• 1-in-20 chance of warming causing catastrophic, or even existential, damage by 2050

    A new study evaluating models of future climate scenarios has led to the creation of the new risk categories “catastrophic” and “unknown” to characterize the range of threats posed by rapid global warming. Researchers propose that unknown risks imply existential threats to the survival of humanity. The researchers identify a one-in-20 chance of temperature increase causing catastrophic damage or worse by 2050.

  • Rethinking where/whether to rebuild after Hurricanes Irma, Harvey

    Though our natural instinct is to put everything back exactly where it was before a disaster, Mark Abkowitz, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Environmental Management Studies said people need to seriously rethink where and how to rebuild. “We’re talking hurricanes now, but it could be inland flooding, tornadoes, drought, wildfires, earthquakes. The question really comes up: If we had things the way they were and they suffered the level of catastrophic impact that they did, what’s the reasoning behind putting it back exactly the way it was before?” asks Abkowitz.

  • Houston's “flood czar” says Harvey has brought the city to a decision point on flood control

    In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s record floods, the city of Houston is poised to receive billions — maybe even tens of billions — of recovery dollars in the coming years that may cover significant improvements to the city’s woefully inadequate drainage system as well as other projects to reduce flooding. Stephen Costello, Houston’s chief resilience officer, expects to play a big role in how Houston spends it Hurricane Harvey recovery dollars.

  • UC sues DHS, calling DACA cancellation unconstitutional

    The University of California on Friday filed suit in federal court against the Trump administration for wrongly and unconstitutionally violating the rights of the University and its students by rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on “nothing more than unreasoned executive whim.” UC President Janet Napolitano was secretary of DHS from 2009 to 2013, and created the DACA program in 2012.

  • Designing an instrument to identify uranium, few atoms at a time

    Creating a new instrument capable of detecting trace amounts of uranium and other materials will be the focus of a new research partnership. The researchers will oversee the design and implementation of a highly sensitive mass spectrometer capable of detecting just a few uranium atoms at a time. The instrument will also allow nanoscale imaging of the isotopic content of solid samples, in three dimensions. Such a tool could set the stage for new capabilities in nuclear forensics, to support U.S. government counter-nuclear-terrorism efforts.

  • Designing a post-Harvey Houston for the future

    Being honest about the extent and urgency of the Houston-Galveston region’s flooding problem will not harm the community but will form the basis for recovery, according to a paper by an engineering and environmental expert. “Denying fundamental truths and moving forward with business as usual will be the economic death knell for the Houston region,” Rice University’s Jim Blackburn wrote in a paper highlighting fifteen policies and actions that are meant to initiate a conversation about designing a Houston for the future. “And make no mistake about it — how we respond to this horrible reality will determine the economic future of our region.”

  • Are catastrophic disasters striking more often?

    Two major storms — Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma – in as many weeks raise this question: Is the number of major natural disasters striking the United States actually increasing, or does the media’s natural tendency to overhype conflict only make it seem so? Since 1980 there have been 212 disasters, which NOAA calculates resulted in over $1.2 trillion in damage. My analysis of the NOAA data shows that the number of billion-dollar disasters has indeed been increasing over time. A typical year in the 1980s experienced on average 2.7 such disasters in the U.S. In the 1990s and 2000s, that average had climbed to 4.6 and 5.4 a year, respectively. Since then, the frequency of costly disasters has soared. In this decade so far, each year has seen an average of 10.5 disasters. The scale of this increase amounts to one additional billion-dollar disaster every four years.

  • Water supply, quality in U.S. West affected by increased wildfire-caused erosion

    A growing number of wildfire-burned areas throughout the western United States are expected to increase soil erosion rates within watersheds, causing more sediment to be present in downstream rivers and reservoirs. The area burned annually by wildfires has increased in recent decades and is expected to continue to increase this century. Many growing cities and towns rely on water from rivers and reservoirs that originates in watersheds where wildfire and sedimentation are projected to increase. Increased sedimentation could negatively impact water supply and quality for some communities.

  • Radiation analysis software from Sandia Lab helps emergency responders

    When law enforcement officers and first responders arrive at an emergency involving radiation, they need a way to swiftly assess the situation to keep the public and environment safe. Having analysis tools that can quickly and reliably make sense of radiation data is of the essence. Sandia National Laboratories developed a tool called InterSpec, available for both mobile and traditional computing devices, can rapidly and accurately analyze gamma radiation data collected at the scene.

  • Keeping the trains running on time in the face of climate change

    There are many railway bridges around the world. In the United Kingdom alone there are more than 40,000 railway bridges. Each nation has employed its own methodology for maintenance and repairs of this essential infrastructure, but new, daunting challenges created by climate change — extreme heat, extreme cold, and severe flooding — require yet more rigorous solutions.

  • Montreal: The infrastructure cost of climate change

    Montreal’s climate is changing and will continue to do so at a rapidly increasing rate and with much more spatial variability in the future. “Climate plays a key role in the design and operation of urban infrastructure and to a large extent determines water and energy demands. As a result, changes in climate conditions will have direct impacts on how we design almost any aspect of the city, from its drainage system to its energy use,” explains one expert.

  • Detecting carriers of dirty bombs

    The threat of terrorism in Europe has been on the rise in recent years, with experts and politicians particularly worried that terrorists might make use of dirty bombs. Researchers have developed a new system that will be able to detect possible carriers of radioactive substances, even in large crowds of people. This solution is one of the defensive measures being developed as part of the REHSTRAIN project, which is focused on security for TGV and ICE high-speed trains in France and Germany.

  • Harvey’s losses “would reach $190 billion or 1 percent of the nation's GDP”: AccuWeather

    AccuWeather’s Dr. Joel N. Myers predicts that “The total losses from this storm would reach $190 billion or 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), countering the expected growth in the economy for the rest of this year.” The one percent loss that AccuWeather is predicting will be spread out over the next 12 months, but the bulk of it will occur over the next four months. “This is the costliest and worst natural disaster in American history,” Myers said.

  • Biosecurity and synthetic biology: it is time to get serious

    Synthetic biology has only been recently recognized as a mature subject in the context of biological risk assessment — and the core focus has been infectious diseases. In the case of biosecurity, we’re already dependent on biology [with respect to food, health etc.] but we still have an opportunity to develop biosecurity strategies before synthetic biology is ubiquitous. There is still an opportunity to act now and put norms and practices in place because the community is still relatively small. “If scientists are not taking care of biosecurity now, other people will start taking care of it, and they most likely will start preventing researchers from doing good science.”

  • “Shape memory” metals for earthquake-resistant construction

    Researchers have found an economical way to improve the properties of some “shape memory” metals, known for their ability to return to their original shape after being deformed. The method could make way for the mass production of these improved metals for a variety of applications, including earthquake-resistant construction materials.