• Coastal resilienceBetter way for coastal communities to prepare for devastating storms

    As of 2010, approximately 52 percent of the United States’ population lived in vulnerable coastal watershed counties, and that number is expected to grow. Globally, almost half of the world’s population lives along or near coastal areas. Coastal communities’ ability to plan for, absorb, recover, and adapt from destructive hurricanes is becoming more urgent.

  • Emerging threatsRecord-breaking hot days ahead

    If society continues to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the current rate, Americans later this century will have to endure, on average, about fifteen daily maximum temperature records for every time that the mercury notches a record low, new research indicates. That ratio of record highs to record lows could also turn out to be much higher if the pace of emissions increases and produces even more warming.

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  • Crisis responseHow social media is energizing crisis response

    Natural disasters, such as the recent Hurricane Matthew in the Caribbean, present a huge challenge for governments, non-governmental organizations, and of course the individuals and communities affected. But studies of the effectiveness or otherwise of the responses to these disasters typically focus on official activities, producing a top-down view of what unfolded. Researchers studying the 2011 Thailand flooding disaster – the world’s fourth most severe natural disaster at that time instead looked at how individuals on the ground used social media to share information and offer support, often in areas where the official response was lacking or ineffective.

  • InfrastructureSatellite confirmation: San Francisco's Millennium Tower is sinking

    The Sentinel-1 satellites have shown that the Millennium Tower skyscraper in the center of San Francisco is sinking by a few centimeters a year. Studying the city is helping scientists to improve the monitoring of urban ground movements, particularly for subsidence hotspots in Europe. Completed in 2009, the 58-storey Millennium Tower has recently been showing signs of sinking and tilting. Although the cause has not been pinpointed, it is believed that the movements are connected to the supporting piles not firmly resting on bedrock.

  • EarthquakesThe geometry of subduction zone indicates mega-earthquake risks

    Mega-earthquakes (with a magnitude greater than 8.5) mainly occur on subduction faults where one tectonic plate passes under another. But the probability of such earthquakes does not appear to be even across these zones. Researchers show that mega-earthquakes mostly occur on the flattest subduction zones. Thus, the Philippines, Salomon Islands and Vanuatu areas would not be favorable to mega-earthquakes, unlike South America, Indonesia and Japan. The discovery of this new indicator should improve earthquake monitoring and seismic and tsunami risk prevention.

  • Seismic shieldsInvisibility cloaks could protect buildings from earthquakes

    Earthquakes travel in waves, much as sound and light do. Scientists have previously designed materials with internal structures that interfere with the propagation of sound and light, and now researchers are working on making bigger versions of these structures, which could be used to control the propagation of earthquakes.

  • HurricanesHurricane risk to Northeast U.S. coast increasing

    New research suggests the Northeastern coast of the United States could be struck by more frequent and more powerful hurricanes in the future due to shifting weather patterns caused by manmade industrial emissions. The researchers found that hurricanes have gradually moved north from the western Caribbean towards North America over the past several hundred years.

  • Emerging threatsAt forum, MIT community tackles tough ethical questions of climate change

    By Kathryn M. O'Neill

    An MIT panel discussed The ethical challenges presented by climate change and the question of what individuals — and academic institutions like MIT — can do to affect change. “Science has performed its role adequately,” said Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, “[but] it cannot tell us what our obligations are to future generations. Determining how to respond to climate change is a question for all of us.”

  • TsunamiJapan lifts Tsunami advisories

    The Japanese authorities have lifted tsunami advisories issued after a powerful earthquake struck the northeast of the country early Tuesday, injuring twenty people. The magnitude 7.4 earthquake occurred at 5:59 a.m., local time, off the coast of Fukushima prefecture. There were no deaths or major damage, but transportation was disrupted and residents of low-lying areas were instructed to leave their homes for higher ground. The quake was felt in Tokyo, about 150 miles away. Nearly 16,000 people were killed and more than 2,500 remain missing from the magnitude 9.1 earthquake that struck Japan’s northeastern regions on 11 March 2011.

  • TsunamiJapan’s latest tsunami reaction shows lessons learned from previous disasters

    By James Goff

    Parts of Japan were on tsunami alert today following a magnitude 6.9 earthquake off the east coast of the country. This was the first real test for Japan since the 2011 earthquake which led to a deadly tsunami. The lessons learned from 2011 saw higher seawalls, more effective public education and evacuation protocols, a beefed-up response from the nuclear industry and so on, but would it pass the test? The good news is that Japan came through this with flying colors. It wasn’t long after the earthquake hit that the tsunami warnings were later downgraded. Undoubtedly there will have been one or two glitches, but the tsunami was managed well by a country that has experienced more of these events that any of us would ever like to contemplate.

  • DisastersHuman, economic costs of disasters underestimated by up to 60 percent

    The impact of extreme natural disasters is equivalent to a global $520 billion loss in annual consumption, and forces some twenty-six million people into poverty each year, says a new report from the World Bank. “Severe climate shocks threaten to roll back decades of progress against poverty,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “Storms, floods, and droughts have dire human and economic consequences, with poor people often paying the heaviest price. Building resilience to disasters not only makes economic sense, it is a moral imperative.”

  • Coastal resilienceLocation matters: Sandy’s tides hit some parts of the N.J. coast harder than others

    USGS researchers ground-truthed Hurricane Sandy’s October 2012 storm tides in New Jersey and found northern coastal communities had significantly higher storm tides than southern ones did, though flood damage was widespread in both areas. The findings suggest that some southern New Jersey communities may be underestimating their future flood risks.

  • Mapping disasters areasUsing drones, insect biobots to map disaster areas

    Researchers have developed a combination of software and hardware that will allow them to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and insect cyborgs, or biobots, to map large, unfamiliar areas – such as collapsed buildings after a disaster. “The idea would be to release a swarm of sensor-equipped biobots – such as remotely controlled cockroaches – into a collapsed building or other dangerous, unmapped area,” says one of the researchers.

  • Climate & securityClimate, not conflict, explains extreme “Middle East Dust Bowl”

    Climate change, not ongoing regional conflict, was the cause of a severe dust storm that enveloped much of the Middle East and the Mediterranean last September, according to new research. The storm, labeled by some media outlets as the “Middle-Eastern Dust Bowl,” affected Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Cyprus, leading to scores of people being hospitalized, ports being closed, flights being cancelled, and large portions of the affected countries and eastern Mediterranean Sea being covered in an unprecedented haze.

  • Killer haze2015 Indonesian fires exposed 69 million to “killer haze”

    More than 69 million people living in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia were exposed to unhealthy air quality conditions during the 2015 wildfires in Equatorial Asia during the autumn of 2015. The wildfires are linked to as many as 17,270 premature deaths. “The wildfires of 2015 were the worst we’ve seen for almost two decades as a result of global climate change, land use changes, and deforestation. The extremely dry conditions in that region mean that these are likely to become more common events in the future, unless concerted action is taken to prevent fires,” said one researcher.