• WildfiresControlled burning of forest land limits severity of wildfires

    Controlled burning of forestland helped limit the severity of one of California’s largest wildfires, geographers say. The researchers studying the Rim Fire, which in 2013 burned nearly 400 square miles of forest in the Sierra Nevadas, found the blaze was less severe in areas recently treated with controlled burns. “You can fight fire with fire. You can fight severe fires using these more controlled fires under conditions that are suitable,” says one expert.

  • Climate threatsExplaining differences in climate change views among college graduates

    The average American college student has just a 17 percent chance of learning about climate change before graduation through required core courses. The finding may help explain why having a bachelor’s degree doesn’t always lead to increased acceptance of human-caused global warming, according to new research.

  • WildfiresSmaller branches drive the fastest, biggest wildfires

    As the West tallies the damages from the 2017 wildfire season, researchers are trying to learn more about how embers form and about the blaze-starting potential they carry. Preliminary findings indicate the diameter of the branches that are burning is the biggest single factor behind which ones will form embers the most quickly and how much energy they’ll pack.

  • WildfiresHow to fight wildfires with science

    By Albert Simeoni

    In the month of October nearly 250,000 acres, more than 8,000 homes and over 40 people fell victim to fast-moving wildfires in Northern California, the deadliest and one of the costliest outbreaks in state history. Now more wind-drive wildfires have scorched over 80,000 acres in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, forcing thousands to evacuate and closing hundreds of schools. What is the most efficient way to protect the wild and-urban interface – the area where houses meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland vegetation? And what is the best way to evacuate? Fire conditions are constantly evolving, and basic research coupled with engineering solutions must keep up. Designing more resilient communities and infrastructure and protecting people more effectively are not onetime goals – they are constant. Currently nations are failing to meet the challenge, and impacts on communities are increasing.

  • EarthquakesShakeAlert System progresses toward public use

    A decade after beginning work on an earthquake early warning system, scientists and engineers are fine-tuning a U.S. West Coast prototype that could be in limited public use in 2018. The development of ShakeAlert has shown that a dense network of seismic stations, swift transfer of seismic data to a central processing and alert station, speedy paths for distributing alert information to users, and education and training on how to use the alerts are all necessary for a robust early warning system.

  • EarthquakesEarthquake codes used in 2017 Gordon Bell Prize research

    A Chinese team of researchers awarded this year’s prestigious Gordon Bell prize for simulating the devastating 1976 earthquake in Tangshan, China, used an open-source code developed by researchers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). Using the Sunway TaihuLight, which is currently ranked as the world’s fastest supercomputer, the team developed software that was able to efficiently process 18.9 Pflops (18.9 quadrillion calculations per second) of data and create three-dimensional visualizations of the 1976 earthquake that occurred in Tangshan, China, believed to have caused between 240,000 and 700,000 casualties.

  • Tornado warningImproving tornado warnings for deaf, blind communities

    Researchers awarded a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study how tornado warnings could be improved in their accessibility and comprehension by members of the Deaf, Blind and Deaf-Blind communities. Alabama says that the grant will enable this team to build and test a system whereby Deaf people can view a local weather broadcast in a split-screen format.

  • Search & rescueIsraeli walk-and-fly Rooster robot aids disaster relief

    By Brian Blum

    RoboTiCan’s Rooster robot can help reach injured victims of natural disasters where it is not safe to send a human rescue worker. Rooster got its name from the fowl’s preference for walking but being able to fly when necessary, Ofir Bustan, RoboTiCan’s COO, said. “Most of the time it walks, but when it runs into an obstacle, it can hover and fly.” That makes Rooster different from most other search-and-rescue robots, which can either walk or fly but not both – meaning they can get stuck or are too high above the ground to search effectively for survivors.

  • Climate threatsMore-severe climate model predictions likely the most accurate

    The climate models that project greater amounts of warming this century are the ones that best align with observations of the current climate, according to a new paper. The findings suggest that the models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on average, may be underestimating future warming.

  • Disaster evacuationExplaining personal hurricane evacuation decisions

    Why do some people living in the path of a major hurricane decide to evacuate while others stay put? That’s what researchers want to know so that they can improve how emergency evacuations are handled. The researchers are gathering information about residents in areas hit by hurricanes Irma and Harvey to learn more about how people make decisions in risky situations. This will ultimately help officials and emergency personnel better manage evacuations in the future.

  • FloodsStorm clusters could produce 80 percent more rain, causing widespread flooding

    Thunderstorms and other heavy rainfall events are estimated to cause more than $20 billion of economic losses annually in the United States. Particularly damaging, and often deadly, are mesoscale convective systems (MSCs): clusters of thunderstorms that can extend for many dozens of miles and last for hours, producing flash floods, debris flows, landslides, high winds, or hail. Major clusters of summertime thunderstorms in North America will grow larger, more intense, and more frequent later this century in a changing climate, unleashing far more rain and posing a greater threat of flooding across wide areas, new research concludes.

  • Climate threatsA turn to the worst in climate change debate

    In July, New York magazine published its most-read article ever, surpassing a photo spread of Lindsay Lohan. The topic? Doom. While defying the belief among author David Wallace-Wells’s editors that climate change would be “traffic kryptonite,” the story, titled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” presented an apocalyptic vision in which rising seas flood Miami and Bangladesh, heat and drought cut grain yields in half, diseases spread, and wars rage. Unfortunately, that vision isn’t fiction, but rather Wallace-Wells’s summation of climate change’s little-discussed worst-case scenario for the year 2100.

  • DisastersDisaster zones could soon be salvaged by teams of smart devices – here’s how

    By Emma Hart and Jeremy Pitt

    We will remember 2017 as an appalling year for natural disasters. It comes months after the UN’s head of disaster planning warned that the world is not adequately preparing for disasters. This, he said, risks “inconceivably bad” consequences as climate change makes disasters more frequent and severe. In such circumstances, modern technologies like smartphones, sensors and drones could help enormously, particularly if we can get them to act like an intelligent network. We recently outlined how these three strands from political theory, social science, and biology could be brought together to develop a new paradigm for complex device networks. We see encouraging signs that such thinking is starting to catch on among researchers. These ideas should enable us to develop new approaches that will underpin and enhance a wide variety of human activities – not least when the next disaster strikes. It might even mitigate the effects of climate change, making us better at foreseeing catastrophes and taking steps to avert them.

  • Climate threatsEconomic damage of carbon emissions costlier than earlier thought

    The data used to calculate the damage that an additional ton of carbon dioxide has on the global economy has long relied on outdated science. Recent updates modeled raise the calculations of those costs significantly and change the outlook on climate change from a positive for agriculture to a negative. When the most recent science is brought to bear, one of the major models used to calculate the social cost of carbon (SCC) moves the figure to $19.70, an increase of 129 percent.

  • VolcanoesClimate change could increase volcanic eruptions

    Shrinking glacier cover could lead to increased volcanic activity in Iceland, scientists have warned. A new study found there was less volcanic activity in Iceland when glacier cover was more extensive. As the glaciers melted, volcanic eruptions increased due to subsequent changes in surface pressure.