• Army Corps of Engineers risk reduction projects prevent $13.3 billion in flood damages

    May 2015 was the wettest month on record for both Texas and Oklahoma, and set numerous records throughout the region. Continuing rains from Tropical Storm Bill in June resulted in Army Corps of Engineers flood risk reduction reservoirs and other systems put through a rigorous test to hold the floodwaters and protect local communities and downstream areas. According to recent calculations by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials with the Southwestern Division in Dallas, the Corps flood risk reduction projects in the south central and southwestern United States prevented an estimated $13.3 billion in damages to local communities and infrastructure during the May-June 2015 flood event.

  • 2015 drought costs for California agriculture: Loss of $1.84 billion, 10,100 jobs

    The drought is tightening its grip on California agriculture, squeezing about 30 percent more workers and cropland out of production than in 2014, according to the latest drought impact report. In 2015, the state’s agricultural economy will lose about $1.84 billion and 10,100 seasonal jobs because of the drought, the report estimated, with the Central Valley hardest hit. The heavy reliance on groundwater comes at ever-increasing energy costs as farmers pump deeper and drill more wells. Some of the heavy pumping is in basins already in severe overdraft — where groundwater use greatly exceeds replenishment of aquifers — inviting further land subsidence, water quality problems, and diminishing reserves needed for future droughts.

  • Sea level rise: NASA watching waters rise right outside the front door – pt. 2

    The rate of sea level rise is faster now than at any time in the past 2,000 years, and that rate has doubled in the past two decades. If ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt as quickly as current measurements indicate, those numbers could become 21 to 24 inches by the 2050s and 43 to 49 inches by the 2080s. Half to two-thirds of NASA’s infrastructure and assets stand within sixteen feet of sea level, so NASA is facing the same problem faced by about 55 to 60 percent of U.S. citizens, who live in counties touching the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Great Lakes. Across the space agency, from lab manager to center director to NASA administrator, people will have continually to ask the question: is it time to abandon this place and move inland? It is a question everyone with coastal property in America will eventually have to answer.

  • Strategic alliance to deliver behavioral analysis cybersecurity to market

    Ernst & Young LLP and Los Alamos National Laboratory have formed a strategic alliance to deliver what they describe as some of the most advanced behavioral cybersecurity tools available to the commercial market. The alliance comes at a watershed moment when increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks are inflicting significant economic, social, and even political damage to U.S. organizations. The tools developed by Los Alamos and delivered to the private sector by Ernst & Young LLP can help counter these threats by detecting them before they do deep and lasting damage.

  • NASA watching waters rise right outside the front door – pt. 1

    For the past two centuries, two trends have been steady and clear around the United States. Sea level has been rising, and more people have been moving closer to the coast. As the ocean has warmed, polar ice has melted, and porous landmasses have subsided, global mean sea level has risen by eight inches since 1870. The rate of sea level rise is faster now than at any time in the past 2,000 years, and that rate has doubled in the past two decades. If ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt as quickly as current measurements indicate, those numbers could become twenty-one to twenty-four inches by the 2050s and forty-three to forty-nine inches by the 2080s. About 55 to 60 percent of U.S. citizens live in counties touching the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Great Lakes. A recent study by business and finance leaders found that $66 billion to $106 billion worth of coastal property is likely to sit below sea level by 2050. The nation’s problem is also NASA’s problem, because half to two-thirds of NASA’s infrastructure and assets stand within sixteen feet of sea level.

  • Power safety in data centers

    Power and thermal management have become a critical priority in data centers, which can use as much electricity as a small town. Energy and power vulnerabilities pose serious security threats to data centers, but so far little has been done to address these issues. A DHS grant will allow researchers to investigate energy and power safety in data centers.

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  • What would it take to end California’s drought?

    The excitement about a potentially rain-bearing El Niño is building, and hopes for a swift end to California’s ongoing drought are multiplying. At the same time, many of us who have worked extensively on water issues in the state fear the momentum and progress made on much-needed water reforms will be lost. This will be unfortunate, because California’s current water situation offers an invitation to expand how we think about water and drought conditions. A more nuanced perspective about what drought means and our water needs can help continue the momentum on the shifts, such as conservation measures and groundwater management, needed to deal with what is certainly an uncertain future.

  • Predicting how much energy waves will be bringing

    Intermittency is one of the problems affecting renewable energies, including marine energy: sometimes there is a lot; other times itis in short supply. To properly manage sea energy and incorporate it into the mains, it is helpful to know when the waves are expected to be bringing sufficient power. Researchers have developed various models for predicting the amount of wave energy for the Bay of Biscay, by using a technique called random forests.

  • Protecting Earth from asteroid impact

    Asteroids approaching our planet travel at up to thirty kilometers per second. At that speed, a body with a diameter of only 100 meters could have major consequences for our civilization. Scientists cannot say when the next major asteroid will hit Earth, but it is certain that it will happen sometime in the future. An international team of researchers is hoping to head the next one off. It is a major EU-funded initiative that pulls together all the latest science and combines laboratory experiments with computer modelling work. The ultimate aim of this effort is to develop some definitive plan to knock massive asteroids out of their Earth-bound orbit.

  • Radioactive contaminants found in coal ash from all three major U.S. coal-producing basins

    A new study has revealed the presence of radioactive contaminants in coal ash from all three major U.S. coal-producing basins. The study found that levels of radioactivity in the ash were up to five times higher than in normal soil, and up to ten times higher than in the parent coal itself because of the way combustion concentrates radioactivity. The finding raises concerns about the environmental and human health risks posed by coal ash, which is currently unregulated and is stored in coal-fired power plants’ holding ponds and landfills nationwide.

  • Past strategies for managing droughts are obsolete in a hotter, more densely populated world

    California’s current extreme drought must be a lesson for managing water in a warmer, more densely populated world, experts say. The Golden State has a long history of successfully managing droughts, but strategies from the past century are now obsolete, they assert. The current drought, which began in 2012, is a harbinger of what is to come. Engineering our way around periodic water shortages will no longer work in a hotter, drier world with ceaseless human demands on water supplies. Our ever-increasing thirst for water coupled with poor management, aging infrastructure and worsening climate change is a recipe not just for wells run dry, but for ravaged forests, extinct wildlife, and more droughts. Targeted research and public policies that move beyond a crisis response mentality are critically needed, the experts conclude.

  • Solving the mystery of arsenic-contaminated water

    Can water ever be too clean? If the intent is to store it underground, the answer, surprisingly, is yes. In a new study, scientists have shown that recycled water percolating into underground storage aquifers in Southern California picked up trace amounts of arsenic because the water was too pure. The research sheds light on a poorly understood aspect of groundwater recharge with purified recycled water, namely the potential mobilization of arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that can cause organ failure and cancer in humans with prolonged exposure above established health thresholds. The findings pose a problem for Orange County, California, which differs from most communities in that it purifies treated wastewater instead of discharging it directly into rivers and oceans – but the problem goes beyond Orange County.

  • Smaller cities in developing world unprepared for disaster

    While many planners focus on the threat of natural disasters to major metropolises around the world, a new study shows smaller cities are often even less equipped to handle such catastrophes. In India, where his study was focused, the number of people living in such cities grew from 170 to 227 million over the past twenty years. This, however, has not prompted disaster planning experts to focus on how to safeguard these cities from the risk of floods, earthquakes, mudslides, and tidal waves. Many of those threats are even greater now due to climate change.

  • Rare but predictable storms could pose big hazards

    Researchers at Princeton and MIT have used computer models to show that severe tropical cyclones could hit a number of coastal cities worldwide that are widely seen as unthreatened by such powerful storms.

    The researchers call these potentially devastating storms Gray Swans in comparison with the term Black Swan, which has come to mean truly unpredicted events that have a major impact. Gray Swans are highly unlikely, the researchers said, but they can be predicted with a degree of confidence. The researchers examined potential storm hazards for three cities: Tampa, Florida; Cairns, Australia; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

  • Project develops techniques for tackling asteroids, space debris

    Asteroids and space debris represent a significant hazard for space and terrestrial assets; at the same time asteroids also represent an opportunity. In recent years it has become clear that the increasing population of space debris could lead to catastrophic consequences in the near term. The STARDUST project — the first and only network to provide training on space debris and asteroids — was established to address this growing problem.