Disasters

  • Accelerated urbanization exposes French cities to increased seismic risk

    Old structures, designed before current seismic building codes, abound in France, and there is insufficient information about how they will respond during an earthquake. French researchers have looked into data mining to develop a method for extracting information on the vulnerability of cities in regions of moderate risk, creating a proxy for assessing the probable resilience of buildings and infrastructure despite incomplete seismic inventories of buildings. The research exposes significant vulnerability in regions that have experienced an “explosion of urbanization.”

  • App helps save people trapped by avalanche

    For the person buried under the weight of an avalanche, each minute is precious. A person saved from the snow mass within fifteen minutes has a 90 percent chance of survival. After forty-five minutes that chance has diminished considerably. Researchers develop an app that makes it possible for skiers with smartphones to find people buried in the snow.

  • Safeguarding networks when disasters strike

    Disasters both natural and human-caused can damage or destroy data and communications networks. Several presentations at the 2014 OFC Conference and Exposition, being held 9-13 March in San Francisco, will present new information on strategies that can mitigate the impacts of these disasters. Researchers created an algorithm that keeps data safe by moving or copying the data from data centers in peril to more secure locations away from the disaster. The algorithm assesses the risks for damage and users’ demands on the network to determine, in real-time, which locations would provide the safest refuge from a disaster. Other researchers suggest that if fiber-optic cables are down, wireless communication can fill the void and be part of a temporary, emergency network. For such a system to work, however, wireless technology would have to be integrated with the fiber-optic network that transports data around the world.

  • Large shake tables expands capabilities of U Nevada, Reno’s quake engineering lab

    When it opens, the University of Nevada, Reno’s new Earthquake Engineering Laboratoryt will join with the internationally renowned Large-Scale Structures Laboratory to comprise the largest and most versatile structural engineering experimental facility in the United States. Researchers at the facility will conduct research aiming to test new designs and materials that will make buildings, bridges, and highways safer.

  • Flood risk in Europe could double by 2050

    Losses from extreme floods in Europe could more than double by 2050 because of climate change and socioeconomic development. Floods in the European Union averaged 4.9 billion euros a year from 2000 to 2012. These average losses could increase to 23.5 billion euros by 2050. In addition, large events such as the 2013 European floods are likely to increase in frequency from an average of once every sixteen years to a probability of once every ten years by 2050. Understanding the risk posed by large-scale floods is of growing importance and will be a key for managing climate adaptation.

  • What use are apps when your web infrastructure is underwater?

    This winter has seen unprecedented high winds and flooding resulting in widespread and in some cases, long-lasting power outages in the United Kingdom, particularly in the west of England. Time and time again, companies have advised their customers to go online to check their Web sites for the latest information. Some organizations have even created apps specifically designed to assist flood victims; others have established Facebook self-help groups. There is a fundamental problem here: There are two primary ways in which we gain access to the Web, via a landline and using a mobile connection. Within our homes the landline connects to a wireless router and also, for a lot of homes, a cordless telephone, both of which need electrical power to work. So, when the lights go out, your router and cordless phones are useless. The result is that at times of crisis, the customers in most need are often the ones with no access.

  • Real-time forecast of Hurricane Sandy accurately predicted storm’s track, intensity

    A real-time hurricane analysis and prediction system that effectively incorporates airborne Doppler radar information may accurately track the path, intensity, and wind force in a hurricane. This system also can identify the sources of forecast uncertainty.

  • Volcanoes can go from dormant to active quickly

    A new study suggests that the magma sitting 4-5 kilometers beneath the surface of Oregon’s Mount Hood has been stored in near-solid conditions for thousands of years, but that the time it takes to liquefy and potentially erupt is surprisingly short — perhaps as little as a couple of months. The key, scientists say, is to elevate the temperature of the rock to more than 750 degrees Celsius, which can happen when hot magma from deep within the Earth’s crust rises to the surface.

  • Volcanic eruptions explain recent warming hiatus

    Volcanic eruptions in the early part of the twenty-first century have cooled the planet, according to a study led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This cooling has partly offset the warming produced by greenhouse gases, explaining why, despite continuing increases in atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, and in the total heat content of the ocean, global-mean temperatures at the surface of the planet and in the troposphere (the lowest portion of the Earth’s atmosphere) have shown relatively little warming since 1998. Scientists note that human-induced – that is, greenhouse gasses emissions-related — change typically causes the troposphere to warm and the stratosphere to cool. In contrast, large volcanic eruptions cool the troposphere and warm the stratosphere.

  • Unsupervised robotic construction crew to build flood defenses

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    On the plains of Namibia, millions of tiny termites are building a mound of soil — an 8-foot-tall “lung” for their underground nest. They do so without a supervisor, foreman, or CEO to tell them what to do. During a year of construction, many termites will live and die, wind and rain will erode the structure, and yet the colony’s life-sustaining project will continue. Harvard researchers, inspired by the termites’ resilience and collective intelligence, have created an autonomous robotic construction crew. The system needs no supervisor, no eye in the sky, and no communication: just simple robots — any number of robots — that cooperate by modifying their environment. In the future, similar robots could lay sandbags in advance of a flood, or perform simple construction tasks on Mars.

  • Large offshore wind farms could weaken hurricanes before they make landfall

    Computer simulations have shown that offshore wind farms with thousands of wind turbines could have sapped the power of three real-life hurricanes, significantly decreasing their winds and accompanying storm surge, and possibly preventing billions of dollars in damages. For example, an array of 78,000 wind turbines off the coast of New Orleans would have significantly weakened Hurricane Katrina well before it made landfall, reducing wind speeds between 80 and 98 mph, and decreasing the storm surge by up to 79 percent.

  • Protecting the grid from geomagnetic storms

    A geomagnetic storm disrupts the Earth’s magnetic field by producing geomagnetically induced currents (GICs) on the Earth’s surface, which can enter the power grid at transformer stations and move along power lines, disrupting normal operations. A geomagnetic storm would reach Earth between fourteen and ninety-six hours, leaving little time to safeguard critical infrastructure. U.S. regulators are drafting reliability standards and procedures to protect the U.S. power grid from such storms.

  • Limitations and side effects of large-scale geoengineering

    Despite international agreements on climate protection and political declarations of intent, global greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased, and with the accelerating industrialization of emerging markets, are not likely to any time soon. Therefore, large-scale methods – called geoengineering or climate engineering — artificially to slow down global warming are increasingly being discussed. Scientists say that the long-term consequences and side effects of these methods have not been adequately studied.

  • Damage to coastal infrastructure from storm surges, floods may reach 9% of global GDP

    Damage to the world’s coastal infrastructure as a result of flooding, sea level rise, and coastline development is expected to cost as much as 9 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) according to a new report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS).

  • Studying the 2011 Mississippi and Ohio rivers flood for better flood preparedness

    In May 2011, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used explosives to breach a levee south of Cairo, Illinois, diverting the rising waters of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to prevent flooding in the town, about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland were inundated. It was the largest flood of the lower Mississippi ever recorded. Researchers took advantage of this “once-in-a-scientific-lifetime” occurrence to study the damage in order to demonstrate that landscape vulnerabilities can be mapped ahead of time to help communities prepare for extreme flooding.