• Italy’s earthquakeItaly’s deadly earthquake is the latest in a history of destruction

    By Brendan Duffy, Mark Quigley, and Mike Sandiford

    The Appenines region of central Italy has been struck by a deadly earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.2. This earthquake is no surprise. Italy is prone to earthquakes; it sits above the boundary of the African and European plates. The Appenines region’s earthquake history can be traced back over seven centuries. Within the region, there is excellent and continuously improving scientific information about the hazard. But the knowledge of the hazard has not always translated well into measures that directly reduce economic loss and fatalities in earthquakes. Numerous vulnerable buildings remain, and the recovery process is commonly plagued by long disruptions and inadequate government funding to recover rapidly. Both the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake and this most recent quake highlight just how important it is to translate hazard assessments into improving the resilience of infrastructure to strong shaking. The focus should remain on linking science, engineering and policy, this is often the biggest challenge globally.

  • ResilienceSocial media helps build a sense of community in the aftermath of disaster

    After natural disasters communities rely heavily on local governments to provide the necessary resources and information to respond to such disasters, but these approaches are not well equipped to meeting individual needs. As a complement to traditional methods, social media can provide a more personalized resource as well as fostering a sense of community in response to the crisis.

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  • Seismic shieldLarge-scale metamaterials could earthquake-proof buildings in tremor-prone regions

    Metamaterials – artificial structures that exhibit extraordinary vibrational properties – could come to the rescue of regions threatened by earthquakes, according to new research. The study, performed by researchers in Europe and involving detailed computer simulations, shows that large-scale metamaterials can attenuate the energy and amplitude of harmful low-frequency vibrations associated with seismic shocks.

  • Seismic predictionsCan we get better at predicting earthquakes?

    By Michel Campillo and Rob van der Hilst

    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.

  • Post-disaster recoveryOptimizing choice of post-disaster recovery options by analyzing entire cities

    Civic leaders and engineers are typically faced with a very large number of possible recovery options in the aftermath of a major catastrophic event, such as a hurricane or an earthquake. “If you are trying to solve a problem that has, say, ten possible outcomes — you can probably find a way to figure out which one is optimal; [b]ut what if the possible solutions number as high as 10 to the 120th power?” ask researchers. They have developed a versatile and novel technique which is the first to factor in so many elements, demonstrating its effectiveness on transportation network recovery in imagined post-earthquake San Diego.

  • Coastal perilRising 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.

  • FloodsSuburban sprawl and poor preparation worsened flood damage in Louisiana

    By Craig E. Colten

    The proximate cause of this month’s extraordinary flooding in southeast Louisiana was a slow-moving storm system that dropped up to two feet of rain in the upper reaches of the Amite and Comite river basins, which drain southern Mississippi and flow into Lake Pontchartrain. There are parallels between the damage of current flooding and the damage caused by Katrina. In both cases, human decisions magnified the consequences of extreme natural events. Planning and permitting enabled development in areas that had experienced repeat floods, and agencies had failed to complete projects designed to mitigate flood damage before the storms hit. If there is one lesson we have learned about floods, it is that records are made to be broken. So in addition to planning for the last flood, we need to anticipate higher water than our current benchmarks.

  • Civil defenseGermany to unveil a civil defense plan calling on citizens to stockpile food, water

    The German government will tell citizens to stockpile food and water in their homes in order to prepare for a terror attack or catastrophe. The German cabinet will on Wednesday debate an Interior Ministry report, called the “Concept for Civil Defense,” which, among other things will require the population to stockpile enough food ten days and water for five days.

  • Search & rescueLouisiana’s Cajun Navy shines light on growing value of boat rescuers

    By Tricia Wachtendorf and James Kendra

    As we look at the devastating losses suffered by Louisiana communities from the recent flooding, one of the inspiring aspects to emerge from the disaster are the reports of the “Cajun Navy” – everyday residents in their boats checking on and rescuing family, friends, neighbors and even strangers in need. The efforts of the Cajun Navy, however, are not unusual. Indeed, one consolation of the disaster is the extent to which the informal responses by survivors bolster stressed and overburdened formal response systems. We must continue to learn the right lessons from disaster: that there is value of both planning and improvisation in disaster. That although citizens might sometimes make mistakes, they also enable the greatest of responses. That successful disaster response, in part, depends on a willingness of formal responders to acknowledge the capacities of our citizenry, be they mariners or farmers, welders or educators, or something else entirely.

  • Emerging threatsGlobal warming would make most cities too hot, humid to host summer Olympics

    The future of the summer Olympics may be in jeopardy because of rising heat and humidity due to climate change. By 2085, only eight Northern Hemisphere cities outside of Western Europe are likely to be cool enough to host the summer games. The authors considered only cities with at least 600,000 residents, the size considered necessary for hosting the games. Cities with elevations over a mile above sea level were omitted as such an altitude (for example, Mexico City in 1968) faced challenges of their own.

  • TornadoesCenter of U.S. tornado activity shifting east and south, possibly driven by climate change

    Researchers have found that the center of tornado activity in the United States has shifted in recent decades, and this shift is possibly influenced by climate change. “This completely redefines annual tornado activity in the United States,” said one of the researchers. The data show evidence that the central area of annual tornado activity has moved from Oklahoma to Alabama.

  • Emerging threatsEconomic 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.

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

    By Rowan Jacobsen

    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.

  • Seismic early warningUSGS awards $3.7 million to advance ShakeAlert early warning system

    The U.S. Geological Survey awarded approximately $3.7 million to six universities to support transitioning the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system into a production system. Additionally, the USGS has purchased about $1.5 million in new sensor equipment to expand and improve the ShakeAlert system and awarded about $0.25 million in supplements to earlier agreements to three universities. These efforts, as well as internal work that the USGS is conducting, are possible because of $8.2 million in funding to the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program for ShakeAlert approved by Congress earlier this year.

  • Public health Climate change to increase health risks from wildfires in U.S. West

    A surge in major wildfire events in the western United States as a consequence of climate change will expose tens of millions of Americans to high levels of air pollution in the coming decades. The researchers estimated air pollution from past and projected future wildfires in 561 western counties, and found that by mid-century more than eighty-two million people will experience “smoke waves,” or consecutive days with high air pollution related to fires.