Infrastructure

  • Corruption, lax building codes exacerbate natural disasters in poor countries

    While all heavily populated earthquake zones face the challenge of preparing for inevitable but unpredictable quakes, the poorest zones face the most risk as they invest less in building resilience and safe construction practices.Nepali experts note that bribery, lax law enforcement, and a lack of land-use controls left buildings vulnerable to seismic disasters.

  • Using shotcrete to make tunnels withstand terrorist attacks

    Conflagrations and terrorist attacks are a threat for tunnels and bridges, so engineers are searching for ways to make tunnels and bridges as robust as possible. Construction materials, such as special types of high-performance concrete, which can partly absorb the impact of explosions, already exist, but due to their manufacturing principle, they cannot be made in any other shape than the slab, which cannot be used for cladding surfaces with complex geometries. A new type of shotcrete — which used to be considered impossible to manufacture — was created by scientists to render the structures more robust. Despite its high steel and synthetic-fiber contents, it can be sprayed on easily.

  • New safety rules for crude oil shipments by rail criticized by both sides

    Regulators with the Department of Transportation(DOT) last Friday unveiled new rules for transporting crude oil by rail. The measures are expected to improve rail safety and reduce the risk of oil train accidents, but both the railway industry and public safety advocates have already issued criticism. Lawmakers representing states with oil trains traffic say the regulations do not go far enough in protecting the public, while railway representatives say the rules would be costly and result in few safety benefits.

  • Seismologists deploy after a quake to learn more, so we can prepare for the next one

    The simple truth about great earthquakes, and the miserable cascade of events they often trigger, is this: if an earthquake has affected a region, recently or in historical records, then future earthquakes in that region are inevitable. Globally, we need a program of identification and characterization of potentially hazardous faults in urban areas. From those studies, site-specific expected seismic shaking maps can be developed and construction codes and engineering design specifications for infrastructure enacted, mitigating hazard to new and future construction. Then urban political leaders and civil defense agencies must collaborate to lead local populations in an open and honest dialog to identify both irreplaceable cultural heritage, and also infrastructure that must survive natural disasters intact in order to prevent an earthquake from triggering a series of consequent catastrophes — fires, water, and food shortages and disease outbreaks. These structures should be retrofitted to survive the predicted shaking from the maximum expected magnitude earthquake for the given area. A number of different mechanisms to pay for this costly preventive engineering are almost certainly needed, tailored to local conditions.

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  • Preparing for extreme weather events

    “Arthur,” “Katrina,” “Allan,” and “Bertha” are examples of extreme weather events that have ravaged European and North American communities in recent years. Such extreme events often have enormous economic consequences, but they also represent irreplaceable losses for people whose homes have been destroyed. Since extreme weather is one consequence of climate change, we know that we need to prepare ourselves for more Arthurs and Katrinas in the coming years. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) are studying how Norwegian communities are tackling climate change and extreme weather events.

  • Young students compete at the Sea Level Measurement Device Design competition

    Global warming is bringing about a rise in the mean sea level, and this increases the risk of coastal flooding brought by storm surges during the passage of tropical cyclones. Two-hundred young students – from 4th grade to junior high — from twenty-five primary, secondary, and international schools designed and produced sea level measurement devices to compete for various prizes in the Sea Level Measurement Device Design Competition held last Sunday at the University of Hong Kong.

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  • Protecting the U.S. power grid

    The U.S. power grid is made up of complex and expensive system components, which are owned by utilities ranging from small municipalities to large national corporations spanning multiple states. A National Academy of Sciences report estimates that a worst-case geomagnetic storm could have an economic impact of $1 trillion to $2 trillion in the first year, which is twenty times the damage caused by a Katrina-class hurricane.

  • U.S. must invest in energy infrastructure to upgrade outdates systems

    Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is calling for a renewed focus on U.S. energy infrastructure, saying new and improved oil pipeline projects are just a portion of a long list of work needed to modernize the country’s outdated system for transporting oil, natural gas, and electricity.In the government’s first Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), an almost 500-page analysis released last week, Moniz calls for building new pipelines, repairing old ones, and insulating electric grids and transformers from storms and terrorist attacks.”It is the right time, maybe it’s a little after the right time, for us to make these kind of investments in energy infrastructure,” he said.

  • Disaster and recovery: The unexpected shall come to be expected

    In the days following the Nepal earthquake, the media has been focusing on the heart-wrenching human interest and hero-tragedy stories, but what must be emphasized is that this disaster was anticipated. More importantly, we now have the tools and building technologies to mitigate the impact of even major earthquakes. The frequency of earthquakes has not changed over the past few million years, but now millions of people live in vulnerable situations. The unexpected must come to be expected. Much-needed humanitarian assistance must transition into long-term development efforts. Simply put, instilling a culture of disaster risk reduction, investing in hazard mitigation, building as best as we can, and retrofitting what remains, will save lives.

  • Deepwater Horizon consequences continues to plague Gulf Coast communities

    Five years after the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, communities along the Gulf of Mexico continue to struggle with the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to researchers. While most of the nation’s attention continues to focus on the environmental and financial toll of the spill that killed eleven workers and flooded Gulf waters with millions of gallons of oil, the less obvious consequences, including those related to public health, may prove the most long-lasting, the researchers say.

  • Nano-coated mesh captures oil but lets water through

    The unassuming piece of stainless steel mesh does not look like a very big deal, but it could make a big difference for future environmental cleanups. Water passes through the mesh but oil does not, thanks to a nearly invisible oil-repelling coating on its surface. In tests, researchers mixed water with oil and poured the mixture onto the mesh. The water filtered through the mesh to land in a beaker below. The oil collected on top of the mesh, and rolled off easily into a separate beaker when the mesh was tilted. The nano-coated mesh could clean oil spills for less than $1 per square foot.

  • Aquifer Storage and Recovery should be phased in to reverse Everglades decline

    The aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) is a key component in the Central Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a joint state-federal effort to reverse the decline of the Everglades ecosystem. CERP aims to “get the water right” by improving the quantity, timing, and distribution of water flows. Over a century of canal drainage and water management has led to extensive losses of natural water storage, leaving the Everglades in critical need of new storage. Although uncertainties about ecological impacts are too great to justify near-term, large-scale implementation of the ASR in the Everglades, the ASR could be phased in to answer several important scientific questions and provide some early restoration benefits, says a report from the National Research Council (NRC).

  • U Oregon expands role in Pacific Northwest earthquake early warning system

    The University of Oregon will soon be playing an active role in preparing West Coast residents for the next magnitude 9 earthquake. Working in cooperation with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN), the UO will maintain fifteen seismometers previously owned by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The seismic network is a cooperative between the UO and the University of Washington, and is a key player in the development and testing of a West Coast earthquake early warning system. The recent passage of Oregon Senate Bill 5543, which was signed 30 March by Gov. Kate Brown, paved the way for the state of Oregon to acquire the seismometers with a one-time appropriation of $670,000.

  • Resilient rivers respond quickly to dam removal

    More than 1,000 dams have been removed across the United States because of safety concerns, sediment buildup, inefficiency, or having otherwise outlived usefulness. A paper published the other day finds that rivers are resilient and respond relatively quickly after a dam is removed. Studies show that most river channels stabilize within months or years, not decades, particularly when dams are removed rapidly.

  • California drought highlights the state’s economic divide

    As much of Southern California enters into the spring and warmer temperatures, the effects of California’s historic drought begin to manifest themselves in the daily lives of residents, highlighting the economic inequality in the ways people cope. Following Governor Jerry Brown’s (D) unprecedented water rationing regulations,wealthier Californians weigh on which day of the week no longer to water their grass, while those less fortunate are now choosing which days they skip a bath.