• 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.

  • Interconnected technological risks: Responding to disruptions of cyber-physical systems

    When infectious diseases strike, the World Health Organization acts swiftly, coordinating with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its foreign counterparts to contain the threat. But there is no equivalent international organization similarly dedicated to identifying and mitigating a cyberattack. The World Economic Forum (WEF), however, is bringing together infrastructure and technology developers, insurers and government officials from across the globe to develop strategies for responding to interconnected technological risks, including those that can cascade when hackers disrupt cyber-physical systems.

  • 2018: Critical period of intensified risks

    The Global Risks Report 2018, published this week by the World Economic Forum cautions that we are struggling to keep up with the accelerating pace of change. It highlights numerous areas in which we are pushing systems to the brink, from extinction-level rates of biodiversity loss to mounting concerns about the possibility of new wars. The reports says that the structural and interconnected nature of risks in 2018 threatens the very system on which societies, economies, and international relations are based – but that the positive economic outlook gives leaders the opportunity to tackle systemic fragility.

  • 2017 saw the highest ever sea level on the Dutch coast

    The average sea level measured on the Dutch coast was higher than ever before in 2017. The Dutch sea level, the averaged measurements from six tide stations, rose to 11 cm above Normal Amsterdam Water Level (NAP in Dutch). The last highest measurement was in 2007, when the average sea level was 9 cm above NAP. The fact that the sea level was higher last year does not mean that the sea level is now rising faster. At present, the sea level on the Dutch coast is rising by 20 cm every century.

  • River flood risks increase around the globe under future warming

    Rainfall changes caused by global warming will increase river flood risks across the globe. Already today, fluvial floods are among the most common and devastating natural disasters. Scientists have now calculated the required increase in flood protection until the 2040s worldwide, breaking it down to single regions and cities. They find that the need for adaptation is greatest in the United States, parts of India and Africa, Indonesia, and in Central Europe including Germany. Inaction would expose many millions of people to severe flooding.

  • 2017 climate, weather disasters in U.S. totaling $306 billion — a new record

    2017 will be remembered as a year of extremes for the United States as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, fires, and freezes claimed hundreds of lives and visited economic hardship upon the nation. The average U.S. temperature in 2017 was 54.6 degrees F (2.6 degrees F above average), making 2017 third warmest year in 123 years of record-keeping. The five warmest years on record for the United States all have occurred since 2006. In 2017, the United States experienced 16 weather and climate disasters each with losses exceeding $1 billion, totaling approximately $306 billion — a new U.S. record. Far more tragic was the human toll. At least 362 people died and many more were injured during the course of these disasters.

  • Studying climate effects on California water systems from headwaters to groundwater

    To address future climate change effects on water resources, scientists at five UC campuses, and Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories, will study California’s water systems, from the headwaters in the Sierra Nevada, through rivers, reservoirs and groundwater in the Central Valley. The project will allow scientists to examine hydrologic sensitivities of California headwaters and agricultural demand to changing climate and will consider plausible societal adaptations.

  • 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.