• Fecal bacteria contaminated surface water after Hurricane Harvey

    Hurricane Harvey was an unprecedented rain event that delivered five consistent days of flooding and storms to Texas last August. Now, researchers have substantiated that the storm caused high levels of fecal contamination to be introduced into waterways draining into the Gulf of Mexico and impairing surface water quality.

  • Groundwater recharge project helps California’s sustainability efforts

    The depletion of California’s aquifers by over-pumping of groundwater has led to growing interest in “managed aquifer recharge,” which replenishes depleted aquifers using available surface waters, such as high flows in rivers, runoff from winter storms, or recycled waste water. At the same time, there is growing concern about contamination of groundwater supplies with nitrate from fertilizers, septic tanks, and other sources. Study shows how collecting storm-water runoff to replenish depleted groundwater supplies can be coupled with a simple strategy to reduce nitrate contaminants.

  • With hacking of U.S. utilities, Russia could move from cyberespionage toward cyberwar

    Even before the revelation on 23 July that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer systems of U.S. electric utilities and could have caused blackouts, government agencies and electricity industry leaders were working to protect U.S. customers and society as a whole. These developments highlight an important distinction of conflict in cyberspace: between probing and attacking. The distinction between exploiting weaknesses to gather information – also known as “intelligence preparation of the battlefield” – and using those vulnerabilities to actually do damage is impossibly thin and depends on the intent of the people doing it. Intentions are notoriously difficult to figure out. In global cyberspace they may change depending on world events and international relations. The dangers – to the people of the United States and other countries both allied and opposed – underscore the importance of international agreement on what constitutes an act of war in cyberspace and the need for clear rules of engagement.

  • Senate committees to hold hearings on Russia, recommend additional punitive measures

    Two Senate committees – the Foreign Relations Committee and the Banking Committee – announced they will hold a series of hearings on Russia. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) tasked Senators Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, with holding hearings on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), and asked them to recommend to the Senate additional measures that could respond to or deter what he called “Russian malign behavior.”

  • Russians hacked into America’s electric grid. Here’s why securing it is hard.

    Hackers taking down the U.S. electricity grid may sound like a plot ripped from a Bruce Willis action movie, but the Department of Homeland Security has recently disclosed new details about the extent to which Russia has infiltrated “critical infrastructure” like American power plants, water facilities and gas pipelines. This hacking is similar to the 2015 and 2016 attacks on Ukraine’s grid. While DHS has raised the number of the Russian utility-hacking incidents it detected from dozens to hundreds, it still maintains that this infiltration has not risen beyond scouting mode. Clearly, there’s no time to waste in shoring up the grid’s security. Yet getting that done is not easy.

  • New model predicts landslides caused by earthquakes

    Landslides are the third-largest contributor to earthquake deaths, after building collapse and tsunamis. From 2004 to 2010, earthquake-induced landslides caused an estimated 47,000 deaths. Researchers have developed a model which can help experts address such risks by estimating the likelihood of landslides that will be caused by earthquakes anywhere in the world.

  • Celestial hazards: Twenty years of planetary defense

    NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies was established in 1998 to fulfill a 1998 Congressional request to detect and catalogue at least 90 percent of all NEOs larger than one kilometer in size (roughly two-thirds of a mile) within 10 years. In 2005, Congress established a new, much more ambitious goal for the NEO Observations Program — to discover 90 percent of the NEOs down to the much smaller size of 450 feet (140 meters), and to do so by the year 2020. There are now over 18,000 known NEOs and the discovery rate averages about 40 per week.

  • Report: Russian hackers came close to causing U.S. blackouts last year

    DHS has warned utilities that Russian government hackers accessed the U.S. electric grid control systems in 2016 and 2017, and could have, at the time of their choosing, caused blackouts across the United States. “They got to the point where they could have thrown switches” and disrupted power flows, said Jonathan Homer, chief of industrial-control-system analysis for DHS. DHS is gathering evidence on the Russian government’s attempt to automate these attacks on the U.S. grid.

  • DOJ releases Cyber-Digital Task Force report

    The Department of Justice last Thursday released a report produced by the Attorney General’s Cyber-Digital Task Force. The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the cyber-enabled threats confronting the United States and details the ways in which the DOJ combats those threats. The first section of the report focuses on what DOJ describes as “the most pressing cyber-enabled threats confronting the United States: the threat posed by malign foreign influence operations.”

  • Using satellites to measure vital underground water resources

    The availability of water from underground aquifers is vital to the basic needs of more than 1.5 billion people worldwide. In recent decades, however, the over-pumping of groundwater, combined with drought, has caused some aquifers to permanently lose their essential storage capacity. Scientists are using the latest space technology to measure this precious natural resource.

  • Buried internet infrastructure at risk as sea levels rise

    Thousands of miles of buried fiber optic cable in densely populated coastal regions of the United States may soon be inundated by rising seas, according to a new study. The study, presented at a meeting of internet network researchers, portrays critical communications infrastructure that could be submerged by rising seas in as soon as fifteen years. “Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” says Ban authority on the “physical internet.” “That surprised us. The expectation was that we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”

  • Smarter, safer bridges with Sandia sensors

    In 2016, more than 54,000 bridges in the U.S. were classified as “structurally deficient” by the Federal Highway Administration’s National Bridge Inventory. This means about 9 percent of U.S. bridges need regular monitoring. Researchers outfitted a U.S. bridge with a network of eight real-time sensors able to alert maintenance engineers when they detect a crack or when a crack reaches a length that requires repair.

  • Nuclear waste: The cost to Americans is in the billions

    Since the Manhattan Project officially began in 1942, the United States has faced ever-increasing stores of nuclear waste. Stanford’s Rodney Ewing says that the U.S. failure to implement a permanent solution for nuclear waste storage and disposal is costing Americans billions of dollars a year.

  • Rising sea levels could cost the world $14 trillion a year by 2100

    Failure to meet the United Nations’ 2ºC warming limits will lead to sea level rise and dire global economic consequences, new research has warned. The study calculated that flooding from rising sea levels could cost $14 trillion worldwide annually by 2100, if the target of holding global temperatures below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels is missed.

  • Looking to millennials for new nuclear energy inspiration, conversation

    The torch of nuclear energy may be passing to a new generation: On 15 June, Idaho National Laboratory hosted a Millennial Nuclear Caucus, the latest to be held across the country since October 2017. The majority of participants were young interns and researchers from the lab, but young people from across the community were invited to attend.