Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Thermally Induced Loading in Minnesota Bridges

Downscaled climate projections have traditionally been leveraged in the agriculture and water sectors, but not in the structural engineering community. These climate change scenarios can have numerous adverse effects on bridge infrastructure, including thermal loads on superstructure and expansion joints, degradation of components, and pier scour events. The goal of this project is to characterize the impact of climate change on thermally induced loads in Minnesota bridges. Expected temperatures and solar radiation levels will be determined from high-resolution regional climate models. These will be applied to FE models of a concrete box-girder cross-section to develop thermal gradients for Minnesota that consider anticipated climate projections. To determine corresponding stresses, the thermal gradients will be applied to a model of the I-35W St. Anthony Fall’s Bridge and compared to the response from the current design and measured temperature gradients. These stresses, when considered in a serviceability and strength context, provide insight on the vulnerability of bridge infrastructure to climate change induced demands. Ultimately, these findings will motivate the use of design and adaptation strategies informed by climate projection data.