• Can we get better at predicting earthquakes?

    In the wake of the deadly earthquake, measuring 6.2, which rocked central Italy in the early hours of 24 August, questions again have been raised about whether earthquakes can be predicted. Fortunately, all earthquakes do not lead to disasters and, therefore, understanding where and why disasters are produced is the first goal of earthquake seismology. The first issue is thus one of semantics and objectives. Is the goal to predict an earthquake occurrence, predict ground motion due to an earthquake, or predict a disaster? In our efforts to better predict earthquakes, we have to be precise about the timescale: is it a prediction that an earthquake is imminent – that is, within seconds, hours, or even days before the shaking? Or that it is likely to happen within years or tens of years? There is hope that one day we could detect and monitor extremely slight changes in the rocks that would precede earthquakes – but this is still a long way from “prediction” of precisely when and where a disaster will occur. For now, knowing earthquakes is one way to live with them, to be prepared, to know the vulnerability of our communities and to adopt sound policies for earthquake-safe environments.

  • Nuclear forensics summer program trains students for a future in nuclear security

    A sure sign of summer is the return of interns to the Lawrence Livermore campus. Students interact with premier researchers and access equipment and facilities not available anywhere else, while scientists lay groundwork for advancing their fields. LLNL runs an eight-week summer internship for students interested in nuclear science and its range of specialties — nuclear forensics, environmental radiochemistry, nuclear physics, and beyond. Together, these disciplines support the laboratory’s nuclear security mission through analysis of nuclear processes and properties.

  • Combining high performance computing, public policy analysis for better water resource management

    With growing demand and a changing climate, the Colorado River Basin is under significant stress. The river supplies water to thirty million people in seven states, supports billions of dollars in economic activity each year, and irrigates 15 percent of all U.S. crops. It also provides water to twenty-two Native American tribes, four national recreation areas, and eleven national parks. Researchers have joined forces to combine high-performance computing with innovative public policy analysis to improve planning for particularly complex issues such as such as water resource management.

  • Wider temperature tolerance is based on ion-pair-coordinated polymers

    A new class of fuel cells based on a newly discovered polymer-based material could bridge the gap between the operating temperature ranges of two existing types of polymer fuel cells, a breakthrough with the potential to accelerate the commercialization of low-cost fuel cells for automotive and stationary applications.

  • Rising seas threaten 1.9 million U.S. homes with current value of $882 billion

    Typically when we talk about “underwater” homes, we are referring to negative equity. But there is a more literal way a home can be underwater: Rising sea levels, and the flooding likely to come with them, could inundate millions of U.S. homes worth hundreds of billions of dollars. If sea levels rise as much as climate scientists predict by the year 2100, almost 300 U.S. cities would lose at least half their homes, and 36 U.S. cities would be completely lost. The total combined current value of all homes at risk of being underwater with a 6-feet rise in sea levels is $882 billion.

  • The lesson from the demise of the Maya civilization: Water shortage can destroy cultures

    Within a short period of time, the advanced Maya civilization in Central America went from flourishing to collapsing — the population dwindling rapidly and monumental stone structures, like the ones built at Yucatán, were no longer being constructed. Mathematical models analyzing the interplay between society and hydrological effects have found the explanation: the irrigation technology that served the Mayans well during periods of drought may have actually made their society more vulnerable to major catastrophes. These models provide insights into ancient cultures – as well as into our own future.

  • Pro-nuclear countries slowest to make progress on climate targets

    A strong national commitment to nuclear energy goes hand in hand with weak performance on climate change targets, researchers found. A new study of European countries shows that the most progress toward reducing carbon emissions and increasing renewable energy sources has been made by nations without nuclear energy or with plans to reduce it. Conversely, pro-nuclear countries have been slower to implement wind, solar, and hydropower technologies and to tackle emissions.

  • NSF announces $55 million toward national research priorities

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) has made eleven awards totaling $55 million aimed at building research capacity to address fundamental questions about the brain and develop new innovations at the intersection of food, energy, and water systems. These four-year awards support twenty-seven institutions in eighteen eligible jurisdictions.

  • Reactor safety experts from Sandia help industry learn from Fukushima accident

    Reactor safety experts from Sandia National Laboratories and elsewhere are sharing lessons learned in Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident and other severe accidents that pushed nuclear power plants past their limits. The safety experts seek to demystify what happens during an accident, to help engineers/operators learn what decisions they might need to make in the event of an accident at their plants, and to provide insights into the non-intuitive nature of accidents.

  • Economic growth will not counterbalance increasing climate change-related damage

    More than 50 percent of all weather-related economic losses on the globe are caused by damages due to tropical cyclones. New research finds that financial losses per hurricane could triple by the end of the century in unmitigated climate change, while annual losses could on average rise by a factor of eight. The researchers also concluded that economic growth will not be able to counterbalance the increase in damage.

  • How a new source of water is helping reduce conflict in the Middle East

    Just a few years ago, in the depths of its worst drought in at least 900 years, Israel was running out of water. Now it has a surplus. This remarkable turnaround was helped by increasing conservation and re-use – but the biggest impact came from a new wave of desalination plants. Israel now gets 55 percent of its domestic water from desalination. Moreover, scientists and others look to desalination as a way to unite longtime enemies in a common cause.

  • Six million Americans drink water with unsafe levels of toxic chemicals

    Levels of a widely used class of industrial chemicals linked with cancer and other health problems exceed federally recommended safety levels in public drinking water supplies for six million people in the United States, according to a new study.

  • Seawalls, coastal forests in Japan help reduce tsunami damage

    Researchers who analyzed a history of tsunamis along the Pacific coast of Japan’s Tohoku region have learned that seawalls higher than five meters reduce damage and death, while coastal forests also play an important role in protecting the public. Japan has embarked on a 10-year reconstruction project costing about 31.5 trillion yen, or about $255 billion, which includes the construction of tsunami seawalls along Tohoku’s Pacific coast. Critics of the program have voiced skepticism about the effectiveness of seawalls.

  • Brazil’s sewage woes reflect the growing global water quality crisis

    All eyes are turned toward Rio de Janeiro to watch top athletes compete, yet the headlines continue to highlight the problems with the water quality and the risks to the athletes who swim, row, and sail, and even to tourists simply visiting the beaches. But Brazil’s wastewater woes are hardly unique. The water quality of lakes, rivers, and coastal shorelines around the world is degrading at an alarming rate. In fact, pollution of the ten largest rivers on earth is so significant that it affects five billion people. While the spotlight is shining on the athletes over the next few weeks, let us also shine a spotlight on what we can do to improve and restore water quality around the world through our collective efforts, use of new tools, and risk frameworks, moving the political will one step closer toward sewage treatment and protection of the biohealth of the blue planet.

  • Belarus’s lax approach to nuclear safety raises fear of another Chernobyl

    Thirty years after Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear accident, a series of mishaps at a nuclear facility in Astravets, in Belarus, has raised concerns over nuclear safety, especially in neighboring Lithuania. Vilnius, the country’s capital, is located less than thirty-one miles from Astravets. Lithuania, accusing Belrus of Soviet era-like lack of transparency, says it would work with the international community to block the Astravets plant coming online.