Extreme now – average in 2050

Climate change is a fact even though some governments are trying to deny at all costs. In a new research in Nature Communications, scientists from the University of Central Florida claim that a flood level with a one-percent chance of occurring in 2017 (also known as a 100-year flood) will, in some parts of the world, have a 50- or even a 100- percent chance of occurring in 2050. This is absolutely relevant revelation will probably change our approach to flooding risk analysis.

Small but inevitable rises in sea level will double the frequency of severe coastal flooding in most of the world with dire consequences for major cities that sit on coastlines, according to scientists. Climate change is causing sea levels to rise at about 4mm per year, as ice caps melt and the oceans warm and expand. Some people believe that the rise in sea level is a direct issue to worry about but the truth is that our coastal infraestructures are prepared for this. The true point is that the rising level gives a higher starting point for the storm surges and waves that can overwhelm these coastal defences.

Flood damage from storm surge during Hurricane Sandy. [Photo: Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/U.S. Air Force]

This study shows how even small changes in mean sea level can significantly increase the frequencies with which critical thresholds are exceeded. The reason of this fact is that there is a non-linear dependence between mean sea level and damage caused by the storm surge.

The new statistical model developed considers the uncertainties of what we know about extreme floods today and the results show that the old model underestimated predicted flood rates, in particular along the West Coast of both North and South America, in Southern Europe, and in Australia. Therefore, it seems that people on many more coastlines of the world will see extreme floods become common within a few decades.

(a) old model (b) new model. Red dots indicate where a flood with a one percent chance of occurring in a given year today will have a 10 % or greater chance of occurring by 2050 [Source: Wahl te al. | Nature Communications]

The research shows that most at-risk areas were in the low latitudes, where tidal ranges are smaller meaning sea level rise is proportionally more significant. The United States loses 82 lives and $8 billion to floods each year. If we are not able to prevent these damages, it is clear that the consequences will be expensive and dangerous all over the world.

Katrina floodwaters [Photo courtesy of ABC News]

Moreover, in the future we will not only be threaten by sea but also by rivers. Many coastal cities have grown around or close to a river and an increase on the mean sea level will complicate its discharge to the sea. I will try to explain further this idea on my next post.

It is important to note that major flood protection systems can take decades to plan and implement. That´s why if we can foresee that by 2050 things are already so critical, that means we should probably take measures right now.


Innovation in construction

Schumpeter defined innovation like a process of creative destruction where new ideas or product substitute the previous one because they are more efficient, sustainable or increase customer added value. There are many theories about it but many authors agree on that innovations are not result of heroic actors (Steve Jobs, Edison…) but the outcome of a network of people, ideas and objects which progressively make successful improvements (incremental) or breakthough discoveries (radical). We must always remember that behind Jobs there were the other Steve (Woz).

Crossrail tunnel (Source: http://www.crossrail.co.uk)

But innovation in construction is different to any other field. A Mckinsey report showed that it is one of the least innovative industries and that most of the projects are not delivered on time or have overcosts. Other problems currently relevant are the low productivity, low profitability and sustainability challenge. This is probably related to some of the particularities of the industry:

  • the existence of long supply chains (difficulty to integrate Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers)
  • large scale of the project (complex products)
  • the role of the infrastructure owner wich should act not only as a client but as an operator, innovator and investor
  • long life cycle and duration of megainfrastructure projects (for example when Crossrail started the iPhone did not exist)

Some people tried to face this challenges and propose a solution. Sir John Egan was the author of Rethinking Construction were these issues are presented and also 5 key drivers for change are explained:

  • commited leadership
  • focus on the costumer
  • integrated processes
  • quality-driven agenda
  • commitment to people

On the document Construction 2025 the collaboration between the UK Government and the industry is identified as a critical aspect to increase productivity, profitability and sustainability as well as foster innovation.

Thames Tideway Tunnel (Source: http://www.cjassociates.co.uk)

Main sources of innovation exist but R&D, small adaptations on site and improvements from outside the industry are the most relevant in construction. Some recent projects in London like Crossrail are being really successful on capturing this added value from innovation with the well-known Innovation 18 Programme. This settled the foundations for the new forum i3P were firms such as ARUP, CH2M and Ferrovial among others share ideas to improve the key performance indicators of the industry. New megainfrastructure projects like Thames Tideway Tunnel are using similar approaches in this case with the called The Great Think.

Tourism and civil engineering (?)

Today we are going to talk about these two words that probably do not come up togeher very often. Nevertheless, it seems to be a great opportunity of increasing the value and social awareness towards many civil infrastructures like dams, ports and bridges.

One of the best examples could be Hoover Dam. This incredible hydraulic infrastructure erected in 1931 and situated on the border between Nevada and Arizona (United States of America) can be visited from $30 as you can see on its website.

Hoover dam. [Photo: http://vizts.com%5D

Let´s depict some of its main figures. It was constructed in 1931 by a total amount of $50 million which is equivalent to $700 million of today. The type of dam is concrete gravity-arch, it is 220 metres tall and 380 metres long with a dam volume of 2.5 million m³ and a spillway capacity of 11000 m³/s. These are unbelievable figures for a dam with more than 80 years old and explain why it is one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world.

Since the 1930s, U.S. Route 93 ran right along the top of the dam; however, the two-lane highway was hazardous and had grown increasingly congested over the years. In an effort to remedy these problems, construction began on a dam bypass bridge in 2005. Completed five years later, the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge measures 580 metres long and soars nearly 270 metres above the Colorado River, making it the longest single-span concrete arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere as well as the second-highest bridge of any type in America. The structure, which cost $114 million is proportionally almost 7 times cheaper than Hoover Dam.

More than one millon people visit the Hoover Dam each year. However, it is fair to say that  if you’re thinking about taking a Grand Canyon Tour your tour will pass by the Hoover Dam along the way and it is only a short 30 minute drive from Vegas, which makes it the perfect half-day getaway from the bustle of the Strip.

If you check your pictures of your last holidays it is quite probable that you find some well-known civil infrastructure on them because for instance, if you visit San Francisco is almost compulsory to view the Golden Gate or if you went to London you have probably a photo of the Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge [Photo: https://es.pinterest.com%5D

It is key to note that many infrastructures in the US are over 50 years old or coming up on it and that is about its lifespan.  Therefore there will be a need in the near future to update a lot of the infrastructure in this country. This could be a great opportunity to renew and improve their social appeal too.

On the other hand, it is becoming more and more common that projects of many civil infrastructures include a visitor´s centre where people can get an insight of the project or even visit the place.

In conclusion, there are many people potentially interested in visiting some of the most relevant infrastructures of our cities. Being able to discover this business opportunities and making the most of it could be critical in order to help citizens to understand how their taxes are being invested, increase the social awareness and ensure the economic future of this projects.

Hurricane Harvey

Hurricanes are essentially large weather engines fueled by the warm waters of the ocean below. But this one is something else. Many experts say that many factors are involved and could go down as the worst flood disaster in U.S. history.

The Washington Post has published this great article on its website explaining what would mean a 500-year flooding in several US cities. This is closely related to one of my last posts about extreme floodings now and in 2050.

Last week some planes of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were able to record some videos of the eye of the hurricane. It looked huge but was after moving inland when it became an undeniable disaster.



Scientists are increasingly able to link some extreme weather events to climate change, but when it comes to hurricanes, many say there remain a number of unknowns. On the other hand, it is clear that rising global temperatures warm the oceans, which causes more water to evaporate into the atmosphere. Even without climate change as a factor, some experts say, oceans are normally warm this time of year. But they also add that Gulf of Mexico has been warmer than average lately which could increase the destructive power of the storm.

The Katy Prairie in western Harris County, which once helped to absorb floodwaters in the region, has been reduced in size by 75% in the last several decades thanks to suburban development, and one analysis discovered that more than 7,000 housing units have been built within the 100-year floodplain in Harris County since 2010.

Panoramic view of Houston, Texas. [Photo: Houston Chronicle]

If you want to realize the magnitude of this catastrophe, you can compare the before and the after on this link to the british newspaper The Guardian. Really sad but eye-opening too.



Given that the rains have not yet ended, these first estimates should be accepted cautiously. Obviusly the most worrying effect of a major disaster like this one are people lives (21 deaths confirmed up to now).

As far as economy is concerned, the hurricane has caused problems on oil market due to the fact that the Texan Gulf Coast comprises nearly 27% of total US refining capacity. Moreover, preliminary estimates suggest property damages in the range of $30 billion, which would make Harvey the 9th largest since World War II in terms of domestic property damage.

Harvey is now hitting southwestern Louisiana, too, where storm surge warnings and watches are in effect. The New York Times has develop some interactive maps in order to track the hurricane path through Texas and Louisiana as you can see on this link. Let´s hope that the death toll do not increase and that the US government takes measures in order to prevent and minimise the effects of extreme floodings. Climate change denial is definitely the wrong way.

Sostenibilidad y reutilización

Los expertos en gestión del agua tienen cada día más claro que el futuro pasa por la reutilización sostenible de las aguas residuales, porque solo así se garantizará un acceso soidario al agua para todos, sin que nadie se quede atrás observando con sana envidia cómo reutilizan los ricos. ¿Es posible que este desiderátum se…

a través de Estrategias para una reutilización seductora para el cliente — FUTURO DEL AGUA

Port of Veracruz (MEX)

This month I would like to write about maritime traffic in Mexico and especially about its main seaport on the east coast: Veracruz.

Aerial view (Source: dredgingtoday.com)

Almost 1 million TEU were moved last year at Veracruz. Undoubtedly, a great figure which is  very promising.


The Port of Veracruz was established by Hernan Cortes in 1600 and designated as a city in 1615. Cortes used the Port of Veracruz as his base for conquest inland to Tenochtitlan while his officers pacified the territory of today’s state of Veracruz.

The Port of Veracruz prospered from being the main link between Spain and colonial Mexico. Through the Port of Veracruz, products like cotton, rice, textiles, wine, domestic animals, and wheat were shipped to Europe.

During the Mexican-American War, U.S. troops captured Veracruz, and the French used it as an entry to Mexico during the reign of Emperor Maximilian during the 1860s. Both of Mexico’s constitutions (1857 and 1917) were proclaimed in the Port of Veracruz.

Container traffic

On the Pacific coast (west coast) of the country there are 2 main ports: Manzanillo and Lázaro Cárdenas Port. Both of them compete directly against Veracruz trying to attract most of the maritime traffic which crosses Panama Canal.


If we show this data in another way we can see that Altamira and Veracruz (east coast) represent together the 31% while Manzanillo and Lázaro Cárdenas reach the 62% of the total traffic.


This means that 4 main ports of Mexico move the 93% of the TEU in the country and that west coast of is more specialised in container traffic than east coast. In future posts I am going to analyze the distribution of container traffic in America comparing its west and east coast ports.


Probably the best way to foresee the future is look at the past. Therefore we can compare Mexico with their neighbour countries. I decided not to include USA because I beleive it is not a direct competitor with Mexico as a country, even though Port of Veracruz do compete  in container traffic against some American ports such as Jacksonville (935K TEU in 2015).


This graphic shows a clear tendency of growth on the upcoming years and even Canada can suffer the Mexican sorpasso. The future rate of container traffic growth in Mexico and Panama could be similar.







Port of Vancouver (Canada)

Last month, we talked about the greatest port in the US, so it´s time to focus on Canada. This country has around 36 million of inhabitants and almost 35% live in the metropolitan areas of the 3 biggest cities: Toronto (Ontario), Montreal (Quebec) and Vancouver (British Coumbia). Ironically, the capital of Canada is none of these. It is Ottawa as you know.

Aerial view (www.emaofbc.com)

This port is fairly well protected by the Vancouver Island and its ubication was sharply chosen in order to simplify vessel´s manouverability.

The Port of Vancouver is Canada’s largest port, and the most diversified port in North America. The port offers 27 major marine cargo terminals, three Class 1 railroads and a regional short line railroad.

A general map of the port clarifies the magnitude of the distance between the different terminals which makes absolutely crutial to have great infraestructures in order to ensure proper communications.


Container traffic

There are 4 common-user container terminals with total annual capacity of nearly 3 million TEU. In 2016, 2.7 million TEU were handled at the port which makes an efficiency average of 90%.

Container terminals (www.globaltrademag.com)
  • Centerm:  it is located at the South Shore Burrard Inlet. It operates six gantry cranes on two berths, on-dock rail facilities and an advanced operating system that tracks a variety of containerized cargo in real time.
  • Deltaport:  includes 10 gantry cranes and handles containerized cargo. It is currently Canada’s largest container terminal, with three berths, on-dock rail facilities and the only quad lift crane in North or South America.
  • Fraser Surrey Docks: multi-purpose marine terminal handling containers as well as bulk products.
  • Vanterm: it has six gantry cranes, on-dock rail facilities for containerized cargo, and handles containerized cargo from the adjacent West Coast Reduction facility.

Taking into account that Canada container traffic was 5.6 million TEU in 2014, the Port of Vancouver represented almost the 50% of the whole country.

Canada container traffic (Own preparation)


Shore power is a clean technology that enables ships that are fitted with the necessary technical apparatus to shut down auxiliary engines and connect to hydroelectric power.

This port is the 3rd in the world with shore power and the main benefits are:

  • reduces fuel consumption while at berth, resulting in lower emissions
  • reduces noise associated with ship engines
  • powers ships from clean hydro electricity, resulting in a reduction in sulphur oxides
  • improves air quality for terminal employees and surrounding communities


A container traffic forecast study developed in 2016 concludes that the Port of Vancouver remains a highly-competitive option for import and export container volumes moving forward.

By 2025, the port’s terminals are projected to be handling over 4.8 million TEU per annum in total , compared to the 2015 confirmed total of just over 3.0 million TEU. It can be outlined that there is already a pressing need for investment in additional capacity at the Port of Vancouver just to keep pace with projected container demand growth.

Los Angeles: America´s Port

8.8 million TEU in 2016, the largest port in the whole continent, the 19th in the container world ranking,  896,000 employees throughout the LA County Region & 3.6 million worldwide, 430,189 passengers per year, 165.1 million metric revenue tons… All these unbelievable figures make L.A. a strategic emplacement in USA´s economy system.


It is noteworthy the proximity of the Port of Long Beach 21st container port in the world and the 2nd in America. This fact is likely to be something unique in the whole planet as it is really uncommon to find two top ports so close in the same country. In this case, Long Beach Port plays a little-brother-role but with a total throughput of 6.8 million TEU (not so little) last year.


Past vs present 

Let´s make a comparison between then and now in order to outline the evolution of this great harbour:

When the Port celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1957, its annual revenue was $7.8 million. Today, the Port’s annual operating revenue is $446 million.

Construction of the Port’s first container terminal cost $1.8 million in 1960. Today, that same terminal would cost $21 million to build.

In 1907, the Port of Los Angeles handled $2 million worth of cargo. Today, the Port handles nearly $270 billion worth of cargo annually.

The container fee in 1977 (when first published in Port of Los Angeles Tariff No. 4) was $52.00 for a 20-foot container, compared to today’s fee of $193.20 for a 20-foot container.

(Source: smithsonianmag.com and Port of Los Angeles)


The 2012-2017 Strategic Plan  declares that the Port of Los Angeles’ goal is to retain its position as the #1 volume container port in North America while continuing the competitive edge in environmental initiatives, security measures, and social responsibility.

The vision represents what the port is and the mission how to develop day-to-day activities in order to ensure that vision. They say that: We deliver value to our customers by providing superior infrastructure and promoting efficient operations that grow our port as North America’s preferred gateway.

This mission is strongly related to the 4 main objectives which are:

  1. World-Class Infrastructure that Promotes Growth
  2. An Efficient, Secure and Environmentally Sustainable Supply Chain
  3. Improved Financial Performance of Port Assets
  4. Strong Relationships with Stakeholders


California Water Plan

Tras seis años consecutivos de sequía, pocas restricciones quedan por implementar en la tierra donde los sueños se hacen realidad, en esos bellos paisajes que ilustran e iluminan las películas de nuestra vida. California tiene un problema de difícil solución, porque por muy elevado que sea el nivel de vida de muchos de sus habitantes,…

a través de El plan hidrológico de California 2018: cómo hacer de la conservación de una cuenca un modo de vida — FUTURO DEL AGUA

Port of Antwerp (Amberes)

As always, let´s start with some figures to realize the importance of the port: 2nd largest container port in Europe, 9.6 million TEU moved last year and a container capacity of 15 million TEU which makes a rate of 64%, 40 moves per crane per hour, , 2nd port in SSS (short sea shipping)…


Romans, Vikings, the Spanish, Napoleon; they all understood the strategic importance of the Scheldt. Thanks to its location to the river, Antwerp has become what it is today: a metropolis with an international seaport.

This port has some particularities such as: its location (really close to other great ports like Rotterdam or Felixstowe) and the maritime access (by the Scheldt river crossing the border between the Netherlands and Belgium).


Antwerp is already the biggest port area in the world. Over the centuries, the area grew to exactly 12,068 hectares, or about 20,000 football fields. The main figures are the following:

Area Right bank         6,784 HA
Area Left bank            5,284 HA
Total area port area 12,068 HA

Length roads     409 km
Length rails      1061 km
Length pipes   1000 km
Length quays      157 km
Number of docks    48

Container terminal (Source: Port of Antwerp)

With the opening of the Berendrecht Lock (1989), a crowning achievement in developing the right bank dock complex was obtained. With a length of 500 m between the lock gates and a width of 68 m, the Berendrecht lock is one of the largest locks in the world. This lock has a depth of 13.50 m, which makes the sill depth at mean high water equal to 17.75 m.

The Deurganck dock has a length of 2.5 km and consists of a total of 1,200,000 m3 of concrete. The Kieldrecht Lock, a new lock at the end of the Deurganckdock, giving access to the docks in the port area on the left bank opened in June 2016 and is the largest dock in the world with an investment of 340 million euros.


For many European companies, the Port of Antwerp is the link with other continents, and for many companies in the farthest corners of the world it is the gateway to Europe. The Port of Antwerp has more than 500 direct destinations all over the world.

Moreover, the Business plan of the port is based on foundations laid by the “Total Plan for a Competitive Port” and the provisions of the Regional Land Use Plan for development of the Antwerp port area. The following basic principles continue to be the foundation for the Business plan:

  • the need to think in terms of supply chains
  • the insight that the Port of Antwerp is a unique platform by the interaction between industry, logistics and maritime transhipment.