Natural disasters

  • ClimateSubjecting countries to “targeted punishments” could tackle climate change

    Targeted punishments could provide a path to international climate change cooperation, new research in game theory has found. The research suggests that in situations such as climate change, in which everyone would be better off if everyone cooperated but it may not be individually advantageous to do so, the use of a strategy called “targeted punishment” could help shift society toward global cooperation.

  • Coastal resilienceCoastal uplift along Pacific Coast lower than expected, exacerbating sea-level rise impact

    A new study shows that uplift rates across the Pacific Coast of the United States and northern Mexico have been overestimated by an average of more than 40 percent. These lower uplift rates this may have important implications for coastal management, including earthquake hazards and the potential impact of sea-level rise to coastlines across the Pacific Coast. If the Pacific Coast’s uplift rate is lower than had been estimated, this means that sea-level rise would have an even greater impact on coastal communities and infrastructure. Higher coastal uplift rates would have negated some of the effects of rising sea levels, something lower uplift rate will not do.

  • Coastal resilienceFIU launches Sea Level Solutions Center

    With rising seas threatening coastal communities all across the world, Florida International University (FIU) has launched the Sea Level Solutions Center to help people understand, adapt and persevere. FIU says that the center combines expertise in the natural, physical, and social sciences, along with architecture, engineering, computer sciences, law, communications, business, health, and tourism management to develop long-term strategies in the face of rising seas, noting that FIU’s Miami location will be key in advancing the center’s mission. South Florida is particularly vulnerable because of the large number of assets exposed to the effects of sea level rise.

  • Coastal resilienceRestoring and sustaining Louisiana’s eroding coast

    Measures taken over the last ninety years to prevent a repetition of the 1927 New Orleans flood — the construction of improved levees, spillways, and dams as well as associated flood and additional navigation management structures designed to contain overflows and manage and stabilize a deep-water channel – have starved adjacent wetlands of the freshwater and sediment needed to stave off the Gulf of Mexico’s rising tides. The resulting land loss across the Delta is leading toward catastrophic collapse. Over the last century, almost 1,900 square miles of deltaic wetlands, an area approximately the size of Delaware, have disappeared from Louisiana. Every hour, a football field-sized swath of land drowns in the Gulf’s advancing tides. A Louisiana independent initiative, with the support and participation of the State of Louisiana and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has called on experts from the private sector to develop and assess new designs for the Lower Mississippi River (below New Orleans). The winning proposals were announced last week.

  • FloodsPost-Katrina flood damage resulted from Corps of Engineers' errors, was preventable

    A decade after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, experts say the flooding that caused over 1,800 deaths and billions of dollars in property damage could have been prevented had the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers retained an external review board to double-check its flood-wall designs. Researchers contend that the main fault in the failure of the flood walls along the city’s principal drainage canals was the misinterpretation of a full-scale load test carried out by the Corps in the Atachafalaya Basin a few years prior to Katrina. After these so-called E-99 tests, it was determined that flood walls in the city should be installed at a depth of 17 feet, instead of the initially estimated depths of 31 to 46 feet.

  • Coastal resilienceU.S. coastal communities face increasing risk of compound floods

    In 2010, 39 percent of the U.S. population lived in coastal communities — a number which is expected to continue to increase in the next five years. The confluence of storm surges and heavy precipitation can bring dangerous flooding to low-lying coastal regions, including major metropolitan areas. A new study of the United States coastline has found the risk of such flooding is higher on the Atlantic coast than the Pacific, and the number of these compound events has increased significantly in many major cities in the past century.

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  • LeveesCalifornia levees face risk of catastrophic failure as a result of historic drought

    Earthen levees protect dry land from floods and function as water storage and management systems. Over 21,000 kilometers of earthen levees deliver approximately two-thirds of potable water to more than twenty-three million Californians and protect more than $47 billion worth of homes and businesses from flooding. Scientists say that the ongoing extreme drought in the state poses a risk of catastrophic failure to California’s levee systems and highlights an urgent need to invest in research regarding the vulnerabilities of these systems under extreme climatic events.

  • ResilienceThe lessons of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

    As the tenth anniversary of hurricanes Katrina (29 August) and Rita (23 September) approaches, memories of the storms vividly remain for Texans. Katrina killed more than 1,800 people and Rita forced the largest evacuation in Texas history, with more than three million people leaving the Houston-Galveston area. There are lessons to be learned from both, experts say.

  • ResilienceClimate change and Hurricane Katrina: what have we learned?

    By Kerry Emanuel

    Theory and computer models show that the incidence of the strongest hurricanes — those that come closest to achieving their potential intensity — will increase as the climate warms, and there is some indication that this is happening. Global warming, however, is occurring far too fast for effective human adaptation. Adapting to the myriad changes expected over the next 100 years is such a daunting prospect that otherwise intelligent people rebel against the idea even to the extent of denying the very existence of the risk. This recalcitrance, coupled with rising sea levels, subsiding land, and increased incidence of strong hurricanes, all but guarantees that New Orleans will have moved or have been abandoned by the next century.

  • WaterCivil engineering graduate students awarded scholarships for water research

    Three Texas A&M graduate engineering students were recently awarded scholarships to pursue water-related research. The first project will investigate and better define “green water,” which is generally perceived as the soil water available for plants to use, and its potential to alleviate the projected water shortage for Texas agriculture. The second project focuses on future water availability and allocations in the Rio Grande River. The third focuses on the joint effects of climate change, urbanization and flow regulation on water supply in a metropolitan area.

  • WildfiresHundreds of fires blazing across more than 1.1 million acres in the West

    Wildfires have been ravaging large parcels of land in the West and there seems to be no end in sight for the weary Westerners. There are hundreds of individual fires blazing across at least 1.1 million acres in the West. Both the military and foreign firefighting crews have been called in to help the beleaguered firefighters in the West. Washington State’s firefighters are stretched to the limit, and on Friday the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) opened centers in Omak and Colville to coordinate offers of help from trained, qualified volunteer firefighters and from people who have and can operate machinery like backhoes and bulldozers to dig fire lines.

  • DisastersJuly 2015 the hottest month on record since measurements began in 1880

    Global warming continues unabated. The latest NOAA report notes that July 2015 was warmest month ever recorded for the globe – that is, the warmest month since 1880, when temperature measurements were taken in a systematic fashion for the first time. The July globally averaged land surface temperature was 1.73°F (0.96°C) above the twentieth century average. The year-to-date temperature combined across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.53°F (0.85°C) above the twentieth century average. This was the highest for January–July in the 1880–2015 record, surpassing the previous record set in 2010 by 0.16°F (0.09°C).

  • InfrastructureDrought causing California’s San Joaquin Valley land to sink, damaging infrastructure

    Californians continue pumping groundwater in response to the historic drought, and as a result, land in the San Joaquin Valley is sinking faster than ever before, nearly two inches per month in some locations. Sinking land, known as subsidence, has been occurring for decades in California because of excessive groundwater pumping during drought conditions, but the sinking is happening faster. The increased subsidence rates can damage local, state, and federal infrastructure, including aqueducts, bridges, roads, and flood control structures. Long-term subsidence has already destroyed thousands of public and private groundwater well casings in the San Joaquin Valley. Over time, subsidence can permanently reduce the underground aquifer’s water storage capacity.

  • Planetary safetySafe! Claims that an asteroid is threatening earth are unfounded: NASA

    Numerous recent blogs and Web postings are claiming that an asteroid will impact Earth, sometime between 15 and 28 September 2015. On one of those dates, as rumors go, there will be an impact — “evidently” near Puerto Rico — causing wide-spread destruction to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and Mexico, as well as Central and South America. NASA strongly rejects these unfounded rumors. “There is no scientific basis — not one shred of evidence — that an asteroid or any other celestial object will impact Earth on those dates,” said Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object office.

  • DroughtWarming climate exacerbating California drought

    A new study says that global warming has measurably worsened the ongoing California drought. Scientists largely agree that natural weather variations have caused a lack of rain, but an emerging consensus says that rising temperatures may be making things worse by driving moisture from plants and soil into the air. The new study is the first to estimate how much worse: as much as a quarter. The findings suggest that within a few decades, continually increasing temperatures and resulting moisture losses will push California into even more persistent aridity.