Engineering, hydrology and climate change

Finding ways to deal with sudden climate swings

May 26, 2015
Michel Baraër, professor at ÉTS, collaborated on an international study on the amplitude of climate change in the world’sworld’s mountainous regions. The findings were published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Although hated by many, snow and rain play an important role in our water resources. And with climate change, we’re seeing an increase in precipitation extremes. But, think about it for a moment: extreme precipitation also means disturbances to our water resources. Could hydroelectric production, a major engine of our economy, be affected? What about our infrastructure—will it be able to handle an intensification of torrential rainfall? These are just some of the questions being studied by the Research Group Specialized in Applied Research on Water Cycle Modelling (DRAME) at ÉTS.

While experts agree that climate change will intensify over the next 50 years, the time to think about it is now, because engineers are currently building structures that will be used for the next 100 years.

“You can’t build a bridge or a road without considering hydrology. Imagine an engineer designing a bridge without taking into account the fact that the water level may rise. Within 10, 20 or 50 years, that bridge could end up under water,” explains Michel Baraër, a professor in the Department of Construction Engineering at ÉTS and a researcher at DRAME. The same can be said of other structures.

The DRAME team, which also includes professors Annie Poulin and François Brissette, therefore studies hydraulic phenomena in order to better understand the impacts, with a goal to reducing or even taking advantage of them! For example, abundant precipitation can be good news for a company producing hydroelectricity; however, its structures have to be designed accordingly. And that is where knowledge in hydrology and engineering comes into play.

Using satellite imagery, remote sensing and observation, researchers create climatic and hydrological models to predict the impacts of climate change on water resources.

Internationally recognized expertise

The expertise of DRAME researchers is recognized internationally. For example, professor Baraër recently collaborated on an international study focusing on the amplitude of climate change in the world’s mountainous regions. The findings, published in April in the journal Nature Climate Change, are worrying: climate change could occur 75% faster at high altitudes (5,000 metres) than at 2,000 metres. A diagnosis which defies all those put forth until now and which could have major repercussions, particularly on the water resources of these regions.

Professor Baraër is also the instigator of Quebec’s first experimental watershed for educational purposes. This watershed, to be set up in collaboration with five other ÉTS professors, will be functional in fall 2015. It will enable students and researchers to monitor hydraulic variations in real time and to further their knowledge of hydrology and its impacts on watersheds, that is, the places where waters converge, such as the water table, lakes, oceans, etc.

Ultimately, all this knowledge will help communities adapt to the changes caused by sudden climate swings, whether in Quebec or elsewhere.

Research Group Specialized in Applied Research on Water Cycle Modelling (DRAME)/a>
Article in Nature Climate Change

For information
Service des communications - ÉTS
Chantal Crevier
514 396-8800, poste 7893

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