• Studying Caribbean hurricane damage to reduce hurricane risks worldwide

    The biggest natural disaster to ever hit the Caribbean island of Dominica is now likely to provide guidelines for reducing the risk globally of disaster from hurricanes. Scientists are surveying the damage to Dominica’s landscape, infrastructure and communities following the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Dominica was devastated by the hurricane last September which left 68 people dead or missing. The hurricane registered as Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with maximum wind speeds of 260 km/h.

  • Mexico’s September 2017 tremor highlights successes of seismic early warning system

    Mexico’s earthquake early warning system gave Mexico City’s residents almost two minutes of warning prior to the arrival of strong seismic waves from the 7 September 2017 Tehuantepec earthquake centered off the southern coast of Mexico, according to a new study. The magnitude 8.2 earthquake is the largest earthquake detected by the alert system, known as SASMEX, since it began operations in 1993. SASMEX also sent an alert for the magnitude 7.1 Morelos earthquake that occurred on 19 September. The alerts highlighted how some recent improvements to the system may help decrease the time needed to receive, detect and broadcast the alerts, but they also point to places where the system can improve in the future.

  • Cape Town water crisis should serve as a “wakeup call to all major U.S. cities”: Expert

    Cape Town, South Africa is hurtling towards a water apocalypse with “Day Zero” — when authorities will turn off the taps — pegged for the first half of April. The crisis, which has placed the city in peril, was caused by years of draught, insufficient and aging infrastructure, and population growth. To find out what this means for Cape Town residents and if a similar disaster could strike Phoenix, ASU Now turned to Dave White, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, a unit within ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions and director of Decision Center for a Desert City.

  • Sea level rise will make Oregon’s existing flooding problems worse

    The hot spots of sea level rise in the United States tend to be located on the East and Gulf Coasts, where sinking land and changes in ocean circulation are amplifying the global sea level rise rate. But when we take a deeper dive into our interactive maps of chronic flooding due to sea level rise, it’s clear that small but significant areas within many of Oregon’s idyllic coastal towns–Coos Bay and Tillamook, for example–are also at risk of chronic inundation in the coming decades. Because it will take decades for the benefits of emissions reductions to be felt, today’s business owners may not benefit from such reductions themselves. But for the towns of coastal Oregon to continue to be dynamic, thriving places for the next generation of entrepreneurs and residents, the case for building resilience to flooding and reducing carbon emissions is clear.

  • Hazard mitigation, recovery plans for coastal cities

    The field of urban planning is gaining interest as cities around the world are facing increased exposure to weather-related risks and hazards ranging from sea level rise and flooding to temperature build-up and urban heat island effect. A recently completed five-year research project examined 175 hazard mitigation plans adopted by counties and municipalities along the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific Northwest coastlines. These local governments are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to adopt such plans to be eligible for pre-disaster and post-disaster mitigation funds. The National Research Council concluded that land use strategies that guide growth away from hazard areas are the most promising long-term solution to reducing risk; yet, land use strategies are rarely used. Instead, mitigation plans emphasize other mitigation approaches like levees, elevation of buildings and emergency management.

  • Climate change-related risks to 50% of U.S. military infrastructure: Pentagon

    Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics released a comprehensive new survey of climate change-related risks to military infrastructure worldwide. The vulnerability assessment does not offer any specific cost estimates related to these vulnerabilities, but it does paint a concerning picture of current climate change-related risks to military installations both at home and abroad, with around 50 percent of 1,684 sites reporting damage from six key categories of those risks: Flooding due to storm surge; flooding due to non-storm surge events (e.g., rain, snow, sleet, ice, river overflow); extreme temperatures (both hot and cold); wind; drought; and wildfire. Given that rapid climate change is projected to exacerbate most of the above categories of risks throughout this century (its effect on wind is less certain), the reasonable expectation is that vulnerabilities to military sites will only increase.

  • Be prepared: Society saves $6 for every $1 spent preparing for natural disasters

    A new report from the National Institute of Building Sciences, a public-private partnership Congress established in 1974, examines the cost savings of preparing for natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, many of which are worsened by climate change. The report builds on, and updates, the Institute’s groundbreaking 2005 analysis of the same name. The original analysis found that for every dollar invested in pre-disaster mitigation there is a $4 savings to society. The new report makes an even stronger case for advanced planning, finding that for every $1 invested in federally funded pre-disaster mitigation grants society saves $6, and for every $1 spent on building codes society saves $4.

  • Critical infrastructure firms face crackdown over poor cybersecurity

    An EU-wide cybersecurity law is due to come into force in May to ensure that organizations providing critical national infrastructure services have robust systems in place to withstand cyberattacks. The legislation will insist on a set of cybersecurity standards that adequately address events such as last year’s WannaCry ransomware attack, which crippled some ill-prepared NHS services across England. But, after a consultation process in the U.K. ended last autumn, the government had been silent until now on its implementation plans for the forthcoming law. A set of 14 guiding principles were drawn up, with the NCSC providing detailed advice including helpful links to existing cybersecurity standards. However, the cyber assessment framework, originally promised for release in January this year, won’t be published by the NCSC until late April – a matter of days before the NIS comes into force. Nonetheless, the NIS directive presents a good drive to improve standards for cybersecurity in essential services, and it is supported by sensible advice from the NCSC with more to come. It would be a shame if the positive aspects of this ended up obscured by hype and panic over fines.

  • New study examines the causes and consequences of the 2015 Texas floods

    The Memorial Day 2015 Wimberley, Texas flood along the Blanco River destroyed 350 homes and claimed 13 lives. The Texas Hill Country, where Wimberly is located, is known as “Flash Flood Alley” because it leads North America as the most flash-flood prone region. In the past five years, Flash Flood Alley has seen two “500-year storms” and one “300-year storm.” Researchers call for better storm preparations in light of this revelation, to allow for blocking roads and evacuation of residents.

  • California’s other drought: A major earthquake is overdue

    California earthquakes are a geologic inevitability. The earthquake situation in California is actually more dire than people who aren’t seismologists like myself may realize. The good news is that earthquake readiness is part of the state’s culture, and earthquake science is advancing – including much improved simulations of large quake effects and development of an early warning system for the Pacific coast. Early warning systems are operational now in Japan, Taiwan, Mexico and Romania. Systems in California and the Pacific Northwest are presently under development with early versions in operation. Earthquake early warning is by no means a panacea for saving lives and property, but it represents a significant step toward improving earthquake safety and awareness along the West Coast. Managing earthquake risk requires a resilient system of social awareness, education and communications, coupled with effective short- and long-term responses and implemented within an optimally safe built environment. As California prepares for large earthquakes after a hiatus of more than a century, the clock is ticking.

  • Artificial intelligence is the weapon of the next Cold War

    As during the Cold War after the Second World War, nations are developing and building weapons based on advanced technology. During the Cold War, the weapon of choice was nuclear missiles; today it’s software, whether it is used for attacking computer systems or targets in the real world. Russian rhetoric about the importance of artificial intelligence is picking up – and with good reason: As artificial intelligence software develops, it will be able to make decisions based on more data, and more quickly, than humans can handle. As someone who researches the use of AI for applications as diverse as drones, self-driving vehicles and cybersecurity, I worry that the world may be entering – or perhaps already in – another cold war, fueled by AI. In a recent meeting at the Strategic Missile Academy near Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that AI may be the way Russia can rebalance the power shift created by the U.S. outspending Russia nearly 10-to-1 on defense each year. Russia’s state-sponsored RT media reported AI was “key to Russia beating [the] U.S. in defense.” With Russia embracing AI, other nations that don’t or those that restrict AI development risk becoming unable to compete – economically or militarily – with countries wielding developed AIs. Advanced AIs can create advantage for a nation’s businesses, not just its military, and those without AI may be severely disadvantaged. Perhaps most importantly, though, having sophisticated AIs in many countries could provide a deterrent against attacks, as happened with nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

  • Downtime of a top cloud service provider could cost U.S. economy $15 billion

    Businesses in the United States could lose $15 billion if a leading cloud service provider would experience a downtime of at least three days. A new study finds that if a top cloud provider went down, manufacturing would see direct economic losses of $8.6 billion; wholesale and retail trade sectors would see economic losses of $3.6 billion; information sectors would see economic losses of $847 million; finance and insurance sectors would see economic losses of $447 million; and transportation and warehousing sectors would see economic losses of $439 million.

  • Climate engineering, if started, would have severe consequences if stopped abruptly

    Facing a climate crisis, we may someday spray sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere to form a cloud that cools the Earth, but suddenly stopping the spraying would have a severe global impact on animals and plants, according to the first study on the potential biological impacts of geoengineering, or climate intervention. “Rapid warming after stopping geoengineering would be a huge threat to the natural environment and biodiversity,” says one expert. “If geoengineering ever stopped abruptly, it would be devastating, so you would have to be sure that it could be stopped gradually, and it is easy to think of scenarios that would prevent that. Imagine large droughts or floods around the world that could be blamed on geoengineering, and demands that it stop. Can we ever risk that?”

  • Alaska lifts tsunami warning

    A magnitude 7.9 earthquake, which struck 170 miles off the Alaska coast early Tuesday, led the Alaska government to issue a tsunami advisory — but the warning was lifted four hours later. The USGS reported the magnitude 7.9 quake at 12:31 a.m. Alaska time. Officials had feared that tsunami waves could reach far inland, and issued tsunami guidance for the entire coastal area stretching from Alaska to the U.S. border with Mexico.

  • Using fungi for self-healing concrete to fix bridges

    America’s crumbling infrastructure has been a topic of ongoing discussion in political debates and campaign rallies. The problem of aging bridges and increasingly dangerous roads is one that has been well documented and there seems to be a consensus from both democrats and republicans that something must be done. Researchers propose using fungi for self-healing concrete — a low-cost, pollution-free, and sustainable approach to shoring up U.S. infrastructure.