Disasters

  • Understanding the ingredients, conditions that cause spot fire ignition

    Hot metal fragments can be created from power lines, overheated brakes, railway tracks, or any other manner of metal-on-metal action in our industrialized society. The particles can reach more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, around the boiling point of most metals. Although these bits cool as they fall to the ground, they can ignite a flame that quickly spreads if they land on a prime fuel source like pine needles or dry grass. At least 28,000 fires occur each year in the United States due to hot metal hazards, according to a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

  • Geoengineering not a substitute for reducing carbon emissions: Scientists

    There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change, a National Research Council committee concluded in a two-volume evaluation of proposed climate-intervention techniques. Strategies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are limited by cost and technological immaturity, but they could contribute to a broader portfolio of climate change responses with further research and development. Albedo-modification technologies, which aim to increase the ability of Earth or clouds to reflect incoming sunlight, pose considerable risks and should not be deployed at this time.

  • Geoengineering solutions to climate change not likely to be ready in time

    Governments have been slow to adopt measures to deal with climate change, so it is not surprising that scientists and engineers have been offering different technologies which would help slow down, or even reverse, global warming. These different technologies are called “geoengineering.” Some scientists have now concluded that even if a technological solution is found, it may not be developed and implemented quickly enough to affect the change required.

  • Midwest floods becoming more frequent

    The U.S. Midwest region and surrounding states have endured increasingly more frequent floods during the last half-century, according to results of a new study. The findings fit well with current thinking among scientists about how the hydrologic cycle is being affected by climate change. In general, as the atmosphere becomes warmer, it can hold more moisture. One consequence of higher water vapor concentrations is more frequent, intense precipitation.  The floods caused agricultural and other economic losses in the billions of dollars, displaced people, and led to loss of life.

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  • Oklahoma rejects “rush to judgment” on the connection between fracking and earthquakes

    Between 1978 to mid-2009, Oklahoma recorded one or two 3.0 or greater magnitude earthquakes. Last year the state experienced 585 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater. Studies conducted by seismologists, including those who work with the United States Geological Survey(USGS), have attributed the spike in earthquakes to the roughly 3,200 active disposal wells, in which wastewater produced during oil and gas drilling is stored deep underground, and independent scientific studies have established the causal relationship between fracking and earthquake. Arkansas, Ohio, and Colorado have imposed temporary restrictions on fracking, while Texas and Illinois are considering similar measures – but the Oklahoma Geological Survey says that “We consider a rush to judgment about earthquakes being triggered to be harmful to state, public and industry interests.”

  • Texas appoints seismologist to examine wave of Irving-area quakes

    Research over decades has shown the fracking process — injecting fluid underground to release oil — has been the cause of fault slips and fractures. The fluid can often lubricate existing faults and cause them to slip. The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) has turned to David Craig Pearson to help study a series of quakes which hit the area of Irving within a span of a few days. A UT-Austin seismologist has already published a report which found that most earthquakes in Texas’s oil-rich Barnett Shale occurred within two miles of an injection well, essentially proving that some of the quakes are caused by fracking. Pearson’s appointment was not universally welcomed, as some see him as too close to industry. “I’m absolutely engaged with trying to figure out the cause of all earthquakes throughout Texas,” said Pearson. “I’m a scientists first, and a Railroad Commission employee second.”

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  • Winter storms costly for Western economies: Aon Benfield

    Aon Benfield’s January 2015 catastrophe report reveals that a series of four powerful windstorms over a seven-day span during January in different regions of Western Europe caused economic and insured losses were expected to reach hundreds of millions of euros. The catastrophe study highlights that two separate winter weather events impacted northeastern parts of the United States during the month, caused total economic damage and losses, including business interruption, estimated at $500 million.

  • "uisance flooding” becoming problem for many U.S. coastal communities

    Scientists say that floods and surges will become a regular feature of life in many coastal U.S. cities, even when the weather is not particularly bad or stormy. Some communities along the East Coast are flooding even in calm, clear weather, indicating a trend of “nuisance floods” which will increasingly plague many parts of the U.S. coast in the future. Annapolis, Maryland, is but one example: From 1957 to 1963, flooding hit the city about 3.8 days a year. From 2007 to 2013, that average had increased to 39.3 days a year.

  • Coastal communities can lower flood insurance rates by addressing sea-level rise

    City leaders and property developers in Tampa Bay are urging coastal communities to prepare today for sea-level rise and future floods in order to keep flood insurance rates low in the future. FEMA, which administers the National Flood Insurance Program(NFIP), is increasing flood insurance premiums across the country, partly to offset losses from recent disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Cities can reduce insurance premiums for nearly all residents who carry flood coverage by improving storm-water drainage, updating building codes to reflect projected rise in sea-levels, moving homes out of potentially hazardous areas, and effectively informing residents about storm danger and evacuation routes.

  • Before-and-after aerial imagery of infrastructure to help first responders

    When disaster strikes, it is important for responders and emergency officials to know what critical infrastructure has been damaged so they can direct supplies and resources accordingly. Researchers are developing a program that uses before-and-after aerial imagery to reveal infrastructure damage in a matter of minutes.

  • Rising seas may force coastal communities to “strategically retreat”: Corps of Engineers

    In response to Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineershas conducted a two-year study on 31,200 miles of coastal, back bay, and estuarine areas in ten states. The Corps has identified nine high-risk areas for future flooding along the North Atlantic coast. The study offers a nine-step planning process on how to identify risky areas and develop strategies to reduce the risk. It also recommends several ways communities can deal with rising sea levels, including bulkheads, seawalls, levees, elevation of homes and roads, dunes, breakwaters, living shorelines made of natural materials, groins, deployable floodwalls, and reefs. “Some communities looking out twenty years or more may consider strategic retreat and relocating people to higher ground. Each community has to evaluate which measures will work for them,” said Amy Guise, the chief of the Army Corps command center in Baltimore.

  • Missing oil from Deepwater Horizon 2010 accident found

    After 200 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the government and BP cleanup crews mysteriously had trouble locating all of it. Now, a new study finds that some six million to ten million gallons are buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about sixty-two miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta.

  • Faster first aid for catastrophe victims

    In mass casualty incidents, triage of the victims must be performed as quickly as possible, in order to evacuate and take them to appropriate hospitals. Today, first responders use colored paper tags to classify victims. Researchers have developed an electronic gadget that may replace the colored paper tags in a triage. Beyond just visually tagging a victim, the device transmits, in real time, the victim’s location and vital data, for example, heart rate, respiratory rate, and oxygen saturation, to emergency response control centers.

  • U.S. yet to develop a strategy to secure nation’s critical infrastructure

    For years, the U.S. government has warned federal and state agencies about the threat posed by hackers who may target computer systems responsible for operating nuclear plants, electric substations, oil and gas pipelines, transit systems, chemical facilities, and drinking water facilities. In February 2013, President Barack Obama issued a directive stating, “It is the policy of the United States to strengthen the security and resilience of its critical infrastructure against both physical and cyber threats.” Two years later the federal government has yet to develop or adopt a consensus on how to secure America’s critical infrastructure from cyber criminals.

  • Prolonged heatwaves in urban areas increase significantly over past 40 years

    The world’s urban areas have experienced significant increases in heatwaves over the past forty years, according to new research published last week. These prolonged periods of extreme hot days have significantly increased in over 200 urban areas across the globe between 1973 and 2012, and have been most prominent in the most recent years on record. The study is one of the first to focus solely on the extent of extreme weather on a global scale, as well as examining disparities between urban and non-urban areas.