'Underground Climate Change' Threatens Downtown Chicago Buildings

Jul 21, 2023

One sci-fi solution to the world getting hotter is to build cities underground. The problem is it's getting hotter down there, too. 

A new study shows that the underground temperature in Chicago has gone up a lot in the last 70 years. It's gone up so much that it's changing the shape of the ground. This can make buildings unstable.

It doesn't mean that big buildings like the Willis Tower are close to falling down. But even small changes in the ground can cause big problems. Buildings can sink, shifttilt, and crack. This lets water get into the foundations. If this keeps happening, it can cause serious damage, researchers say. 

“Underground climate change is a silent hazard,” Alessandro Rotta Loria told Northwestern Now.  He’s the study's author and a civil and environmental engineer. He said the ground is changing because of the temperature changes, and our buildings and roads aren't made to handle that.  

The study was published on July 11 in the Communications Engineering journal. It says that the average temperature in the ground under downtown Chicago (in an area called the Loop) has gone up 5.6 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1950s.

The researchers put 150 heat sensors in building basements, subways, underground parking lots, and parks. They used them to track the heat changes for three years. This information helped them make a model of temperature changes from 1951 to 2051. They also made a model to show how these temperature changes make the ground under buildings move.  

The results of this study are worrying. But there might be a good side to this. The heat under the ground could be used as a new energy source, scientists said.

Photo by Pedro Lastra courtesy of Unsplash. 

Reflect: Can you think of any ways that changes in the environment might affect a city’s infrastructure?

Which of the following ideas is highlighted throughout the article? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. The benefits of building underground cities to combat climate change.
b. The impact of rising underground temperature on the stability of buildings.
c. The importance of temperature tracking to understand the effects of climate change.
d. The challenges faced by Chicago in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming.
For more formative assessments, visit thejuicelearning.com to start a free trial.

News brought to you by The Juice

Start a free trial today