• Space: Cybersecurity’s final frontier

    The world is dangerously unprepared for a global disaster sparked by cyberattacks on space infrastructure. Much of the world’s infrastructure – including the economies and militaries of the world’s developed countries – is dependent on space machinery, and any disruption of that machinery would have a cascading consequences – some merely debilitating, other catastrophic. Governments around the world have invested heavily in protecting infrastructure on Earth – yet not nearly enough has been done to thwart threats from space to that infrastructure.

  • Risk of another Chernobyl- or Fukushima-type accident worryingly plausible

    The biggest-ever statistical analysis of historical nuclear accidents suggests that nuclear power is an underappreciated extreme risk and that major changes will be needed to prevent future disasters. The researchers’worrying conclusion is that, while nuclear accidents have substantially decreased in frequency, this has been accomplished by the suppression of moderate-to-large events. They estimate that Fukushima- and Chernobyl-scale disasters are still more likely than not once or twice per century, and that accidents on the scale of the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island (a damage cost of about $10 billion) are more likely than not to occur every 10-20 years.

  • The smart grid makes it easier for hackers to turn out the lights

    The development of the smart power grid and the smart meter in our homes to accompany it brings several benefits, such as improved delivery and more efficient billing. Conversely, any digital, connected technology also represents a security risk. The smart electricity grid is more vulnerable to accidental and incidental problems with the flow of data, and to malicious manipulation for the sake of sabotage, criminal, or online military or terrorist action.

  • Climate change poses “strategically significant risk” to U.S. national security

    Twenty-five national security and military leaders the other day released a statement declaring that: “the effects of climate change present a strategically-significant risk to U.S. national security,” and urging a “comprehensive policy” in response. The authors of the statement say that stresses resulting from climate change can increase the likelihood of intra or international conflict, state failure, mass migration, and the creation of additional ungoverned spaces, across a range of strategically-significant regions. They add that the impacts of climate change will place significant strains on international financial stability through contributing to supply line disruptions for major global industries in the manufacturing, energy, agriculture, and water sectors, disrupting the viability of the insurance industry, and generally increasing the political and financial risks of doing business in an increasingly unstable global environment.

  • Mapping, quantifying the risks space-weather poses to electric-power grids

    The vulnerability of modern society to geoelectric hazards was demonstrated in March 1989, when an intense magnetic storm caused the collapse of the entire Canadian Hydro-Québec power-grid system, leaving six million people without electricity for nine hours. Scientists recently published research — including maps covering large areas of the United States — showing how the effects from intense geomagnetic storms are impacted by the Earth’s electrical conductivity. This is one of the first steps toward mapping nation-wide “induction hazards.”

  • How building design changed after 9/11

    When buildings collapse killing hundreds – or thousands – of people, it’s a tragedy. It’s also an important engineering problem. For structural engineers like me, that meant figuring out what happened, and doing extensive research on how to improve buildings’ ability to withstand a terrorist attack. Research has found ways to keep columns and beams strong even when they are stressed and bent. This property is called ductility, and higher ductility could reduce the chance of progressive collapse. Mixing millions of high-strength needle-like steel microfibers into concrete – to prevent the spreading of any cracks that occur because of an explosion or other extreme force – creates material which is superstrong and very ductile. This material, called ultra-high-performance fiber-reinforced concrete, is extremely resistant to blast damage. As a result, we can expect future designers and builders to use this material to further harden their buildings against attack. It’s just one way we are contributing to the efforts to prevent these sorts of tragedies from happening in the future.

  • Climate change increased chances of record rains in Louisiana by at least 40 percent

    Human-caused climate warming increased the chances of the torrential rains that unleashed devastating floods in south Louisiana in mid-August by at least 40 percent, according to a team of NOAA and partner scientists. “We found human-caused, heat-trapping greenhouse gases can play a measurable role in events such as the August rains that resulted in such devastating floods, affecting so many people,” says the lead author of a new study.

  • Climate change likely to increase frequency, magnitude of severe U.K. flooding events

    Last December, following severe flooding across parts of Northern England and Scotland and on the eve of the climate summit in Paris – which was held 30 November – 12 December 2015 — Lord Deben, chairman of the U.. Committee on Climate Change, said: “Defenses that might historically have provided protection against a 1 in 100 year flood will, with climate change, provide a much lower level of protection and be overtopped more frequently. The latest projections suggest periods of intense rainfall could increase in frequency by a factor of five this century as global temperatures rise.”

  • Oklahoma shuts down 37 wells after Saturday’s 5.6 magnitude earthquake

    Oklahoma ordered the shutting down of 37 wells after Saturday’s 5.6 magnitude earthquake. Experts note that the significant increase in the number earthquakes measuring 3.0 or higher in Oklahoma has been linked to the practice of underground disposal of wastewater from oil and natural gas production. Only three earthquakes 3.0 magnitude or higher were recorded in 2009. Last year, the state had 907 such quakes. So far this year, there have been more than 400.

  • Solar-powered Ring Garden combines desalination, agriculture for drought-stricken California

    With roughly 80 percent of California’s already-scarce water supply going to agriculture, it is crucial for the state to embrace new technologies that shrink the amount of water required to grow food. Alexandru Predonu has designed an elegant solution which uses solar energy to power a rotating desalination plant and farm that not only produces clean drinking water for the city of Santa Monica, but also food crops — including algae.

  • Solar-powered Pipe desalinizes 1.5 billion gallons of drinking water for California

    The infrastructure California needs to generate energy for electricity and clean water, which will be significant, need not blight the landscape. Designs like The Pipe demonstrate how the provision of public services like these can be knitted into every day life in a healthy, aesthetically pleasing way.

  • Preventing human-caused, fracking-related earthquakes

    The 31 May 2014 earthquake that rumbled below Colorado’s eastern plains surprised both local residents and local seismologists. The earthquake happened in an area that had seen no seismic activity in at least four decades. It was likely caused by the injection of industrial wastewater deep underground. New research shows actions taken by drillers and regulators can lessen risk in the case of earthquakes likely caused by the injection of industrial wastewater deep underground.

  • Structural, regulatory, and human errors contributed to Washington bridge collapse

    When an important bridge collapsed on Interstate 5 near Mount Vernon, Washington, in 2013, questions were raised about how such a catastrophic failure could occur. A new analysis outlines the many factors that led to the collapse, as well as steps that transportation departments can take to prevent such accidents on other bridges of similar design.

  • Chicago becomes first city to launch Array of Things, an innovative urban sensing project

    This week in Chicago, the Array of Things team begins the first phase of the groundbreaking urban sensing project, installing the first of an eventual 500 nodes on city streets. By measuring data on air quality, climate, traffic, and other urban features, these pilot nodes kick off an innovative partnership among different organizations aiming better to understand, serve, and improve cities.

  • Assessing climate change vulnerability in urban America

    Impacts of climate change – rising sea levels, heat waves, rising rates of diseases caused by ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes, and many more — will affect cities across the country. One of the first efforts systematically to assess how cities are preparing for climate change shows that city planners have yet fully to assess their vulnerability to climate change, leaving serious risks unaddressed. Most city planners have yet to prepare for climate-related risks and the consequences.