Assessing the Effects of Rising Groundwater from Sea Level Rise on the Service Life of Pavements in Coastal Road Infrastructure

Academic Article


  • Coastal communities with road infrastructure close to the shoreline are vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise caused by climate change. The sea level in coastal New Hampshire is projected to rise by 3.9 to 6.6 ft (1.2 to 2.0 m) by 2100. Climate change vulnerability and adaptation studies have focused on surface water flooding caused by sea level rise; however, little attention has been given to the effects of climate change on groundwater. Groundwater is expected to rise with sea level rise and will intersect the unbound layers of coastal road infrastructure, thus reducing the service life of pavement. Vulnerability studies are an essential part of adaptation planning, and pavement engineers are looking for methods to identify roads that may experience premature failure. In this study, a regional groundwater flow model of coastal New Hampshire was used to identify road infrastructure for which rising groundwater will move into the unbound materials during the design life of the pavement. Multilayer elastic theory was used to analyze typical pavement profiles in several functional classifications of roadway to determine the magnitude of fatigue and rutting life reduction expected from four scenarios of sea level rise. All the evaluation sites experienced service life reduction, the magnitude and timing of which depended on the current depth to groundwater, the pavement structure, and the subgrade. The use of this methodology will enable pavement engineers to target coastal road adaptation projects effectively and will result in significant cost savings compared with implementation of broad adaptation projects or the costs of no action.
  • Authors

  • Knott, Jayne F
  • Elshaer, Mohamed
  • Sias, Jo
  • Jacobs, Jennifer
  • Kirshen, Paul
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • 2017
  • Has Subject Area

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 1
  • End Page

  • 10
  • Volume

  • 2639
  • Issue

  • 2639