among other things, Dr Mullett's report found that the physical fabric of port structures would corrode much more quickly in the future, as sea levels rise and storms become more powerful. In some cases, the lifespan of concrete would decrease by 16 years.
''What we found was that, particularly in smaller or medium-sized ports, they are aware of infrastructure decay, but they tend to work around it because they want ports to remain active and productive for as long as possible. So that may be something that needs to be addressed,'' Dr Mullett said.
Port authorities said they would work through the findings. ''What was interesting to us was the focus on what they call the 'hinterland' - the road and rail links that support the port - because if the port's built to survive sea level rise but you can't get anything in or out, then the port's effectively closed,'' said Mark Ireland, the sustainability manager at the Sydney Ports Corporation.
A single road and a single rail link carry almost all traffic in and out of Port Botany, and they will be at risk of going underwater during storms.
The docks themselves, including the new port extension alongside Sydney Airport's third runway, have been built to withstand sea level rise of up to 0.9 metres by the end of this century - in line with projections from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
''We are aware that the road and rail links do sometimes get inundated, so another 10 or 20 centimetres on top of that and the port's effectively closed,'' Mr Ireland said. ''We have days now where we have to close because the port's too windy.''
Dr Mullett's report, Enhancing the resilience of seaports to a changing climate, was produced with aid from the National Climate Change Adaption Research Facility, funding for which has just expired. As a result, the research unit will cease later this year. ''Our worry is that, if we don't get further funded, important studies like this will end up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere and not being followed through,'' said the facility's deputy director, David Rissik.