Older buildings like the one in Surfside, Florida, are frequently seeing sea level rise and saltwater intrusion as greater risks, a structural engineer tells CNN.
Ben Schafer, a structural engineer at Johns Hopkins University, says civil engineers need to rethink how buildings are designed and how older buildings need to be reassessed.
“Climate change is changing the demands on all of our buildings across the US,” Schafer told CNN. “Sea level rise is one example of something that’s much broader. All of us are experiencing this, and just as we’re experiencing it all our buildings are experiencing it as well. In many cases, they’re facing demands that weren’t anticipated when we designed them in the past.”
Buildings with concrete and steel reinforcements aren’t designed to be submersed in sea water, which it damages concrete and corrodes the steel. As sea level rises, more tidal flooding will bring in more saltwater into coastal infrastructure.
“The life of the structure would be greatly shortened,” he adds. “It’s a corrosive environment. It’s not favorable for concrete or steel, which are your primary building materials.”
If climate change was in fact a contributing factor to the building collapse, Schafer adds that engineers must learn from the tragic event and implement climate mitigation systems.
“I don’t think we’ve owned up even to the scale of the problem,” Schafer said. “If you look at the median sea level-rise predictions and project that on to city maps, the scale of what we need to do is so far beyond the scale of what we’re so far considering,” he said.