Disasters

  • Infrastructure protectionDrones to help assess post-disaster infrastructure damage

    Drones can be used for a number of applications including civilian and military purposes. Monitoring and surveillance are two of the biggest uses for drones. Now, researchers are utilizing similar technology to develop an operational prototype that will use innovative remote sensing approaches and cameras mounted on low cost aircraft or unmanned drones to detect and map fine scale transportation infrastructure damage such as cracks, deformations, and shifts immediately following natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. The researchers hope the technology becomes the new, Department of Transportation approach to monitoring infrastructure after natural disasters.

  • Coastal infrastructureWorld’s metropolitan areas increasingly vulnerable to floods

    A heads-up to New York, Baltimore, Houston, and Miami: a new study suggests that these metropolitan areas and others will increase their exposure to floods even in the absence of climate change, according to researchers. Their study presents first-ever global forecasts of how the exposure of urban land to floods and droughts may change due to urban expansion in the near future. In 2000, about 30 percent of the global urban land (over 75,000 square miles) was located in the high-frequency flood zones; by 2030, this will reach nearly 40 percent (280,000 square miles) as the global urban land grows from 250,000 square miles to 720,000 square miles.

  • Coastal infrastructureNature-based solutions to coastal infrastructure risks

    The Indonesian and Dutch government the other day launched a five-year, multimillion euro public-private partnership initiative for enhancing coastal safety at the North Coast of Java. The initiative aims to build stable coastlines with reduced erosion risk through a unique integration of mangrove restoration, small scale hard-engineering, and sustainable land use. Beginning last year, the UN Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction now includes reducing disaster risk through nature-based solutions.

  • Energy“Pee-power” to light refugee camps in disaster zones

    A toilet, conveniently situated near the Student Union Bar at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), is proving pee can generate electricity. The prototype urinal is the result of a partnership between researchers at UWE Bristol and Oxfam. It is hoped the pee-power technology will light cubicles in refugee camps, which are often dark and dangerous places particularly for women. Students and staff are being asked to use the urinal to donate pee to fuel microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting.

  • EarthquakesSeismologists detail lessons learned from the 24 August 2014 Napa earthquake

    In the recent issue of Seismological Research Letters, a journal published by the Seismological Society of America, scientists have detailed the lessons learned from the 24 August 2014 Napa earthquake. Several authors in the issue acknowledged that the Napa temblor has helped them develop a fast and more accurate mapping of fault systems, which will give municipalities and developers a better sense of where to safely rebuild after an earthquake.

  • Climate & ConflictClimate change and the origins of the Syrian war

    A new study says a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-10 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising. Researchers say the drought, the worst ever recorded in the region, destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement, and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011. A growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars. Researchers project that man-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or that it is already doing so. The new study, combining climate, social, and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

  • DroughtsWarming temperatures cause of recent California droughts

    California has experienced more frequent drought years in the last two decades than it has in the past several centuries. That observed uptick is primarily the result of rising temperatures in the region, which have climbed to record highs as a result of climate change, Stanford scientists say. Researchers have examined the role that temperature has played in California droughts over the past 120 years. They also examined the effect that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are having on temperature and precipitation, focusing on the influence of global warming upon California’s past, present, and future drought risk. The team found that the worst droughts in California have historically occurred when conditions were both dry and warm, and that global warming is increasing the probability that dry and warm years will coincide. The findings suggest that California could be entering an era when nearly every year that has low precipitation also has temperatures similar to or higher than 2013-14, when the statewide average annual temperature was the warmest on record.

  • EarthquakesNew map outlines landslide risks in western Oregon

    Landslides are already a serious geologic hazard for western Oregon. During an earthquake, however, lateral ground forces can be as high as half the force of gravity. The Coast Range is of special concern because it will be the closest part of the state to the actual subduction zone earthquake, and will experience the greatest shaking and ground movement. New landslide maps have been developed that will help the Oregon Department of Transportation determine which coastal roads and bridges in Oregon are most likely to be usable following a major subduction zone earthquake that is expected in the future of the Pacific Northwest.

  • Flood insuranceFlorida lawmakers want homeowners to have more flood insurance options

    Lawmakers in Florida are planning for a future in which coastal communities can no longer depend on the federal government for affordable flood insurance coverage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) flood program is facing insolvency after recent disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, so Congress has moved to increaseflood insurance rates across the nation.Legislation proposed by Florida state senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) will give homeowners more coverage options in the local private insurance market. If passed, Brandes’s bill could lower premiums by excluding coverage of a detached garage or covering only the value of a home’s mortgage rather than its full replacement cost.

  • Coastal infrastructureIPCC sea-level rise scenarios insufficient for high-risk coastal areas management

    The sea-level rise scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not necessarily provide the right information for high-risk coastal decision-making and management, according to new research. Researchers warn that the IPCC scenarios are often inappropriate or incomplete for the management of high-risk coastal areas as they exclude the potential for extreme sea-level rises. This missing information is also crucial for a number of policy processes, such as discussions by G7 countries to establish climate insurance policies and allocations of adaptation funding by the Green Climate Funds.

  • Coastal floodingA 2-year spike in sea level along NE North America

    Sea levels from New York to Newfoundland jumped up about four inches in 2009 and 2010 because ocean circulation changed, new research has found. Independent of any hurricanes or winter storms, the event – which stands out in its time extent as well as its spatial extent — caused flooding along the northeast coast of North America. Some of the sea level rise and the resulting flooding extended as far south as Cape Hatteras. The spike was the result of a change in the ocean’s Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and also a change in part of the climate system known as the North Atlantic Oscillation. The researchers found that at the current rate that atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, such extreme events are likely to occur more frequently. The research also confirmed that, as others have reported, sea level has been gradually rising since the 1920s and that there is some year-to-year variation.

  • Food securityOcean acidification threatens U.S. coastal communities

    Coastal communities in fifteen states that depend on the $1 billion shelled mollusk industry (primarily oysters and clams) are at long-term economic risk from the increasing threat of ocean acidification, a new report concludes. The Pacific Northwest has been the most frequently cited region with vulnerable shellfish populations, the authors say, but the report notes that newly identified areas of risk from acidification range from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay, to the bayous of Louisiana.

  • Coastal infrastructureBay of Bengal: Rising seas to force 13 million to evacuate to higher grounds

    Within the next thirty years, a substantial area — called the Sundarbans — in the Bay of Bengal will be underwater as a result of climate change-induced rising sea levels. The roughly thirteen million people living in the region, which consists of approximately 200 delta islands in India and Bangladesh, will be forced to abandon their homes, making their displacement the largest exodus in modern history. The migration of eight million Bangladeshis and five million Indians inland will create the largest group of “climate refugees,” challenging social, agricultural, logistical, and governmental structures.

  • ResilienceMore resilient mass transit to improve Chicago emergency evacuation system

    A group of Argonne Lab researchers will be studying methods and creating tools for building more resilient mass transit systems to evacuate major cities under a $2.9 million grant announced today by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration. The project will bring together researchers from the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory with Chicago’s Pace Suburban Bus and Metra Commuter Rail Service to investigate ways to improve the detection, analysis, and response to emergencies, and how best to evacuate the city in a major emergency.

  • Fracking-induced earthquakesCoping with fracking-induced earthquakes

    A new study provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States. The study suggests that it is possible to reduce the hazard of induced seismicity through management of injection activities.