• China syndromeChina steals confidential data on the vulnerabilities of major U.S. dams

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams(NID) contains critical information on the vulnerabilities of the roughly 8,100 major dams in the United States. Between January and April 2013, U.S. intelligence agencies spotted several attempts by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cyber-espionage unit to access the NID database and steal its contents. On Monday, National Weather Service (NWS) hydrologist Xiafen “Sherry” Chen, 59 was arrested for allegedly breaching the NID security and stealing confidential data on U.S. dam vulnerabilities. The Justice Department has raised the alarm over multiple attempts by China to steal data on U.S. critical infrastructure through individuals with privileged access to confidential databases.

  • NukesU.S. planning expansion of nuclear production in the face of safety concerns

    Despite the release of a damning report regarding the 14 February nuclear waste accident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the government is planning ramped-up production of nuclear weapons cores, a move which is raising red flags for those calling for reform of nuclear production and storage procedures.

  • Coastal infrastructureSea level rise or not, coastal development in south Florida is booming

    Miami and Miami Beach are both considered ground zero for the challenges posed by climate change, as both cities will experience considerable sea level rise by mid-century. Constant flooding will become the norm as high tides reach shores, posing a threat to property and human life. As discouraging as the future may seem for South Florida, residents, real estate investors, and companies are increasing their investments in the area.

  • Infrastructure protectionRetrofitting old buildings to make them earthquake safe

    Non-ductile reinforced concrete buildings are among the most common structures in the United States. They are also among the most deadly. Structures built prior to the 1950s in California and prior to the 1980s in the central and southeastern United States were typically not designed with proper details to perform adequately during earthquakes. Through a grant provided by the National Science Foundation, researchers are testing retrofits that potentially can make these buildings safer and more secure.

  • EarthquakesGlobal surge of great earthquakes from 2004 to 2014: Implications for Cascadia

    The last ten years have been a remarkable time for great earthquakes. Since December 2004 there have been no less than eighteen quakes of Mw8.0 or greater — a rate of more than twice that seen from 1900 to mid-2004. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost and massive damage has resulted from these great earthquakes. As devastating as such events can be, however, these recent great quakes have come with a silver lining: They coincide with unprecedented advances in technological and scientific capacity for learning from them.

  • WaterGetting the salt out

    By David L. Chandler

    The boom in oil and gas produced through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is seen as a boon for meeting U.S. energy needs. But one byproduct of the process is millions of gallons of water that’s much saltier than seawater, after leaching salts from rocks deep below the surface. Study shows electrodialysis can provide cost-effective treatment of salty water from fracked wells.

  • Earthquake early warningCalifornia earthquake early warning system set to go online in 2016

    Disaster management officials in California are reporting that a new earthquake early-warning system will be online in the state within the next two years. A bill mandating the system was passed in January under Senate Bill 135, requiring the state’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) to develop a statewide system that can alert Californians before dangerous shaking with a ten second window. The funding for the project is $80 million for the first five years.

  • ResilienceEngineers build, test earthquake-resistant house

    Residential homes already do a good job of keeping the people inside safe when a temblor hits. Earthquakes, however, typically do a lot of minor structural damage. For example, after the 1994 Northridge quake, the majority of the $25.6 billion in repair costs paid for fixes to 500,000 residential structures. Most of those homes were not destroyed, but nonetheless thousands of families had to find a new place to live while their houses were repaired. Twenty-five years after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Stanford engineers have built and tested an earthquake-resistant house that stayed staunchly upright even as it shook at three times the intensity of that destructive temblor. The engineers developed inexpensive design modifications that could be incorporated into new homes to reduce damage in an earthquake.

  • EnergyA boom in global natural gas, by itself, will not slow climate change

    A new analysis of global energy use, economics, and the climate shows that without new climate policies, expanding the current bounty of inexpensive natural gas alone would not slow the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide over the long term. Because natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, many people hoped the recent natural gas boom could help slow climate change — and according to government analyses, natural gas did contribute partially to a decline in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions between 2007 and 2012. In the long run, however, according to this study, a global abundance of inexpensive natural gas would compete with all energy sources — not just higher-emitting coal, but also lower-emitting nuclear and renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar. Inexpensive natural gas would also accelerate economic growth and expand overall energy use.

  • HurricanesNew facility for hurricane research to study why some storms intensify so quickly

    It still astonishes meteorologists. In the span of just twenty-four hours, Hurricane Wilma, the twenty-second named storm of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, intensified from a tropical cyclone to a Category 5 hurricane — its wind speed soaring from 70 to 175 mph. As remarkable as Wilma’s rapid intensification was, however, it is not the only case of a storm muscling up at warp speed. As Hurricane Charley approached Florida’s west coast in 2004, its sustained winds jumped from 110 to 150 mph in only three hours. In 2007 Felix strengthened from a meager tropical depression to a Category 5 hurricane in fifty-one hours. This could all change soon now that the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science has opened its Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex, a $50 million facility that houses a 38,000-gallon, 75-foot-long tank into which researchers pump seawater to study how the ocean and atmosphere interact — the critical air-sea interface that could tell us why some storms intensify so quickly.

  • Infrastructure protectionFloating cities increasingly attractive prospect in the face of sea level rise, floods

    More and more urban planners and disaster managers are asking the question: “Has the time come for floating cities?” Experts say thatin the face of climate change-driven sea level rise and shifting weather patterns poised seriously to impact many cities over the course of the next decades, the option of having cities that can accommodate shifting tides is making more and more sense.

  • FrackingHydraulic fracturing caused earthquakes in Ohio

    Hydraulic fracturing triggered a series of small earthquakes in 2013 on a previously unmapped fault in Harrison County, Ohio, according to a new study. This series of earthquakes is the first known instance of seismicity in the area. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method for extracting gas and oil from shale rock by injecting a high-pressure water mixture directed at the rock to release the gas inside. The process of hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into the rock under high pressure to create cracks. The process of cracking rocks results in micro- earthquakes.

  • EarthquakesSections of the San Andreas Fault system in San Francisco Bay Area are locked, overdue

    The earthquake cycle reflects the accumulation of strain on a fault, its release as slip, and its re-accumulation and re-release. Fault creep is the slip and slow release of strain in the uppermost part of the Earth’s crust that occurs on some faults between large earthquakes, when much greater stress is released in only seconds. Where no fault creep occurs, a fault is considered locked and stress will build until it is released by an earthquake. Four urban sections of the San Andreas Fault system in Northern California have stored enough energy to produce major earthquakes, according to a new study that measures fault creep. Three fault sections — Hayward, Rodgers Creek, and Green Valley — are nearing or past their average recurrence interval, according to the study.

  • Coastal infrastructureIn worst-case scenario, sea level would rise 1.8 meters

    The climate is getting warmer, the ice sheets are melting and sea levels are rising — but how much? The report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013 was based on the best available estimates of future sea levels, but the panel was not able to come up with an upper limit for sea level rise within this century. Now researchers have calculated the risk for a worst-case scenario. The results indicate that at worst, the sea level would rise a maximum of 1.8 meters – but the much more likely rise in sea level would be around 80 cm.

  • Infrastructure protectionBay Area’s infrastructure more resilient, but a major tremor would paralyze region’s economy

    Twenty-five years ago, the San Francisco Bay Area suffered the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake, which killed sixty-three people, injured 3,700, destroyed 366 businesses and 11,000 homes, and caused $6 billion in property damage. Since then, bridges and roads have been rebuilt to withstand more powerful quakes, but seismic safety experts say more could be done to protect property and human life. A major earthquake is not likely completely to destroy the Golden Gate Bridge or other major infrastructure developments, but the Bay Area’s $535 billion a year economy will come to a halt for months and even years due to weakened critical infrastructure.