Traveling to and from Californian airports can already be a hassle, but a new study shows that climate change can make the trip even worse, if not impossible.

The research, conducted by Sarah Lindbergh, a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, and other university researchers found that 39 out of the 43 coastal airports in California have at least one asset that potential flooding can impact in the years between now and 2100.

Those assets include the airport itself, surrounding roads, national airspace system facilities, and other critical infrastructure. Frequently visited California airports, including Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport (SFO), are among the places that could see potential damage from the predicated natural disaster.

California coastal airports
Cross-sectoral and multiscalar exposure assessment to advance climate
adaptation policy: the case of future coastal flooding of California’s airports

In a statement, Lindbergh said that this type of assessment is the first of its kind.

The study uses “geospatial tools to look beyond each airport’s perimeter to include its entire interconnected infrastructure — including road access, ground-based navigation, and communications systems,” Lindbergh said.

“It’s important to recognize that critical assets for airport operations may lie outside airport boundaries.”

So how are airports in California preparing for the potential impact?

For SFO, the airport plans to break ground on the “Shoreline Protection Program,” which will protect the facilities against potential climate disasters.

The airport was already working on a potential solution for the airport to withstand any climate disasters due to Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Flood Insurance Rate Map, which shows that the area could be impacted by flooding.

The report from Lindbergh and other researchers echoed FEMA’s findings.

The construction process would include building walls along the airport’s shoreline to protect the facility from flooding and rising sea levels, among other additions.

While no construction has begun yet, Doug Yakel, the airport’s public information officer, said that construction will likely start during the 2025-35 timeframe.

While potential climate disasters will directly affect SFO, the same can’t be said for LAX, the airport said.

While the busy Southern California-based airport is included in the UC Berkeley study, Heath Montgomery, the director of public relations at LAX, explained that the roads that could be impacted by flooding aren’t the same pathways that lead travelers to the airport or other structures.

“The study only includes LAX because it shows some roads to the north of our property being impacted by the 2040s,” Montgomery said in an email statement. “The 1-4% of ‘airport roads’ is referring to areas that would not impact LAX operations at all.”

The latest Flood Insurance Rate Map from FEMA doesn’t state that any potential flooding would impact LAX in the near future.

Even though the Berkeley study only focused on airports, Yakel believes that all facilities that a natural disaster can impact should take the necessary steps to protect the area, workers, and critical structures should a disaster come.