• New study examines the causes and consequences of the 2015 Texas floods

    The Memorial Day 2015 Wimberley, Texas flood along the Blanco River destroyed 350 homes and claimed 13 lives. The Texas Hill Country, where Wimberly is located, is known as “Flash Flood Alley” because it leads North America as the most flash-flood prone region. In the past five years, Flash Flood Alley has seen two “500-year storms” and one “300-year storm.” Researchers call for better storm preparations in light of this revelation, to allow for blocking roads and evacuation of residents.

  • California’s other drought: A major earthquake is overdue

    California earthquakes are a geologic inevitability. The earthquake situation in California is actually more dire than people who aren’t seismologists like myself may realize. The good news is that earthquake readiness is part of the state’s culture, and earthquake science is advancing – including much improved simulations of large quake effects and development of an early warning system for the Pacific coast. Early warning systems are operational now in Japan, Taiwan, Mexico and Romania. Systems in California and the Pacific Northwest are presently under development with early versions in operation. Earthquake early warning is by no means a panacea for saving lives and property, but it represents a significant step toward improving earthquake safety and awareness along the West Coast. Managing earthquake risk requires a resilient system of social awareness, education and communications, coupled with effective short- and long-term responses and implemented within an optimally safe built environment. As California prepares for large earthquakes after a hiatus of more than a century, the clock is ticking.

  • Central, Western Europe flood risk to increase substantially as a result of global warming

    Europe is expected to see a considerable increase in flood risk in coming years, even under an optimistic climate change scenario of 1.5°C warming compared to pre-industrial levels. A study assesses flood impacts for three scenarios – of 1.5°C, 2°C, and 3°C warming – and finds that most of Central and Western Europe will experience substantial increase in flood risk at all warming levels, and the higher the warming, the higher the risk. Damage from floods across Europe is projected to more than double, from a 113 percent average increase if warming is kept to 1.5°C, to 145 percent under the 3°C scenario.

  • Mitigation, adaptation measures required now as river flood risks increase around the globe

    Rainfall changes caused by global warming will increase river flood risks across the globe. Already today, fluvial floods are among the most common and devastating natural disasters. Scientists have now calculated the required increase in flood protection until the 2040s worldwide, breaking it down to single regions and cities. Inaction would expose many millions of people to severe flooding.

  • Disasters are destroying places we hold dear. What we do next will make all the difference.

    When fires, floods and other major disruptions alter natural areas, our first instinct is to restore what’s lost. But moving forward may mean leaving some treasured things behind. On 2 September 2017, a wildfire ignited in the Columbia River Gorge about 40 miles east of Portland, Oregon. Quickly, flames spread across the canyon’s south side and ascended the surrounding cliffs, where dry east winds blew them into an inferno. Within three days the Eagle Creek Fire had enveloped more than 20,000 acres and jumped the river to the north rim. With smoke still choking its skies, the community plunged into a debate over how it should respond to this profound loss: try to reconstruct the past, or accept a new reality? Inhabitants of a dynamic world have grappled with this question for eons, but today and in a future where climate change is quickly destabilizing our environments, the changes are becoming more frequent and more consequential. More than ever, policy-makers and land managers are needing to make tough choices about humankind’s role in managing the natural world. Biologist Johanna Varner does not intend to encourage complacency about disasters that arise as a result of human activity, but she points out that our new reality is likely to be a time of great loss, and how we choose to respond to those losses will make a big difference. In the Columbia River Gorge or elsewhere, whether we re-create what goes missing, build something new or leave it alone entirely, our decisions will seed the future.

  • Climate stress puts nearly half of California's vegetation at risk

    Current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are putting nearly half of California’s natural vegetation at risk from climate stress, with transformative implications for the state’s landscape and the people and animals that depend on it, according to a new study. Cutting emissions so that global temperatures increase by no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) could reduce those impacts by half, with about a quarter of the state’s natural vegetation affected.

  • Unless carbon emissions are reversed, global temperature targets will be missed soon

    New scientific projections could be the catalyst the world has sought to determine how best to meet its obligations to reduce carbon emissions and better manage global warming as defined by the Paris Agreement. A new study projects that if immediate action isn’t taken, the earth’s global average temperature is likely to rise to 1.5°C above the period before the industrial revolution within the next 17-18 years, and to 2.0°C in 35-41 years respectively if the carbon emission rate remains at its present-day value.

  • Climate engineering, if started, would have severe consequences if stopped abruptly

    Facing a climate crisis, we may someday spray sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere to form a cloud that cools the Earth, but suddenly stopping the spraying would have a severe global impact on animals and plants, according to the first study on the potential biological impacts of geoengineering, or climate intervention. “Rapid warming after stopping geoengineering would be a huge threat to the natural environment and biodiversity,” says one expert. “If geoengineering ever stopped abruptly, it would be devastating, so you would have to be sure that it could be stopped gradually, and it is easy to think of scenarios that would prevent that. Imagine large droughts or floods around the world that could be blamed on geoengineering, and demands that it stop. Can we ever risk that?”

  • Alaska lifts tsunami warning

    A magnitude 7.9 earthquake, which struck 170 miles off the Alaska coast early Tuesday, led the Alaska government to issue a tsunami advisory — but the warning was lifted four hours later. The USGS reported the magnitude 7.9 quake at 12:31 a.m. Alaska time. Officials had feared that tsunami waves could reach far inland, and issued tsunami guidance for the entire coastal area stretching from Alaska to the U.S. border with Mexico.

  • Climate change will displace millions in coming decades. Nations should prepare now to help them

    By the middle of this century, experts estimate that climate change is likely to displace between 150 and 300 million people. If this group formed a country, it would be the fourth-largest in the world, with a population nearly as large as that of the United States. Yet neither individual countries nor the global community are completely prepared to support a whole new class of “climate migrants.” The scale of this challenge is unlike anything humanity has ever faced. By midcentury, climate change is likely to uproot far more people than the Second World War, which displaced some 60 million across Europe, or the Partition of India, which affected approximately 15 million. The migration crisis that has gripped Europe since 2015 has involved something over one million refugees and migrants. It is daunting to envision much larger flows of people, but that is why the global community should start doing so now.

  • Climate change will displace millions of people. Where will they go?

    The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a protected refugee as someone who leaves his or her home country due to racial, religious, or social persecution, or reasonable fear of such persecution. These refugees have the right to seek asylum and protection from participating members of the United Nations (though these countries are not obligated to take them in). However, people displaced by climate change do not fit this definition. At the international level, there is no legal mechanism in place to protect climate migrants’ rights and to ensure assistance from other countries. For climate relocation to work, governments need to care and commit to international responsibility and burden-sharing. However, in the current global political context of fear of terrorism, an increased refugee influx into Europe, and an overall rise of xenophobia, countries are more likely to opt for stricter policies on cross-border migration.

  • Virgin Islands re-establishes disaster early warning system

    The cabinet of the Virgin Islands has approved the expenditure of $442,000 to re-establish the National Early Warning System. Some of the networks were established as far back as 1979 and have been used to provide immediate warning and notification to persons throughout the territory. As a result of the National Early Warning Program, the Islands’ Department of Disaster Management (DDM) was able to apply for and receive Tsunami Ready Recognition in 2014 and this was renewed in June 2017.

  • Learning from Mexico's earthquake early warning system

    In the company of only Japan and Taiwan, Mexico is one of few countries equipped with a seismic warning system that currently broadcasts publicly. Mexico has been broadcasting in a public regional capacity since 1993 via the Mexico Seismic Warning System, which currently has more than 90 sensors in central and southern Mexico. Although no one can reliably predict earthquakes, today’s technology is now advanced enough to rapidly detect seismic waves as an earthquake begins and send alerts to surrounding areas before damaging shaking arrives.

  • Hawaii’s missile alert gaffe: why good human-machine design is critical

    It’s an unfortunate reality that we need to prepare for national emergencies due to war or natural disasters. Civil defense organizations, set up to coordinate and respond to such emergencies, are an important part of any modern state. Such entities play a critical role in terms of triggering alerts, coordinating response across law enforcement and emergency services, disseminating information and aiding response efforts to minimize impact and restore order. Clearly, they are important systems for alerting nations to risks when disaster strikes. But such systems can go wrong. Our interaction with technology is becoming more and more complex. Early warning systems are very welcome, but the Hawaii mishap serves as an opportunity for a radical redesign, with a better understanding of their impact on the population. At a time when the world is increasingly uncertain and our dependence on technology is so high, a redesign of poor warning systems is critical.

  • Long-term warming trend continued in 2017: NASA, NOAA

    Earth’s global surface temperatures in 2017 ranked as the second warmest since reliable instrumental records began in 1880, according to an analysis by NASA. Continuing the planet’s long-term warming trend, globally averaged temperatures in 2017 were 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.90 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean. The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (a little more than 1 degree Celsius) during the last century or so, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere. Last year was the third consecutive year in which global temperatures were more than 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) above late nineteenth-century levels.