UNIVERSITY of the Sunshine Coast research projects may result in not only an improved understanding of climate change but also a cheaper way to build and maintain Queensland's roads.
Researcher Helen Fairweather said while the backlash that scientists had experienced on climate change may have tempered their published research, they told a story that was worrying.
"It's a big issue to grasp," Dr Fairweather said at the launch of the university's 2012 Research Week yesterday.
"A lot of people get it, but to acknowledge they get it, it would mean they have to do something about it."
The Research Fellow in Environmental Engineering said her preliminary findings showed that Sunshine Coast rainfall during the past three years may not have exceeded what was expected in a 1-in-100-year average recurrence interval.
However, comparison with rainfall radar images suggest that may not be the complete picture.
"The climate change projections released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggest that we can expect more intense rainfall events than in the past," Dr Fairweather said.
"On the Coast over the past few years, we have certainly experienced our fair share of heavy downpours which have caused some significant flooding events.
"This research is investigating how intense these events have been compared to what we should expect over varying durations."
Her research may ultimately help engineering design standards to manage changed conditions.
But first Dr Fairweather, who was chief scientist at the Queensland Government's Climate Change Centre of Excellence between 2008-10, and a team of researchers are bringing finer scale mapping to their understanding of weather events.
"In my previous role with the Climate Change Centre we generally expected a 4% increase in intensity for every degree of global warming, and I am investigating if the local events have already exceeded that."
Every degree of temperature increases the chance of rainfall by 4%.
"The work we are now doing is the start of assessing what will happen next," Dr Fairweather said.
Meanwhile, USC Professor of Construction Engineering Dr John Yeaman, who was the long-time owner of Sydney-based consultancy Pavement Management Services, is conducting research that may potentially cut $165 million from Queensland's annual $3.3 billion expenditure on roads.
He aims to create a full-scale testing and research unit.
"The public road network in Queensland comprises 180,500km of mainly sealed flexible pavements," Dr Yeaman said. "The asset value is $130 billion, making it the largest publicly owned physical infrastructure in the state.
"Australian pavements are designed for 20 years. If we can increase that life cycle by 5% - one year - we can reduce Queensland's $3.3 billion annual expenditure by $165 million a year."