Disasters

  • Infrastructure protectionU.S. action on climate change hobbled by economics and politics, not divided science: Study

    The U.S. Congress successfully hears the “supermajority” consensus on the reality and causes of climate change, according to new research, which analyzed 1,350 testimonies from 253 relevant congressional hearings from 1969 to 2007. Among expert witnesses who expressed a view, 86 percent say that global warming and climate change is happening and 78 percent say it is caused by human activity. Under Republican-controlled Congresses, a three-quarter supermajority of scientists say that global warming and climate change are real and anthropogenic. Most significant of all, 95 percent of scientists giving testimonies support action to combat it. “Different perceptions and claims among lawmakers are a major hurdle to agreeing on action to address global warming and these were thought to simply reflect scientific uncertainty,” says one of the authors. “However, our findings show that congressional testimonies are in fact consistent with agreement in the climate science community and that the sources of controversies must lie elsewhere.”

  • EarthquakesNew insights on man-made earthquakes

    Earthquake activity has sharply increased since 2009 in the central and eastern United States. The increase has been linked to industrial operations that dispose of wastewater by injecting it into deep wells. Significant strides in science have been made to better understand potential ground shaking from induced earthquakes, which are earthquakes triggered by man-made practices.

  • EarthquakesMore than 143 million Americans at risk from earthquakes

    More than 143 million Americans living in the forty-eight contiguous states are exposed to potentially damaging ground shaking from earthquakes, with as many as twenty-eight million people in the highest hazard zones likely to experience strong shaking during their lifetime, according to new research. The research puts the average long-term value of building losses from earthquakes at $4.5 billion per year, with roughly 80 percent of losses attributed to California, Oregon, and Washington. By comparison, FEMA estimated in 1994 that seventy-five million Americans in thirty-nine states were at risk from earthquakes. In the highest hazard zones, the researchers identified more than 6,000 fire stations, more than 800 hospitals, and nearly 20,000 public and private schools that may be exposed to strong ground motion from earthquakes.

  • EarthquakesAlpine fault earthquake in New Zealand will produce challenges

    A New Zealand geological sciences researcher says an alpine fault earthquake is likely to be markedly different to the Canterbury, New Zealand earthquakes, with infrastructure losses potentially exposing the regional economy rather than the concentrated building losses seen in Christchurch in 2010 and 2011. The geologist says post-disaster recovery for an alpine fault earthquake will need to focus on rapid re-installation of critical lifelines in order to sustain the South Island economy.

  • view counter
  • EarthquakesA large Ventura Fault quake could trigger a tsunami

    Earthquake experts had not foreseen the 2011 magnitude-9 Japan earthquake occurring where it did, so soon after the disaster, scientists in Southern California began asking themselves, “What are the big things we’re missing?” For decades, seismic experts believed the Ventura fault posed only a minor to moderate threat, but new research suggests that a magnitude-8 earthquake could occur on the fault roughly every 400 to 2,400 years. The newly discovered risk may even be more damaging than a large earthquake occurring on the San Andreas Fault, which has long been considered the state’s most dangerous. Unlike the Ventura fault, the San Andreas Fault is so far inland in Southern California, that it does not pose a tsunami risk. A large earthquake on the Ventura fault, however, could create a tsunami that would begin “in the Santa Barbara Channel area, and would affect the coastline … of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, down through the Santa Monica area and further south.”

  • EarthquakesCombination of gas field fluid injection and removal likely cause of 2013-14 Texas quake

    Seismologists found that high volumes of wastewater injection combined with saltwater (brine) extraction from natural gas wells is the most likely cause of earthquakes occurring near Azle, Texas, from late 2013 through spring 2014. SMU seismologists have been studying earthquakes in North Texas since 2008, when the first series of felt tremors hit near DFW International Airport between 30 October 2008 and 16 May 2009. Next came a series of quakes in Cleburne between June 2009 and June 2010, and this third series in the Azle-Reno area northwest of Fort Worth occurred between November 2013 and January 2014. The SMU team also is studying an ongoing series of earthquakes in the Irving-Dallas area that began in April 2014.

  • view counter
  • Catastrophe bondsPhilippines mulls issuing catastrophe bonds to cover costs post-typhoon rebuilding

    After Super Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines in 2013,  killed at least 6,300 people and inflicting $13 billion in damage, the Philippine government is now looking at mitigating the costs of rebuilding and protection through catastrophe bonds. The bond sale would help the country with the rebuilding costs and should cover the cost of any future disasters on the same scale as Haiyan. Just last year, the World Bank had issued catastrophe bonds relating to earthquake and cyclone risks in sixteen Caribbean countries.

  • Coastal infrastructureIrish coastal communities devising ways to cope with rising sea levels

    Almost two years after the winter storms of 2013-14 caused millions of euros worth of damage to Ireland’s coastline, coastal scientists are looking to help rural communities and municipalities along the Irish coast develop systems which will prevent future destruction to buildings and beach properties. Researchers say that the city of Galway had developed too close to the shoreline, leaving little room for nature to run its course. “Erosion is a natural process that only becomes a problem when we develop in areas that are soft coastline, which are naturally mobile (they erode and build depending on conditions),” says one of the researchers.

  • Emerging threatsEmerging threats require a new social contract between the state, citizens: Study

    Technological advancements create opportunities for governments and the private sector, but they also pose a threat to individual privacy and individual – and public — safety, which most Americans look to the government to protect. The authors of a new book on emerging threats argue that while, at one time, “the government used to be our sole provider of security,” companies which store troves of private information are also key to Americans’ privacy and security. They say that the United States may need a new social contract between the state and its citizens on matters of security and privacy. “The old social contract has its roots in the security dilemmas of the Enlightenment era,” they write. “In our new era, everyone is simultaneously vulnerable to attack and menacing to others. That requires a different, more complex social contract — one that we are just starting to imagine.”

  • FloodsVirginia wetlands offer a “shelter from the storm”

    Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, causing an average of $8.2 billion in damage each year for the past thirty years. As global warming continues, scientists predict that the damage caused by floods will only increase. In Virginia, 2004’s Hurricane Gaston brought flooding which destroyed more than 5,000 homes and resulted in multiple fatalities. The storm cost an estimated $130 million in damage. Sufficient wetlands remain in Virginia to hold enough rain to cover the city of Hampton in more than thirty feet water, according to a new report by Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center. The analysis says the state’s wetlands are at risk from pollution and development, however, and so is the region’s natural shield against flood damage.

  • Disaster sheltersFew Oklahoma schools have safe room or shelters for weather emergencies

    Almost two years after a tornado destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, fewer than half of the state’s 1,773 schools have a safe room, shelter, or basement where students and school staff can take cover in a weather emergency.More than 681,000 students currently attend Oklahoma schools; as many as 500,000 teachers and students are without shelter or a safe room at schools.“I’m afraid more schools are going to be hit and more students are going to be at risk. I’m deeply troubled that two years later we don’t have a plan,” says one expert.

  • WildfiresWildfires release more greenhouse gases than assumed in California’s climate targets

    A new study quantifying the amount of carbon stored and released through California forests and wildlands finds that wildfires and deforestation are contributing more than expected to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The results could have implications for California’s efforts to meet goals mandated by the state Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The bill, which passed in 2006, assumed no net emissions for wildland ecosystems by 2020.

  • WaterCalifornia not the only state to face water shortage

    Over the past two weeks, California’s long drought — and Governor Jerry Brown’s mandatory water conservation rules — have captured the headlines. As the country keeps an eye on how Californians will adapt to the new reality of water conservation, other states must prepare to maintain the sustainability of their own water supplies. “As far as other states, if they haven’t seen it [water shortages] in the past, it’s something they will see in the future,” says a water policy analyst in Los Angeles.

  • Nuclear risksCritics: PG&E downplays quake risk to Diablo Canyon nuclear plant

    Since the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California was opened by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) in 1985, geologists have discovered three fault lines nearby, which could threaten the plant. The three faults are capable of quakes even stronger than the one which ravaged the Napa Valley last year, and critics of PG&E say the company has been minimizing the risks the three faults pose. The company rejects the criticism. The critics are now suing to company to force it to reapply for an operating license – with the information about the three faults included in the application.

  • WaterSan Diego to build largest ocean desalination plant in Western Hemisphere

    San Diego County, California will soon become home to a $1 billion desalination plant which would supply drinking water to residents currently having to cut their water consumption by as much as 25 percent in response to the state’s current drought. Small ocean desalination plants already operate throughout the state, but the facility being built in San Diego will be the largest ocean desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, producing roughly fifty million gallons of drinking water a day.