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Coming generations face challenges that were inconceivable fifty years ago. Due to our changing climate, sea levels are rising, our cities getting warmer. These and many other factors are putting wear and tear on our roads, buildings, and bridges like never before. As the world changes, both our infrastructure and our civil and environmental engineering education need to adapt. 

“At Carnegie Mellon, we’re lucky to have a large number of faculty addressing the big, wicked problems of climate change,” says Assistant Professor of civil and environmental engineering Costa Samaras. “We want our engineering students to be leaders in making our communities more resilient. That’s why we designed a new master’s degree concentration.”

In 2014, the Department of CEE, led by Department Head David Dzombak, developed a master’s concentration in Climate Change Adaptation for Infrastructure. The program allows students to learn and develop methods to face the changing needs of our climate-threatened cities and towns.

“People hear about climate change on TV or in the newspaper and think, ‘Rising sea levels might affect some islands in the Pacific, but what about my community?’” Dzombak says. “The big need in adapting to a changing climate is to think, ‘How are things going to change here?’ That’s what we think about at Carnegie Mellon, and what we’re training our students to think about.”

Taking risks on big systems engineering challenges is part of Carnegie Mellon’s ethos. This is a big systems engineering problem, and it requires a widespread, interdisciplinary approach.

Costa Samaras, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University

Increased precipitation has already led to some cities experiencing greater flooding, putting roads under water and inundat-ing structures. Pittsburgh is no exception. A team of students from the program is tracking precipitation data in Pittsburgh as far back as 1830, to investigate how rainfall amounts have changed over time, and how they can be expected to change in the future. That way, civil and environmental engineers can prepare sewer systems, roads, and other infrastructure to handle the increased load.

Due to a number of climate change-related factors, our cities are getting warmer. This is known as the Urban Heat Island Effect, which causes illness and even death in many elderly people during periods of extreme heat in cities across the country. Students in the master’s program are researching this problem, and how civil and environmental engineers can mitigate this heat by installing green roofing and establishing cooling stations around the city—places for more vulnerable populations to go when things heat up.

These are a few of the myriad issues that urban infrastructure faces as the result of an ever-changing climate. Thanks to Carnegie Mellon’s Climate Change Adaptation for Infrastructure program, future civil and environmental engineers will be ready to face them. Courses range from Infrastructure Management, to Climate Change Science and Adaptation, to Data Acquisition, Sustainable Buildings, and more.

“Taking risks on big systems engineering challenges is part of Carnegie Mellon’s ethos,” says Samaras. “This is a big systems engineering problem, and it requires a widespread, interdisciplinary approach.”