ITRC Seminar Series: April

Donald Wuebbles

The Science of Climate Change and Why it Matters to Highways and Transportation

Friday, April 10, 2020
3-4 pm CT
Zoom video conference


Donald Wuebbles
Harry E. Preble Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Illinois
Department of Atmospheric Sciences
School of Earth, Society, and Environment
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Scientific evidence strongly indicates that major changes are occurring in our climate system, particularly in the last five decades. The scientific evidence shows that globally-averaged temperatures this past decade have been warmer than the Earth has seen in at least the last 2,000 years. Observational evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. Documented changes include increasing surface, atmospheric, and oceanic temperatures; melting glaciers; disappearing snow cover; shrinking sea ice; and rising sea level. Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. There are no credible alternative explanations. Changes in the characteristics of extreme events are particularly important for human safety, infrastructure, agriculture, water quality and quantity, and natural ecosystems.

Some extremes have already become more frequent, intense, or of longer duration, and many extremes are expected to continue to increase or worsen, presenting substantial challenges. Sea level rise is likely to have significant impacts on coastal regions. The Earth’s climate is projected to continue to change over this century and beyond. The extent of that change and its effects on us and our planet depends on the choices that humanity makes over the coming decades. Like other sectors of our society, the transportation sector and the highway system are vulnerable to the changes occurring in climate. The most relevant potential climate change impacts to transportation infrastructure are increases in intense precipitation events, increases in Arctic temperatures (leading to permafrost melting), rising sea levels, increases in very hot days and heat waves, and increases in hurricane intensity. Climate stressors affect operations and maintenance, design and long-term planning.


Donald J. Wuebbles is the Harry E. Preble Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Illinois. From 2015 to early 2017, Dr. Wuebbles was Assistant Director with the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the Executive Office of the President in Washington DC, where he was an advisor on climate science. He was Head of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois for many years, and led the development of the School of Earth, Society, and Environment, and was its first director. Dr. Wuebbles also spent almost 21 years at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Dr. Wuebbles is an expert in atmospheric physics and chemistry, with over 500 scientific publications. He has co-authored a number of international and national scientific assessments, including several international climate assessments led by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for which IPCC was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He co-led the first volume of the 4th U.S. National Climate Assessment that assesses the science of climate change, and co-authored Volume II on the impacts from climate change.

Dr. Wuebbles has received a number of major awards, including the Cleveland Abbe Award from the American Meteorological Society, the Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the 2018 Bert Bolin Global Environmental Change Award from the American Geophysical Union. He is a Fellow of three major professional science societies, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Meteorological Society.