Disasters

  • Terrorism insuranceImpasse in Congress over terrorism insurance (TRIA) renewal

    The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act(TRIA) is expected to expire by 31 December unless Congress renews the legislation or places a temporary extension. The legislation, initially established in November 2002 as a federal backstop to protect insurers in the event an act of terrorism results in losses above $100 million, has been extended and reauthorized. The insurance industry supports the reauthorization approved by the Senate, and opposes a short-term extension. Some insurance companies have noted on their contracts that policyholders could lose terrorism coverage if TRIA is not renewed.

  • Seismic early warningCalifornia’s early-warning ShakeAlert system to be rolled out next year

    Officials in California expect the state’s ShakeAlertsystem to be available to some schools, fire stations, and more private companies early next year. Until now, only earthquake researchers, some government agencies, and a few private firms have received alerts from the statewide earthquake early warning system. The 2015 expansion will occur as long as Congress approves a $5 million funding request that has passed committees in both the Senate and House. A full vote on the budget was delayed until after the midterm elections.

  • BridgesResilience of California’s transportation infrastructure questioned

    A significant number of bridges and elevated roadways lie above or close to active fault lines, and Californians often wonder how the state’s towering interchanges and freeway network would perform during a major earthquake.The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has spent over $13 billion in the last forty years to reinforce vulnerable bridges and interchanges. Caltrans officials note that during a major earthquake, freeways are likely to sustain significant damage, but engineers feel confident that freeways will not collapse.

  • Infrastructure protectionGlobal warming skeptics unmoved by extreme weather

    What will it take to convince skeptics of global warming that the phenomenon is real? Surely, many scientists believe, enough droughts, floods, and heat waves will begin to change minds. A new study throws cold water on that theory. Winter 2012 was the fourth warmest winter in the United States dating back to at least 1895. Researchers found, however, that when it came to attributing the abnormally warm weather to global warming, respondents largely held fast to their existing beliefs and were not influenced by actual temperatures. This study and past research shows that political party identification plays a significant role in determining global warming beliefs. People who identify as Republican tend to doubt the existence of global warming, while Democrats generally believe in it.

  • Nuclear accidentsNew light shed on reactor fuel behavior during severe nuclear reactor accidents

    UO2 is the primary fuel component in the majority of existing nuclear reactors, but little is known about the molten state because of its extremely high melting point. Until now, the extremely high temperature and chemical reactivity of the melt have hindered studies of molten UO2. This lack of fundamental information has made it difficult to evaluate issues associated with the interaction of molten UO2 with a reactor’s zirconium cladding and steel containment vessel. A new discovery about the atomic structure of uranium dioxide will help scientists select the best computational model to simulate severe nuclear reactor accidents.

  • DoomsdayArchitecture of doom: DIY planning for global catastrophe

    By Lee Stickells

    A thriving industry has grown up around planning for apocalypse, with the design and equipping of the ideal home as a key element. Discussion of survival retreat design focuses on issues such as strategic location, energy self-sufficiency, water supply, waste treatment, food production, and home security. Survivalists can easily be caricatured as lonely lunatics sitting on piles of freeze-dried food and exotic armaments in their foil-lined bunkers. Researchers say, however, that survivalism is rarely about extremist action. Rather, it is more often about tinkering with tools, exchanging ideas, and creative storytelling. We can see the design of the survival retreat as a wilder version of the more familiar impulse towards DIY and home renovation. Survivalists use these projects as a focus for developing the personal skills, knowledge, and praxis needed to embrace a radically changing world. Potential chaos and crisis are embraced as the opportunity for developing personal autonomy. Seen in this way, the survival retreat starts to seem to be an eccentric but understandable reaction. The challenge survivalism poses is thus not extremism. Survivalists tend to privilege privatized, self-regulated, individualist modes of living – but exit from the grid challenges the collective infrastructures that have been so vital to more equitable urban environments. What, then, of our public networks such as water, electricity, transport, and telecommunications? What of our common urban future?

  • Coastal infrastructureChina’s second “great wall” is not so great

    China’s coastal regions are only 13 percent of the country’s land area, but contribute 60 percent of its gross domestic product. With that come layers of incentives to turn lush wetlands into engines of development and industry. A new study finds that China’s second great wall, a vast seawall covering more than half of the country’s mainland coastline, is a foundation for financial gain - and also a dyke holding a swelling rush of ecological woes.

  • LandslidesNew technology increases awareness of landslide risks

    Engineers have created a new way to use lidar technology to identify and classify landslides on a landscape scale, which may revolutionize the understanding of landslides in the United States and reveal them to be far more common and hazardous than often understood. The new, non-subjective technology can analyze and classify the landslide risk in an area of fifty or more square miles in about thirty minutes — a task that previously might have taken an expert several weeks to months. It can also identify risks common to a broad area rather than just an individual site.

  • Climate businessClimate-related businesses growing

    The business of climate change has seen significant growth in the last decade, but analysts believe it will take many more years to determine the effectiveness of the solutions proposed by climate-focused businesses. U.S. farmers working more than fifty million acres had subscribed to its Climate Basic Service— a free Web and mobile service that analyzes data to help farmers make planting decisions with “field-level insights, from soil moisture levels, to crop growth stage, to current and future weather.” The group’s free app and Web service may be augmented through its Climate Proand Precision Acrepaid plans.

  • Risk analysisRisk analysis for an increasingly more complex world

    The increasing complexity and interconnection of socioeconomic and environmental systems leaves them more vulnerable to seemingly small risks that can spiral out of control, according to the new study. Developing adaptable systems for finance and international relations could help reduce the risk of major systemic collapses such as the 2008 financial crisis, according to the study.

  • Earthquakes"Slow slip events" could help in predicting magnitude of earthquakes, tsunamis

    Earthquakes and tsunamis can be giant disasters no one sees coming, but now an international team of scientists has found that subtle shifts in the earth’s offshore plates can be a harbinger of the size of the disaster. The team reports that a geological phenomenon called “slow slip events,” identified just fifteen years, ago is a useful tool in identifying the precursors to major earthquakes and the resulting tsunamis. The scientists used high precision GPS to measure the slight shifts on a fault line in Costa Rica, and say better monitoring of these small events can lead to better understanding of maximum earthquake size and tsunami risk.

  • Coastal infrastructureLow-lying island nations say rising seas levels spell doom

    The president of the Seychelles on last week urged the Earth’s small island nations to unite for a campaign against climate change — or else drown. The call came at the start of a two-day summit of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of small islands and low-lying coastal countries, ahead of global climate talks which will take place in Lima, Peru, in December. Low-lying island nations, some of which are little more than one meter (three feet) above sea level, are regarded as among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels, which is one of the manifestations of global warming.

  • EarthquakesNew app turns smartphones into sensors for an earthquake early-warning system

    The MyShake app, still in test mode, uses smartphone accelerometers and locators to augment the data on incoming quakes issued by the 400 seismometers which are part of California’s ShakeAlert program.Registered phones act as additional earthquake sensors, as the app runs an algorithm which detects when the phone is still or shaking. Should several registered phones in the same area begin to shake at the same time, an earthquake alert is issued.

  • EarthquakesCourt overturns manslaughter conviction of seismologists over 2009 L'Aquila quake

    An appeals court in Italy on Monday overturned manslaughter convictions of six of the seven natural disaster experts and seismologists who faced prison sentences for what a lower court described as having falsely reassured residents ahead of a 2009 earthquake which killed 309 people in the central Italy city of L’Aquila. The 2012 ruling was met with outrage and dismay by the scientific community, which argued that the convictions were based on a complete misunderstanding of the science used to calculate the probability of an earthquake. Leasing scientists warned that the case could prevent scientists from offering potentially life-saving advice on natural disasters in the future.

  • FrackingEnergy engineers call for new, less restrictive regulatory framework for fracking

    Leading energy engineers are suggesting that U.K. regulations on the surface vibrations caused by shale gas fracking are unnecessarily restrictive. The engineers state in a new paper that widely applying restrictions similar to those currently in force on fracking would require a ban on heavy vehicles from passing houses or walking on wooden floors. They also state that the threat of serious earthquakes caused by fracking activity is considerably lower than commonly feared.