Disasters

  • Sea level rise accelerated over the past two decades, research finds

    Sea level rise sped up over the last two decades rather than slowing down as previously thought, according to new research. The research corrects other studies which relied on records from tide gauges and satellites, records which have shown sea level rise to be slowing slightly over the past twenty years. This slowing down surprised scientists: As the ice sheets of West Antarctica and Greenland melt and send huge amounts of water into the ocean, climate models predicted that sea level rise would accelerate, not slow down. The new research, in which researchers used data sets generated by both tidal gauges and altimetric satellites, found, however, that the record of sea level rise during the early 1990s was too high. When adjustments are made for the initial error, the rate of sea level rise is not slowing down but accelerating, and the IPCC climate modelling proves right.

  • Florida coastal communities’ infrastructure officials say state government ignores sea level rise

    Water officials serving communities along Florida’s 1,200-mile coastline say the state government has rejected the scientific consensus on man-made climate change. These officials are worried that unprecedented flood levels will erode their buildings, push seawater into drinking water wells, and overburden aging flood-control systems. Despite warnings from water and climate experts about risks to Florida’s cities and drinking water, deniers and skeptics of climate change science have suppressed efforts at all levels of state government to address these risks.

  • Final prototype of tool for spotting buried victims now commercially available

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory, last week announced the transition of the final prototype of the Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response (FINDER) technology to the commercial market. The technology proved successful during its first real-world operational use when it was deployed to Nepal following the 25 April earthquake to support international search and rescue efforts in the country.

  • DHS selects U Rhode Island to partner on coastal resiliency research

    The University of Rhode Island has been selected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to be one of two primary partners, along with Jackson State University, in the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The selection, which could result in funding in excess of $2.5 million, enables URI to provide key research designed to help build resiliency along the U.S. coastlines and prepare for increasingly severe coastal hazards.

  • Nepal should use updated, upgraded building codes in post-disaster construction: Experts

    Urban planners and disaster experts who have been arriving in Kathmandu to inventory, assess, and make recommendations have been urging the Nepalese authorities to “Build it back better.” There are plenty of examples of post-disaster construction built significantly safer, using low-cost traditional materials and methods. Nepal has last updated its building code in 1994.

  • North Carolina to accept findings of new sea-level rise scientific report

    Reversing a previous State General Assembly law prohibiting state agencies and communities from using the findings of a 2012 climate change report as a basis for zoning and infrastructure planning regulations, the government of North Carolina has now moderated its opposition to further scientific findings concerning climate change. Under public pressure, legislators relented, agreeing to allow the Science Panel of the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commissioner (CRC), subject to some limitations, to write a new report on sea level rise along the state’s coast.

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  • NYC should brace for the Big One -- Sandy was merely a freak: Scientists

    Superstorm Sandy, the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history, caused $65 billion in damages, destroyed 305,000 New York City housing units, and left 117 people dead. The city is now fortifying its infrastructure against future storms because according to climate scientists, the 2012 storm was not The Big One which is expected to occur in future years. “Sandy was not the Big One,” says one climate expert. “Sandy was a freak, caused by an extremely rare confluence of events.”

  • Geologist: Cities located next to earthquake “time bombs” should prepare for the inevitable

    A geologist, who is the author of the forthcoming Earthquake Time Bombs, points to several areas around the worlds where large cities lie on or adjacent to a major plate boundary creating a ticking time bomb: Tehran, the capital of Iran; Kabul in Afghanistan; Jerusalem in the Middle East; Caracas in Venezuela; Guantanamo, Cuba; Los Angeles, California; and the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the northwestern United States and near British Columbia. “These places should take lessons from the regions that already have experienced major earthquakes, including Nepal,” he says.

  • Corruption, lax building codes exacerbate natural disasters in poor countries

    While all heavily populated earthquake zones face the challenge of preparing for inevitable but unpredictable quakes, the poorest zones face the most risk as they invest less in building resilience and safe construction practices.Nepali experts note that bribery, lax law enforcement, and a lack of land-use controls left buildings vulnerable to seismic disasters.

  • New measuring systems remotely assessing avalanche risk

    Accurate forecasting of avalanches, and the risk of flooding in Alpine catchment areas during the spring thaw, primarily requires time-resolved data on snow volumes and the levels of liquid water in the snow cover. Geographers have developed a novel measuring system relying on two different physical methods which promises to enhance forecasting of avalanches and spring floods. The method combines GPS and radar to measure snow properties also on the slopes.

  • Warm ocean hot spots caused mid-1930s U.S. Dust Bowl

    The unusually hot summers of 1934 and 1936 broke heat records that still stand today. They were part of the devastating dust bowl decade in the United States when massive dust storms traveled as far as New York, Boston, and Atlanta, covering the decks of ships with silt 450 km off the east coast. Two ocean hot spots have been found to be the potential drivers of these hot 1934 and 1936 summers in the central United States, knowledge that may help predict future calamities.

  • Seismologists deploy after a quake to learn more, so we can prepare for the next one

    The simple truth about great earthquakes, and the miserable cascade of events they often trigger, is this: if an earthquake has affected a region, recently or in historical records, then future earthquakes in that region are inevitable. Globally, we need a program of identification and characterization of potentially hazardous faults in urban areas. From those studies, site-specific expected seismic shaking maps can be developed and construction codes and engineering design specifications for infrastructure enacted, mitigating hazard to new and future construction. Then urban political leaders and civil defense agencies must collaborate to lead local populations in an open and honest dialog to identify both irreplaceable cultural heritage, and also infrastructure that must survive natural disasters intact in order to prevent an earthquake from triggering a series of consequent catastrophes — fires, water, and food shortages and disease outbreaks. These structures should be retrofitted to survive the predicted shaking from the maximum expected magnitude earthquake for the given area. A number of different mechanisms to pay for this costly preventive engineering are almost certainly needed, tailored to local conditions.

  • Preparing for extreme weather events

    “Arthur,” “Katrina,” “Allan,” and “Bertha” are examples of extreme weather events that have ravaged European and North American communities in recent years. Such extreme events often have enormous economic consequences, but they also represent irreplaceable losses for people whose homes have been destroyed. Since extreme weather is one consequence of climate change, we know that we need to prepare ourselves for more Arthurs and Katrinas in the coming years. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) are studying how Norwegian communities are tackling climate change and extreme weather events.

  • Young students compete at the Sea Level Measurement Device Design competition

    Global warming is bringing about a rise in the mean sea level, and this increases the risk of coastal flooding brought by storm surges during the passage of tropical cyclones. Two-hundred young students – from 4th grade to junior high — from twenty-five primary, secondary, and international schools designed and produced sea level measurement devices to compete for various prizes in the Sea Level Measurement Device Design Competition held last Sunday at the University of Hong Kong.

  • Protecting the U.S. power grid

    The U.S. power grid is made up of complex and expensive system components, which are owned by utilities ranging from small municipalities to large national corporations spanning multiple states. A National Academy of Sciences report estimates that a worst-case geomagnetic storm could have an economic impact of $1 trillion to $2 trillion in the first year, which is twenty times the damage caused by a Katrina-class hurricane.