Disasters

  • HurricanesNew facility for hurricane research to study why some storms intensify so quickly

    It still astonishes meteorologists. In the span of just twenty-four hours, Hurricane Wilma, the twenty-second named storm of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, intensified from a tropical cyclone to a Category 5 hurricane — its wind speed soaring from 70 to 175 mph. As remarkable as Wilma’s rapid intensification was, however, it is not the only case of a storm muscling up at warp speed. As Hurricane Charley approached Florida’s west coast in 2004, its sustained winds jumped from 110 to 150 mph in only three hours. In 2007 Felix strengthened from a meager tropical depression to a Category 5 hurricane in fifty-one hours. This could all change soon now that the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science has opened its Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex, a $50 million facility that houses a 38,000-gallon, 75-foot-long tank into which researchers pump seawater to study how the ocean and atmosphere interact — the critical air-sea interface that could tell us why some storms intensify so quickly.

  • Infrastructure protectionFloating cities increasingly attractive prospect in the face of sea level rise, floods

    More and more urban planners and disaster managers are asking the question: “Has the time come for floating cities?” Experts say thatin the face of climate change-driven sea level rise and shifting weather patterns poised seriously to impact many cities over the course of the next decades, the option of having cities that can accommodate shifting tides is making more and more sense.

  • FrackingHydraulic fracturing caused earthquakes in Ohio

    Hydraulic fracturing triggered a series of small earthquakes in 2013 on a previously unmapped fault in Harrison County, Ohio, according to a new study. This series of earthquakes is the first known instance of seismicity in the area. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method for extracting gas and oil from shale rock by injecting a high-pressure water mixture directed at the rock to release the gas inside. The process of hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into the rock under high pressure to create cracks. The process of cracking rocks results in micro- earthquakes.

  • Seismic early warningsAnimals have built-in seismic early-warning mechanism: Scientists

    Unusual animal behaviors (UABs) have been observed before large natural disasters including earthquakes, but these animals’ “early warning” mechanisms have not been scientifically identified. A recent study in Japan investigated the behaviors of cats and dogs, and changes in dairy milk production, before the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that struck the island nation on 11 March 2011.

  • Cyber insuranceSurge in cyberattacks drives growth in cybersecurity insurance

    More than 3,000 American businesses were hacked in 2013, many of them small and mid-size firms without cybersecurity insurance. That surge in cyberattacks has led to a growing cybersecurity industry, with firms offering products and solutions to secure network systems. Insurance companies are also claiming their stake in the booming industry. Today, roughly fifty U.S. companies offer cybersecurity insurance. American businesses will spend up to $2 billion on cyber-insurance premiums this year, a 67 percent increase from the $1.2 billion spent in 2013.

  • EarthquakesSections of the San Andreas Fault system in San Francisco Bay Area are locked, overdue

    The earthquake cycle reflects the accumulation of strain on a fault, its release as slip, and its re-accumulation and re-release. Fault creep is the slip and slow release of strain in the uppermost part of the Earth’s crust that occurs on some faults between large earthquakes, when much greater stress is released in only seconds. Where no fault creep occurs, a fault is considered locked and stress will build until it is released by an earthquake. Four urban sections of the San Andreas Fault system in Northern California have stored enough energy to produce major earthquakes, according to a new study that measures fault creep. Three fault sections — Hayward, Rodgers Creek, and Green Valley — are nearing or past their average recurrence interval, according to the study.

  • Coastal infrastructureIn worst-case scenario, sea level would rise 1.8 meters

    The climate is getting warmer, the ice sheets are melting and sea levels are rising — but how much? The report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013 was based on the best available estimates of future sea levels, but the panel was not able to come up with an upper limit for sea level rise within this century. Now researchers have calculated the risk for a worst-case scenario. The results indicate that at worst, the sea level would rise a maximum of 1.8 meters – but the much more likely rise in sea level would be around 80 cm.

  • SimulationU.S., U.K. war-game failure of too-big-to-fail banks

    On Monday U.S. treasury secretary Jack Lew, his British counterpart Chancellor George Osborne, along with the heads of both countries’ central banks, participated in a simulation to test the actions that would follow should a major transatlantic bank went under. The scenario allows U.S. and British authorities to “make sure we can handle an institution that was previously regarded as too big to fail,” according to Osborne. War games have long been used to build trust and co-operation among allies and adversaries.

  • Infrastructure protectionBay Area’s infrastructure more resilient, but a major tremor would paralyze region’s economy

    Twenty-five years ago, the San Francisco Bay Area suffered the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake, which killed sixty-three people, injured 3,700, destroyed 366 businesses and 11,000 homes, and caused $6 billion in property damage. Since then, bridges and roads have been rebuilt to withstand more powerful quakes, but seismic safety experts say more could be done to protect property and human life. A major earthquake is not likely completely to destroy the Golden Gate Bridge or other major infrastructure developments, but the Bay Area’s $535 billion a year economy will come to a halt for months and even years due to weakened critical infrastructure.

  • Climate & securityU.S. military must be ready for climate change: Hagel

    Climate change is a threat multiplier, and the U.S. Defense Department is taking steps to incorporate this issue into all planning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Peru Monday. Climate change has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges the world already confronts, from the spread of infectious diseases to spurring armed conflicts, Hagel said at the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas. Hagel announced a Defense Department Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap during his speech. The roadmap is based on science, he said, and describes the effects of climate change on DoD’s missions and responsibilities.

  • Coastal infrastructure15 years from now, our impact on regional sea level will be clear

    By John Church and Xuebin Zhang

    Coastal communities and industries require information on regional sea-level change to develop strategies for reducing the risk to population, infrastructure and the environment. This requires modeling projections of sea-level rise, estimating the costs and benefits of adaptation options, and understanding the impacts on coastal ecosystems. Inundation maps that can be used to identify areas that are most vulnerable to rising sea levels are particularly valuable. Adaptation measures may include land-use planning such as preventing building in low lying areas, increasing or maintaining a vegetated coastal margin that serves as a buffer zone against extreme sea levels, or using protective sea walls in the long run if certain sea level rise thresholds are exceeded.

  • WaterSimulations reveal California’s resilience to extreme droughts

    The results from a series of several-year-old computer simulations reveal that the state of California may be more resilient to long-term drought conditions than previously believed. “The results were surprising,” said one of the scientists involved in the study. “California has a remarkable ability to weather extreme and prolonged droughts from an economic perspective.”

  • HazmatDebate continues over releasing Pennsylvania crude oil shipment information

    Shipment of crude oil by rail in the United States has increased from 800,000 barrels a day in 2012 to 1.4 million in 2014. In western Pennsylvania, over seventy-five million gallons of crude oil are passing through Allegheny and Westmoreland counties to refineries in Philadelphia. Release of the recently classified rail transport records by Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) was a result of a federal mandate ordering railway companies to share information on interstate shipments of crude oil with state emergency management officials.Railway companies claim that releasing the information threatens security and is commercially sensitive.

  • Preparation businessDisaster preparation business booms

    Concerns about future manmade and natural disasters are driving the U.S. market for survival kits. Across the country, families are developing disaster plans, and some are even loading up on food and supplies to help them live through a biological attack, a catastrophic earthquake, or a pandemic flu. More and more businesses are targeting preppers, — people who actively prepare for a doomsday scenario.

  • ResilienceSome states are better prepared than others for climate change challenges

    In recent years, a number of states have started taking action to prepare their communities for climate change. Many have even developed specific adaptation plans to guide their work. Until now, though, no one has been able to define how much progress states are actually making in implementing those plans. The Georgetown Climate Center’s (GCC) online tool, the State Adaptation Progress Tracker, changes that. A GCC release says that now, anyone will be able to quickly determine how much progress their state is making and decision-makers will be able to learn from innovative examples of actions other states are taking.