• With storms intensifying and oceans on the rise, Boston weighs strategies for staying dry

    As this year’s hurricanes marched across the Caribbean into the Gulf Coast or out to the North Atlantic, cities along the U.S. northeastern coast knew they were dodging bullets. If Boston gets hit by a storm like Hurricane Harvey, mayor Marty Walsh acknowledged in a radio interview, “we are wiped out as a city.” An MIT analysis suggests that a Category 1 hurricane with a few feet of surge on top of a high tide could flood a quarter of a million Boston residents. And climate change is bringing more intense storms and rising tides. A multi-billion-dollar seawall is among climate adaptation options under consideration for the iconic coastal city.

  • Innovative smart grid technology solves decades-old problematic power grid phenomenon

    Picture a teeter-totter gently rocking back and forth, one side going up while the other goes down. When electricity travels long distances, it starts to behave in a similar fashion: the standard frequency of 60 cycles per second increases on the utility side of the transmission line while the frequency on the customer side decreases, switching back and forth every second or two. This phenomenon — called inter-area oscillations — can be a problem on hot summer days when the demand for power is high. Sandia National Laboratories and partners have demonstrated a control system that smooths out these oscillations using new smart grid technology. Sandia’s controls use real-time data to reduce inter-area oscillations on western grid.

  • Self-healing microgrids to help keep isolated Cordova, Alaska, cope with disasters, cyberattacks

    Cordova, Alaska, is in a far-flung nook of Prince William Sound. There are no roads connecting Cordova with the rest of the world. The only way to get there is by plane or boat. The city’s electrical grid is also isolated; there’s no physical connection to the outside world. The situation is compounded by harsh weather and a mix of hydroelectric, diesel and solar power generation, with a seasonal consumer demand that changes significantly throughout the year. In the event of a major natural disaster, such as the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964, Cordova might be completely cut off. A system of microgrids would enhance grid resilience by maintaining and restoring power after a catastrophic event or a cyberattack.

  • The Texas coastline is slowly disappearing. Here's how one community is coping.

    The Lone Star State’s shoreline is experiencing one of the highest rates of land loss of any coastal area in the country thanks to a combination of subsidence, sea level rise, and storm surges. The significant land loss averages 4 feet per year along the state’s coastline, according to the Texas General Land Office. In some places, more than 30 feet of shoreline disappears underwater annually.

  • An X-factor in coastal flooding: Natural climate patterns create hot spots of rapid sea level rise

    Many scientists have found evidence that climate change is amplifying the impacts of hurricanes. For example, several studies just published this month conclude that human-induced climate change made rainfall during Hurricane Harvey more intense. But climate change is not the only factor making hurricanes more damaging. A recent study showed that two converging natural climate processes created a “hot spot” from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina to Miami where sea levels rose six times faster than the global average between 2011 and 2015. We also showed that such hot spots have occurred at other points along the Eastern Seaboard over the past century. Now we see indications that one is developing in Texas and Louisiana, where it likely amplified flooding during Harvey – and could make future coastal storms more damaging. Accelerations in sea level rise are hard to predict, and it is unclear whether they will become more serious over time. But they make it even more urgent for coastal communities to take sea level rise seriously today.

  • Humidity may intensify heat stress to a point exceeding human endurance

    Climate scientists say that killer heat waves will become increasingly prevalent in many regions as climate warms. However, most projections leave out a major factor that could worsen things: humidity, which can greatly magnify the effects of heat alone. Now, a new global study projects that in coming decades the effects of high humidity in many areas will dramatically increase. At times, they may surpass humans’ ability to work or, in some cases, even survive.

  • The geology and resources of 23 minerals critical for the United States

    It would be no exaggeration to say that without minerals, no aspect of our daily lives would be possible. From the high-tech devices we use to access the information superhighway to the cars and trucks we use to drive the freeways, from the urban jungle to rural farms, every aspect of our lives relies on minerals. Thus, access to sufficient supplies of these minerals is a crucial part of keeping our economy and our security running. In a new collection of articles, USGS geologists provide the latest on the geology and resources of twenty-three mineral commodities deemed critical to the economy and security of the United States.

  • Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters on the rise

    from 1980 to 2017, the United States has sustained 218 weather and climate disasters in which overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including CPI adjustment to 2017). The total cost of these 218 events exceeds $1.2 trillion. This total does not yet include the costs for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Between 1 January and 6 October 2017, there have been fifteen weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. The 1980–2016 annual average pf weather events with losses exceeding $1 billion each is 5.5 events (CPI-adjusted); the annual average for the most recent 5 years (2012–2016) is 10.6 events (CPI-adjusted).

  • Alaskan microgrids offer energy resilience, independence

    The electrical grid in the contiguous United States is a behemoth of interconnected systems. If one section fails or is sabotaged, millions of citizens could be without power. Remote villages in Alaska provide an example of how safeguards could build resilience into a larger electrical grid. These communities rely on microgrids — small, local power stations that operate autonomously.

  • Twitter, citizen science, and AI help improve flood data collection

    Urban flooding is difficult to monitor due to complexities in data collection and processing. This prevents detailed risk analysis, flooding control, and the validation of numerical models. Researchers are combining Twitter, citizen science and cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to develop an early-warning system for flood-prone communities.

  • Cities with bad traffic may be more resilient to disruptive events

    New research shows that cities with bad traffic under normal conditions may actually be more efficient at handling adverse events, like accidents and storms. Conversely, some cities with typically low traffic congestion become severely backed-up under the pressure of these disruptive scenarios. Efficiency refers to the average time delay a commuter would face annually due to traffic. Resilience is the ability of road networks to absorb adverse events that fall outside normal daily traffic patterns.

  • South Florida faces increasing inland flood threat

    As South Florida raises groundwater levels to fight saltwater intrusion, the threat of inland flooding will only increase, according to newly published research results. Although high groundwater levels in South Florida are a major contributor to inland floods, especially during the wet season or extreme rain events, traditional flood models don’t account for the groundwater beneath our feet, scientists have found.

  • After Harvey, some South Texans more wary than ever about plan to build landfill near floodplain

    Nearly four months ago, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall inundated ultra-polluted Superfund sites in and around Houston, triggering the leak of hazardous waste. Now, 300 miles south near Laredo, a company’s efforts to develop a landfill in close proximity to a 100-year floodplain is drawing fresh concerns in light of the environmental problems that emerged in Harvey’s wake.

  • MIT conference seeks solutions for reconstruction in devastated Caribbean

    This fall’s record-breaking hurricanes Maria and Irma left a swath of devastation across the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico, Granada, Dominica, and others. Photos of severely damaged or demolished houses, and statistics about the scale of the destruction and the slow pace of recovery efforts, reveal a tragic level of suffering in an already economically ravaged region. Two-day workshop featuring island leaders explores ways to rebuilt better, more resilient infrastructure.

  • “Watershed attack:” Hackers deploy new ICS attack framework, disrupting critical infrastructure

    Hackers working for a nation-state recently invaded the safety system of a critical infrastructure facility in what cyber experts call “a watershed attack” that halted plant operations. Cybersecurity firm FireEye disclosed the incident on Thursday, saying it targeted Triconex industrial safety technology from Schneider Electric SE. Schneider confirmed that the incident had occurred and that it had issued a security alert to users of Triconex, which cyber experts said is widely used in the energy industry, including at nuclear facilities, and oil and gas plants. FireEye and Schneider declined to identify the victim, industry or location of the attack.