Environment

  • Earthquake early warning? There’s an app for that

    Researchers from the University of California have unveiled a smartphone app designed to provide users an early warning of approaching earthquakes. Based on the proximity of the user to the earthquake’s epicenter, the app will provide alerts of between a few seconds and one minute before a tremor hits.

  • Early warning system to detect abrupt climate change impacts

    Climate change has increased concern over possible large and rapid changes in the physical climate system, which includes the Earth’s atmosphere, land surfaces, and oceans. Some of these changes could occur within a few decades or even years, leaving little time for society and ecosystems to adapt. A new report from the National Research Council states that even steady, gradual change in the physical climate system can have abrupt impacts elsewhere — in human infrastructure and ecosystems for example — if critical thresholds are crossed. The report calls for the development of an early warning system that could help society better anticipate sudden changes and emerging impacts.

  • Key to protecting Earth from asteroids: time

    Scientists say that humanity can address the threats from asteroids of any size if given enough time and notice of the asteroid’s existence and trajectory. Even an asteroid the size of the 10-kilometer-wide space rock which scientists hold responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs sixty-five million years ago, can be destroyed,  although it would take hitting the asteroid with multiple spacecrafts over a period of several decades.

  • Weather risk management should be part of companies’ overall risk management

    Volatile weather activity is increasing around the world. While extreme events such as typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or flood Cleopatra in Sardinia may capture the headlines, minor fluctuations in expected weather can have big impacts on business performance across a wide range of industries. A new report focuses on the growing importance of weather risks for businesses, highlighting the economic impact of fluctuating weather conditions and how companies can protect themselves, using new approaches to “weather risk management.” Weather risk management products are already widely used in the United States, where they have become more readily accepted as a standard feature of companies’ overall risk management.

  • Deflecting asteroids to avoid Armageddon

    It sounds like the script for a Hollywood film: a giant meteorite from outer space heading straight for the Earth and threatening the destruction of mankind. Yet such a scenario does represent a real threat to our planet, as researchers reckon that we can expect an asteroid to collide with Earth every few hundred years. In real life, though, nobody wants to rely on a rescue plan hastily improvised at the last minute. Scientists with the European-funded research project NEOShield are working to develop concepts designed to help avert these impacts and to alter asteroids’ orbits as they race toward Earth.

  • Helping farmers cope with climate change is big business

    Monsanto estimates there is a $20 billion market for employing massive data analysis to provide weather forecasting and crop-growing advice tailored to individual plots of land. With a $300 billion agriculture industry in the United States exposed to climate change, predicting the effects of warming temperature is critical to the industry. Monsanto has recently acquired – for $1 billion — the Climate Corporation, a Silicon Valley company which uses data analysis and algorithms to redefine how farmers grow and harvest crops. The company provides farmers with insights which predict weather pattern and the changing effects on crops.

  • Methane emissions in the U.S. exceed government estimates

    Along with carbon dioxide, methane is one of the most important greenhouse gases in terms of its potential to raise global temperatures. It also encourages the formation of surface ozone in cities and affects other aspects of atmospheric chemistry. A new study finds that emissions of methane from fossil fuel extraction and refining activities in the South Central United States are nearly five times higher than previous estimates. The collaborative study indicates that in addition to fossil fuel extraction, animal husbandry is also a major contributor to the higher-than-expected methane emissions.

  • List of most-at-risk L.A. buildings to be released

    Scientists have compiled a list of concrete buildings in Los Angeles which could be at risk of collapsing in a major earthquake. The list identifies about 1,500 concrete structures built before 1980 which need further study to determine their risk level. Structural engineers insist that hundreds could die if any of the buildings collapsed.

  • Sea-level rise could exceed one meter in this century: experts

    Sea-level rise in this century is likely to be 70-120 centimeters by 2100 if greenhouse-gas emissions are not mitigated, a broad assessment of the most active scientists who research in the area, and who are the most prolific publishers on that topic, has revealed. In contrast, for a scenario with strong emissions reductions, experts expect a sea-level rise of 40-60 centimeters by 2100. Ninety international experts, all of whom published at least six peer-reviewed papers on the topic of sea-level during the past five years, provided their probabilistic assessment.

  • Understanding Greenland Ice Sheet melting helps sea-level forecasts

    New insight into how glacier movement is affected by melting ice in summer could help predictions of sea level rise. In 2012, an exceptionally warm summer caused the Greenland Ice Sheet to undergo unprecedented rates of melting. Researchers have found, however, that fast summer ice flow caused by significant melting is cancelled out by slower motion the following winter.

  • Winners announced in NY, NJ coastal protection ideas competition

    Ten of the ideas submitted to the Rebuild by Designcompetition, launched by the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, were selected as the most promising concepts for sustainable ways to protect Sandy-affected regions from future catastrophes.

  • Smaller asteroids could cause bigger problems

    On 15 February an asteroid burst over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. Scientists estimate that the Chelyabinsk event was equivalent to an explosion of about 500 kilotons of TNT. At its peak, the airburst appeared to be thirty times brighter than the sun. The asteroid fireball that injured about 1,500 people and damaged more than 7,000 buildings, collapsing roofs, and breaking thousands of windows. Scientists say that because the frequency of a strike of an asteroid of this size has exceeded expectations, with three such strikes in just over a century – Chelyabinsk in 2013, Tunguska in 2008, and a large airburst in the South Atlantic in 1963 — the number of similar-sized asteroids capable of causing damage may be greater than suspected.

  • Study finds more spending on fire suppression may lead to bigger fires

    Researchers found that fire management can fall into the firefighting trap: Energy and resources are spent mostly on fire suppression — putting out fires in the moment — while less attention is devoted to fire prevention, such as clearing brush and building fire lanes during the off-season. After severe fires, policymakers funnel even more funds into fire suppression for the next season, but this attention to fire suppression may undermine prevention efforts. The result, counterintuitively, is even worse fires the following season, due to the buildup of fire-prone materials such as dried tinder and dead trees. The researchers emphasize balancing fire suppression with prevention measures.

  • Financial decision making, risk taking in the face of changing climate

    Maximizing returns on financial investments depends on accurately understanding and effectively accounting for weather and climate risks, according to a new study by the American Meteorological Society. An AMS report concludes that financial investments face a range of risks due to existing weather patterns and climate variability and climate change. Even small changes in weather can impact operations in critical economic sectors. At the same time, climate variability and change can either exacerbate existing risks or cause new sources of risk to emerge.

  • U.S. oil production exceeds imports for first time in two decades

    The United States is well on its way to energy independence, with the Obama administration announcing Wednesday that domestic oil production surpassed imports for the first time in nearly two decades. A report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) offers proof that the United States has managed both to increase domestic oil and gas drilling and reduce the nation’s carbon emissions, which have dropped to a 20-year low. Since 2008, U.S. crude oil output has increased 50 percent, while imports have fallen about 20 percent.