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Adapting to Meet New Challenges

Humans need to adapt to external stressors such as climate change, urbanization, evolution of technology or resource scarcity.

Addressing challenges posed by climate change, urbanization, and resource constraints demands a strategic shift towards resilience by design. This approach involves integrating resilience principles at the very core of civil & environmental engineering designs, ensuring that infrastructure is not only built to withstand current environmental conditions but is also adaptable to future uncertainties. To achieve this, we will focus on developing advanced materials and construction techniques that enhance the durability, flexibility, and reconfigurability of infrastructure. This includes the use of smart materials that can react and adapt to environmental changes, and modular design principles that allow for rapid modification and upgrading of infrastructure. We will explore pathways to decentralized water, air, and energy infrastructure, equipped with modular process designs that respond to environmental fluctuations and shifting demands. We will leverage predictive modeling and risk assessment tools to forecast and plan for potential environmental impacts, ensuring that resilience is a proactive, rather than reactive, component of CEE designs. By embedding resilience into the core of our engineering projects, we will enable infrastructure that is not only robust in the face of present challenges but is also prepared to adapt and thrive in the face of future environmental shifts and disturbances.

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What is adaptation?

Antoine E. Naaman Collegiate Professor Sherif El-Tawil dives into the concept of adaptation and what it means for civil and environmental engineers.

  • 2,700

    In 2017, floods in South Asia killed 2,700 people.

  • $324 billion

    Between 2017 and 2018, natural hazards in the United States caused $324 billion in losses.

  • 20cm

    In the last century, global sea levels have risen 25cm, including more than 7cm in the last 25 years.

Our Approach

Our strategic directions have a broad impact on the way we operate, influencing our approach to research, education and outreach. Explore some examples of how we are implementing the concept of Adaptation across our department.


  1. An aerial photo of a flooded residential area with colorful roofs and trees.

    Modeling Floods

    Flooding in densely populated areas has remained the costliest natural hazard of all weather-related events in terms of fatalities and material costs. Past events are clear harbingers of what is yet to come: estimates indicate that the number of people residing in the flow path of high-risk floods will double (from one to two billion) within two generations. CEE researchers are developing new computational methods to characterize floods at high resolution and quantify uncertainty in order to better understand and predict floods.

  2. A person stands on a ladder propped against a tree in a rainforest.

    Data Is Life

    The Amazon rainforests are highly biodiverse and play a critical role in global water, energy and carbon cycles. With no general consensus over rainforest vulnerability to the increasing drought frequency in the 22 region, CEE researchers traveled to the Amazon to collect data on how trees respond to global climate changes.

  3. A series of natural looking ponds arranged downhill, commonly referred to as a fish ladder.

    Engineered Naturally

    Fish passage is an integral part of the civil infrastructure and energy grid. For too long, fish ladders were designed only with engineering constraints in mind, and biological consequences were ignored. Now, to help render our infrastructure sustainable, engineers are working with biologists and ecologists to better understand and quantify the interplay between fish species and flow conditions within these structures, leading to a “natural” design of fish ladders.

  4. An aerial photo of a section of road that has been washed out by flood waters.

    Dynamic Adaptation

    Humans dynamically adapt to their evolving surroundings. This fundamental aspect of humanity is crucial to the successful long-term understanding and estimation of the resilience of communities to major natural hazards. Our researchers are enabling a new understanding of the ability of societies to respond to natural disasters and adapt to major perturbations by investigating community-level resiliency, which involves not only infrastructure resiliency, but also a human-centric dynamic adaptation assessment at the community level.

  5. A computer generated simulation of windows shattering in a skyscraper.

    Next-gen Resilience Modeling

    Extreme natural hazards, such as severe earthquakes and hurricanes, are among the most destructive forces to impact the built environment. Long-term adaptation of communities to such destructive forces requires the estimation of their resilience. Our researchers are developing a new generation of computational tools and models that will enable optimal strategies for supporting community resiliency to extreme natural hazards.

  6. A person holds a small folded origami structure up to their face.

    Inspired by Origami

    University of Michigan researchers are exploring origami-inspired structures that can morph into multiple new geometries to adapt their orientation, physical characteristics and function. Building components with multiple stable states could retrofit and adapt structures for ever-changing design requirements. Large-scale reconfigurable and deployable structures such as sea walls, bridges and shelters could be shared within a community and be used to reduce the impacts of natural disasters, and expedite recovery after the event.


Undergraduate and Graduate Courses

In courses such as “Performance-Based Earthquake Engineering,” “Greenhouse Gas Control,” “Hydrology and Floodplain Hydraulics,” and others, advanced undergraduate and graduate students delve into techniques and policy options for addressing topics such as greenhouse gas reduction, sediment transport, and dimensional analysis, while also learning about the construction of apparatuses including culverts, storm channels, earthquake-resistant buildings, and flow and wave gauges.


The Warming Arctic

The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History acts as a public face of current research on campus. An exhibit in their “People and Planet” gallery introduced the public to CEE research that explores what the warming Arctic can tell us about climate change.

Virtual Reality Disaster Simulation

Describing the results of disaster research to the public is challenging. As such, risk awareness is low in many vulnerable communities, which leads to poor disaster preparedness and low community resilience. CEE researchers are developing highly realistic, science-based hazard simulations using virtual reality technology to better convey key messages about disasters and encourage preparedness and disaster planning.


CEE Engineers Receive Erb Family Foundation Grants

U-M CEE engineers have received two grants totalling more than $1.17 million from the Erb Family Foundation to research regional coordination, with a focus on optimizing wastewater and stormwater systems operations, and assisting residents and municipalities in managing these water issues using digital tools.
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    Grant Seeks to Improve Storm Surge Barriers

    CEE Associate Prof. Jeremy Bricker is part of a research team that has received a $400,000 grant over three years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) social behavioral economics domain to estimate hurricane building damage and recovery inequity using insurance and social survey data.

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    NSF Grant Will Support Research to Reduce Wildfire Threats

    Ann Jeffers is the lead P.I. on a project that just received a grant for almost $600,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a computational model that will allow researchers to predict structural ignitions under wildfire exposure.

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    GLWA Report Offers Recommendations to Improve Response to Severe Rain

    UM-CEE Professor Glen Daigger was the principal investigator on the six-person independent panel examining Metro Detroit’s historic flooding in Summer 2021.

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Featured Faculty

Christian M. Lastoskie

Christian M. Lastoskie

Undergraduate and Graduate Courses


(734) 647-7940

Valeriy Ivanov

Valeriy Ivanov

Modeling Floods, Data Is Life, Undergraduate and Graduate Courses, The Warming Arctic


(734) 763-5068

Evgueni Filipov

Evgueni Filipov

Inspired by Origami


(734) 764-8339

Seymour M.J. Spence

Seymour M.J. Spence


(734) 764-8419

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