Reconciling complexity and deep uncertainty in infrastructure design for climate adaptation

Alysha M. Helmrich, Mikhail V. Chester

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


As climate change is emerging as a major challenge for man-made systems in the coming century, there has been significant effort to understand how to position infrastructure to adapt and deliver services reliably. Particularly, the climate is changing faster than the expected lifetime of critical infrastructure, resulting in situations well beyond the intended design conditions of a stationary climate. This study assesses how well existing infrastructure design approaches–traditional fail-safe, armoring, low regret, safe-to-fail, and adaptive management–account for climate-related complexity and uncertainty through an application of the Cynefin and Deep Uncertainty Frameworks. The results indicate that existing infrastructure design approaches have varying levels of validity for addressing climate change across spatial and temporal scales. The most common infrastructure design approaches undertake lower levels of complexity and uncertainty than climate change demands, indicating the potential of approaches that address complexity and deep uncertainty have not been fully realized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-99
Number of pages17
JournalSustainable and Resilient Infrastructure
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • Climate change
  • adaptation
  • complexity
  • deep uncertainty
  • infrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Building and Construction
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality


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