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6. Improve and build needed infrastructure that couples with and uses Earth resources while integrating new technologies

How will we develop and integrate new technology and modernize aging infrastructure? The geoscience community provides the knowledge, experience and ingenuity to meet society's demands for natural resources, environmental quality and resilience from hazards. Here we outline the critical infrastructure modernization needs of the nation and the world at the outset of the twenty first century and provide policy guidance to grow the economy while sustaining the Earth system.

What Is The Need?
What Are The Policy Recommendations?
Additional Resources
What Is The Need?

Infrastructure in the United States faces increasing pressure from a growing, more mobile, more complex, and more interconnected population. According to the Department of Transportation, since 1980, vehicle traffic has nearly doubled, air passenger-miles have increased by 150 percent, and railroad freight traffic has increased by 80 percent.  The nation’s energy infrastructure, from pipelines to electrical grids, is having trouble keeping up with demand. The nation’s burgeoning telecommunications infrastructure, from fiber optics to satellites, has become more central to economic growth and emergency management.

Much of the infrastructure that provides critical lifelines is aging and in need of improvements while some is new technology that requires integration with existing systems. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of “D” in 2009 and noted that a $2.2 trillion investment over five years is needed to improve existing infrastructure. Infrastructure is affected by significant geologic processes beyond normal wear and tear, including climate change, weather, hazards, chemical corrosion, and mechanical erosion.

The largest and oldest levee systems in the U.S. along the Mississippi River (Figure 6A) and the Central Valley of California are critical to the economic growth and resource management of the nation.



Figure 6A: The Mississippi River has the third largest drainage basin in the world, exceeded in size only by the watersheds of the Amazon and Congo Rivers. It drains 41 percent of the 48 contiguous states. The basin covers more than 1,245,000 square miles, includes all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces. The Flood Control Act of 1928 authorized the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) Project, the nation's first comprehensive flood control and navigation act. Figure and information from the U.S. Army Corps ofEngineers web page -

These systems were primarily built to protect agriculture but are now relied upon to protect billions of dollars worth of commercial trade, communities, and critical natural resources. The potential for additional catastrophic failures beyond the after effects of Hurricane Katrina (Figure 6B) are significant because of the higher risk for earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes in these regions, the aging infrastructure and the unknown effects of climate change. Much more work and funding are needed to understand problems with ground subsidence and soil conditions, the effects on ecosystems and the effects of water control on the health and maintenance of these systems. Geoscientists and geotechnical engineers play a critical role in the siting and design of the built environment to increase its resilience to natural hazards and minimize its impact on the natural environment.


Figure 6B: Relief map of New Orleans metropolitan area indicating the extensive flooding as a result of Hurricane Katrina. In general, areas colored light and dark blue as well as magenta were flooded. The figure is courtesy of the Louisiana Geological Survey and is from “Geology and Hurricane-Protection Strategies in the Greater New Orleans Area, 2006.”

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What Are The Policy Recommendations?

Given the critical need to modernize aging infrastructure and build new infrastructure, the geoscience community suggests the following national policy directions.

  • Assess infrastructure needs for the next 10, 50, and 100 years to provide a useful short-term and long-term outlook for planning purposes.
  • Assess the relationship of infrastructure development and environmental risks through research, monitoring, data collection, modeling and analysis.
  • Support an independent review of large U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ projects as required by the Water Resources Development Act of 2007.
  • Incorporate mitigation into infrastructure development or replacement/upgrades.
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    Additional Resources

    Links to references, supplementary, and/or updated information.

    Full Report (PDF)

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    With a burgeoning human population, rising demand for natural resources and a changing climate, it is critical to more fully integrate Earth observations and Earth system understanding into actions for a sustainable world.

    Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy .

    Posted on October 17, 2012; Last Updated on October 17, 2012


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