• Teams of computers and humans more effective in disaster response

    Crisis responders need to know the extent of a natural disaster, what aid is required and where they need to get to as quickly as possible — this is what’s known as “situation awareness.” With the proliferation of mass media, a lot of data is now generated from the disaster zone via photographs, tweets, news reports and the like. With the addition of first responder reports and satellite images of the disaster area, there is a vast amount of relevant unstructured data available for situation awareness. A crisis response team will be overwhelmed by his data deluge — perhaps made even worse by reports written in languages they don’t understand. But the data is also hard to interpret by computers alone, as it’s difficult to find meaningful patterns in such a large amount of unstructured data, let alone understand the complex human problems that described within it. Experts say that joint humans-computers teams would be the best way to deal with voluminous, but unstructured, data.

  • Florida universities are national hub for hurricane mitigation research

    The National Science Foundation the other day announced grants to Florida International University and University of Florida totaling nearly $8 million that will position the state to become a national hub for research into making homes and businesses safer in hurricanes and tornadoes.

  • The Philippine islands should brace for the Big One: Scientists

    Seismologists say the Philippines should prepare for an 8.5 quake soon. The quake will be triggered by the West Valley Fault, which is a long fault running under six major cities. The scientists estimate the death toll will reach 34,000, about 4,615 kilometers of water distribution pipes will suffer 4,000 points of breakage. Thirty kilometers worth of electric cables will be cut and 95 kilometers of communication cables will be disconnected.

  • Rising seas, bigger storms may greatly magnify U.S. East Coast floods

    Over the past century, the East Coast has seen sea-level rise far above the 8-inch global average — up to a foot in much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including New York City. Many studies predict that future sea-level rise along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts will increase flooding. Others suggest that the human-caused warming driving this rise will also boost the intensity and frequency of big coastal storms. Up to now, though, these two hazards have been assessed mostly in isolation from each other. Now, a new study quantifies how they could interact to produce alarming spikes in the combined height and duration of flooding. It projects that coastal flooding could possibly shoot up several hundredfold by 2100, from the Northeast to Texas.

  • El Niño, La Niña will exacerbate coastal hazards across entire Pacific

    The projected upsurge of severe El Niño and La Niña events will cause an increase in storm events leading to extreme coastal flooding and erosion in populated regions across the Pacific Ocean, according to a multi-agency study. The impact of these storms is not presently included in most studies on future coastal vulnerability, which look primarily at sea level rise. New research data, from forty-eight beaches across three continents and five countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, suggest the predicted increase will exacerbate coastal erosion irrespective of sea level rise affecting the region.

  • More prescribed burns, less fire suppression the solution to growing wildfire problem

    With nearly nine million acres burned this year across the nation, 2015 is shaping up to be one of the most destructive wildfire seasons yet in a decade strung with devastating fire seasons. With drought and climate change, wildfires are only predicted to get worse. Experts suggest that to cope with the growing wildfire problem, a new approach must be adopted, one which is based on more prescribed and managed burns, increased thinning, and less fire suppression.

  • view counter
  • Snowpack of Sierra Nevada lowest in 500 years, worsening California water woes

    Snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada in 2015 was at the lowest level in the past 500 years, according to a new report. “Our study really points to the extreme character of the 2014-15 winter. This is not just unprecedented over 80 years — it’s unprecedented over 500 years,” said the lead author of the report. On 1 April of this year, California Governor Jerry Brown declared the first-ever mandatory water restrictions throughout the state while standing on dry ground at 6,800-foot elevation in the Sierra Nevada. The historical average snowpack on that site is more than five feet, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

  • Burning world’s remaining fossil fuel could cause 60-meter sea level rise

    New work from an international team including Carnegie’s Ken Caldeira demonstrates that the planet’s remaining fossil fuel resources would be sufficient to melt nearly all of Antarctica if burned, leading to a 50- or 60-meter (160- to 200-foot) rise in sea level. Because so many major cities are at or near sea level, this would put many highly populated areas where more than a billion people live under water, including New York City and Washington, D.C. The researchers found that if global warming did not exceed the 2 degree Celsius target often cited by climate policymakers, Antarctic melting would cause sea levels to rise only a few meters and remain manageable. But greater warming could reshape the East and West ice sheets irreparably, with every additional tenth of a degree increasing the risk of total and irreversible Antarctic ice loss.

  • Pipeline replacement programs are effective

    Aging infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and natural gas and water mains, is an increasing concern. In 2011 the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a call to action to accelerate the repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of the highest-risk pipeline infrastructure. Invisible gas leaks from aging or damaged pipelines cost U.S. consumers billions of dollars every year, contribute to global warming and, in rare cases, cause dangerous explosions. Pipeline replacement programs in cities, however, can cut natural gas leaks by 90 percent, a new study finds. “The surprise wasn’t that replacement programs worked,” said the study’s lead author. “It was that they worked so well.”

  • Destructive Southern California wildfires belong to two distinct wildfires regimes

    Wildfires have ravaged regions of Southern California at an increasing rate over the past few decades, and scientists are predicting that by mid-century, a lot more will go up in flames. In a new study, the scientists discuss two distinct wildfire regimes, those driven by offshore Santa Ana winds that kick up in the fall and non-Santa Ana fires that result primarily from hot, dry conditions in the summer.

  • Insider threats, organizational rigidity pose challenges for U.S. national security: Study

    U.S. national security faces rising challenges from insider threats and organizational rigidity, a Stanford professor says. A new study says that in the past five years, seemingly trustworthy U.S. military and intelligence insiders have been responsible for a number of national security incidents, including the WikiLeaks publications and the 2009 attack at Fort Hood in Texas that killed 13 and injured more than 30. The study’s author acknowledges the difficulties of learning lessons from tragedies like 9/11, the NASA space shuttle accidents, and the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. She notes that policymakers tend to attribute failure to people and policies. While seemingly hidden at times, the organizational roots of disaster are much more important than many think, she added.

  • NSF awards $27.5 million in hazards research grants

    Wildfires raged through Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California this summer, taking the lives of firefighters and forcing thousands to flee their homes. Months earlier and half a world away, another disaster struck when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal resulted in thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands left homeless and entire villages flattened. How can societies better predict or prevent such catastrophes? How can they help people recover more quickly from disasters?

  • NOAA: El Niño may accelerate nuisance flooding

    Nuisance flooding causes public inconveniences such as frequent road closures, overwhelmed storm water systems, and compromised infrastructure. The extent of nuisance flooding depends on multiple factors, including topography and land cover. According to a new NOAA report issued yesterday, many mid-Atlantic and West Coast communities could see the highest number of nuisance flooding days on record through April due to higher sea levels and more frequent storm surge, compounded by the strengthening El Niño, which is likely to continue into the spring. These communities may experience a 33 to 125 percent increase in the number of nuisance flooding days, the report said.

  • Army Corps of Engineers risk reduction projects prevent $13.3 billion in flood damages

    May 2015 was the wettest month on record for both Texas and Oklahoma, and set numerous records throughout the region. Continuing rains from Tropical Storm Bill in June resulted in Army Corps of Engineers flood risk reduction reservoirs and other systems put through a rigorous test to hold the floodwaters and protect local communities and downstream areas. According to recent calculations by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials with the Southwestern Division in Dallas, the Corps flood risk reduction projects in the south central and southwestern United States prevented an estimated $13.3 billion in damages to local communities and infrastructure during the May-June 2015 flood event.

  • 2015 drought costs for California agriculture: Loss of $1.84 billion, 10,100 jobs

    The drought is tightening its grip on California agriculture, squeezing about 30 percent more workers and cropland out of production than in 2014, according to the latest drought impact report. In 2015, the state’s agricultural economy will lose about $1.84 billion and 10,100 seasonal jobs because of the drought, the report estimated, with the Central Valley hardest hit. The heavy reliance on groundwater comes at ever-increasing energy costs as farmers pump deeper and drill more wells. Some of the heavy pumping is in basins already in severe overdraft — where groundwater use greatly exceeds replenishment of aquifers — inviting further land subsidence, water quality problems, and diminishing reserves needed for future droughts.