• Forecast-based financing for flash floods

    Forecasts are increasingly used to help reduce the impacts of floods in vulnerable communities. Not all floods are created equal, however. Flash floods are one of the most deadly types on a global scale. While early warning and early action systems for slow-onset floods (from rivers, for example) have improved significantly over the past fifty years, efforts to create a comparable system for flash floods has lagged behind. Forecast-based Financing (FbF) is a mechanism that releases early humanitarian funding based on in-depth forecast information and risk analysis.

  • Bolstering cyber-physical systems security

    Researchers have been awarded a grant of nearly $1 million to develop stronger safeguards for a wide array of complex systems that rely on computers – from public water supply systems and electric grids to chemical plants and self-driving vehicles. Increasingly, these cyber-physical systems, or CPS, are threatened by both physical and cyberattacks.

  • Friendly electromagnetic pulse improves survival for electronics

    An electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, emitted by a nuclear weapon exploded high above the United States could disable the electronic circuits of many devices vital to military defense and modern living. These could include complicated weapon systems as well as phones, laptops, credit cards and car computers. Also, in trouble might be home appliances, gas station pumps and bank accounts. Military equipment – and some civilian equipment, too — are designed to be immune to various levels of EMP, and the validity of these designs has been tested and improved by a “friendly” EMP generator installed in a recently renovated facility at Sandia National Laboratories.

  • Houses in hurricane strike zones are built back, but bigger

    A study of hurricane-hit areas of the United States has revealed a trend of larger homes being built to replace smaller ones in the years following a storm. The research shows that the sizes of new homes constructed after a hurricane often dwarf the sizes of those lost.

  • Inexpensive super-absorbent material offers solution for ocean oil spills

    A super-absorbent material developed by Penn State scientists could dramatically reduce the environmental impact of oil spills on oceans and allow recovered oil to be refined normally. The synthetic material, called i-Petrogel, absorbs more than 40 times its weight in crude oil, and effectively stops the oil from spreading after a spill, according to the researchers.

  • National Climate Assessment: Will U.S. water problems worsen?

    Upmanu Lall is director of the Columbia Water Center, chair of Earth and Environmental Engineering, and the lead author of the chapter on water resources in the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment. The report, issued two weeks ago, paints a troubling picture of the nation’s climate future, including projected droughts and extreme precipitation events that could worsen already existing problems with U.S. water supplies and infrastructure. Lall discusses the climate change-driven water challenges the U.S. faces, and ideas for how the nation can respond.

  • National security in the Fourth National Climate Assessment

    NCA4 vol. 2: “Climate change presents added risks to interconnected systems that are already exposed to a range of stressors such as aging and deteriorating infrastructure, land-use changes, and population growth. Extreme weather and climate-related impacts on one system can result in increased risks or failures in other critical systems, including water resources, food production and distribution, energy and transportation, public health, international trade, and national security. The full extent of climate change risks to interconnected systems, many of which span regional and national boundaries, is often greater than the sum of risks to individual sectors.”

  • Urban flooding disrupts local economies, public safety, housing equity

    Flooding caused by an increasing number of intense storms is a national challenge and significant source of economic loss, social disruption and housing inequality across the United States, says a new report. The first to assess the national scope and consequences of urban flooding, the report calls on the administration and Congress to bring together representatives from state, municipal and tribal governments, nongovernmental organizations, and the public to define responsibilities and implement a variety of actions at the local level.

  • Israeli device that extracts water from the air helps California firefighters quench thirst

    An emergency response vehicle (ERV) carrying an innovative Israeli machine that pulls drinking water out of ambient air is on its way to California to provide hydration to police and firefighters dealing with the aftermath of two massive wildfires that have taken at least eighty-seven lives.

  • The dusty desert air as a source of drinking water

    A simple device that can capture its own weight in water from fresh air and then release that water when warmed by sunlight could provide a secure new source of drinking water in remote arid regions, new research suggests.

  • U.S. gov.’s climate assessment: U.S. already suffering severe consequences of climate change

    The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4)—a quadrennial report mandated by Congress since 1990—was released Friday. Thirteen federal agencies develop the NCA using the best available science to help the nation “understand, assess, predict and respond to” climate change. The 1,500-page report examines the climate and economic impacts U.S. residents could expect if drastic action is not taken to address climate change. The consequences of global warming for the U.S. economy, infrastructure, food production, water, and public health are already severe, as flooding, droughts, wildfires, rain storms, and hurricanes intensify. Unless warming is arrested, to consequences are only going to get worse.

  • Climate change is driving wildfires, and not just in California

    There are multiple reasons why wildfires are getting more severe and destructive, but climate change tops the list, notwithstanding claims to the contrary by President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. According to the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment, released on 23 November, higher temperatures and earlier snowmelt are extending the fire season in western states. By 2050, according to the report, the area that burns yearly in the West could be two to six times larger than today. For climate scientists like me, there’s no longer any serious doubt that human activity – primarily burning fossil fuels – is causing the atmosphere to warm relentlessly. Climate change is driving a rapid increase in wildfire risk that has become a national problem. At the same time, healthy forests have become essential for the many valuable benefits they provide the nation and its people. Neither more effective forest management, nor curbing climate change alone will solve the growing wildfire problem, but together they can.

  • Predicting the impact of hackers, earthquakes -- and squirrels -- on the power grid

    What would it take for an entire American city to lose power? What circumstances and failures in the electrical grid’s infrastructure would lead to a dramatic, long-term blackout? And what weak points could utility companies invest in to help prevent a catastrophic shutdown?

  • Dam-breach simulation software helping communities plan for emergencies

    Two days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, 70,000 residents in the vicinity of the Guajataca Dam were urged to evacuate as a precaution. Heavy rains were rapidly filling up the island’s 36 dams. Without clearer data, local authorities could only plan for the worst-case scenario. The Guajataca Dam, which holds more than 11 billion gallons of water, was on the verge of uncontrolled overflowing and could cause great devastation to the area downstream. These are challenges emergency managers face when they do not have reliable information.

  • Using game theory to quantify threats of cyberattacks on power grid

    Threat levels for cyberattacks on the power grid are usually labeled high, medium or low, but engineers say this is not good enough: Such judgements are too qualitative and too subjective. Could engineers incorporate scientific methods? Computer algorithms? And given that there are attackers and defenders – just like in a soccer match – could game theory be applied to help with risk assessment, attack-defense modeling and “what-if” contingency analysis that could help mitigate any attacks?