Natural disasters

  • Earthquake-proofingSafer structures to withstand earthquakes, windstorms

    A new cyberinfrastructure effort funded by a $13.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help engineers build safer structures that can better withstand natural hazards such as earthquakes and windstorms. Researchers aim to build a software platform, data repository, and tools that will help the United States design more resilient buildings, levees, and other public infrastructure that could protect lives, property and communities.

  • Coastal resilienceSea level rise, storm surges increasing risk of “compound flooding” for major U.S. cities

    Scientists investigating the increasing risk of “compound flooding” for major U.S. cities have found that flooding risk is greatest for cities along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts when strong storm surge and high rainfall amounts occur together. While rising sea levels are the main driver for increasing flood risk, storm surges caused by weather patterns that favor high precipitation exacerbates flood potential.

  • Coastal resilienceMangroves help protect coasts against sea level rise

    Mangrove forests could play a crucial role in protecting coastal areas from sea level rise caused by climate change, according to new research. Taking New Zealand mangrove data as the basis of a new modelling system, the researchers were able to predict what will happen to different types of estuaries and river deltas when sea levels rise. They found areas without mangroves are likely to widen from erosion and more water will encroach inwards, whereas mangrove regions prevent this effect - which is likely due to soil building up around their mesh-like roots and acting to reduce energy from waves and tidal currents.

  • WildfiresDrought and climate change fuel high-elevation California fires

    Wildfires in California’s fabled Sierra Nevada mountain range are increasingly burning high-elevation forests, which historically have seldom burned, researchers report. The phenomenon — likely driven by climate change, forest-management practices and other factors — may influence the rate at which forests in this ecosystem are altered by the effects of climate change, the researchers suggest. It also may have implications for how forests are restored after fires.

  • Resilience2014 was Earth’s warmest year on record; climate markers show global warming trend

    In 2014, the most essential indicators of Earth’s changing climate continued to reflect trends of a warming planet, with several markers such as rising land and ocean temperature, sea levels, and greenhouse gases — setting new records. The report’s climate indicators show patterns, changes, and trends of the global climate system. Examples of the indicators include various types of greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover. “The variety of indicators shows us how our climate is changing, not just in temperature but from the depths of the oceans to the outer atmosphere,” said Thomas Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information.

  • DisastersMillions displaced as a result of climate-related disasters, building in hazard-prone areas

    In the last seven years, an estimated one person every second has been displaced by a disaster, with 19.3 million people forced to flee their homes in 2014 alone. In 2014, 17.5 million people were forced to flee their homes by disasters brought on by weather-related hazards such as floods and storms, and 1.7 million by geophysical hazards such as earthquakes. Climate change is expected to exacerbate the situation in the future, as severe weather hazards become more frequent and intense. Man-made factors — such as rapid economic development, urbanization, and population growth in hazard-prone areas – have also contributed to the the overall increase in disaster displacement.

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  • ResilienceIAEA uses nuclear detection techniques to help measure climate change effects

    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) – but the detection technologies it uses to detect illicit nuclear activities are also helpful in tracking and quantifying the effects of climate change. Nuclear techniques offer substantial advantages over conventional techniques for measuring climate change impact. “Stable isotope analyzers let us monitor agricultural processes as they happen. They allow us to quantify carbon capture and emission patterns of farming practices, enabling us to find ways to improve them,” explained one expert.

  • Climate & securityClimate change a security risk second only to terrorism: Aussie defense report

    The Australian government’s energy White Paper made headlines for its reluctance to mention the term “climate change” — but a forthcoming defense White Paper does not share these reservations. A report on community consultations conducted by the authors of the defense White Paper highlights the consequences of climate change, extreme weather events, and environmental pressures as a significant security risk for Australia – second only to the risks posed by terrorism.

  • FloodsHuman-caused air pollution linked to catastrophic floods in southwest China

    Following the trail of the 2013 Sichuan flood in southwest China, researchers found that heavy human-caused air pollution over the Sichuan Basin just upwind contributed to the catastrophic flood. Through a series of events they call “aerosol-enhanced conditional instability,” tiny particles from heavy air pollution absorb heat from the sun, stabilize the atmosphere, and suppress local storms during the daytime. However, this allows the heavy moist and now warm air to be transported downwind to mountainous areas where it is lifted causing extreme nighttime precipitation.

  • Climate & securityClimate change risk assessment: “The inconvenient may become intolerable”

    An international group of scientists, energy policy analysts, and experts in risk from finance and the military on Monday released a new independent assessment of the risks of climate change, designed to support political leaders in their decisions on how much priority to give to the issue. Their report argues that the risks of climate change should be assessed in the same way as risks to national security or public health. This means focusing on understanding what is the worst that could happen and how likely it is to occur. The report identifies thresholds beyond which “the inconvenient may become intolerable.” These include limits of human tolerance for heat stress, and limits of crops’ tolerance for high temperatures, which if exceeded could lead to large-scale fatalities and crop failure; as well as potential limits to coastal cities’ ability to successfully adapt to rising sea levels.

  • Climate & securityClimate change risk assessment: Policy brief

    The international group of experts which yesterday released the report Climate Change: A Risk Assessment (University of Cambridge, July 2015), summarized their recommendations in a policy brief. “An honest assessment of risk is no reason for fatalism. Just as small changes in climate can have very large effects, the same can be true for changes in government policy, technological capability, and financial regulation,” the experts write. “Leadership can make this virtuous circle turn faster, more fully mobilizing our ingenuity, resources, and commitment. In this way, the goal of preserving a safe climate for the future need not be beyond our reach.”

  • Coastal resilienceSea levels have risen six meters or more with just slight global warming: Study

    A new review analyzing three decades of research on the historic effects of melting polar ice sheets found that global sea levels have risen at least six meters, or about twenty feet, above present levels on multiple occasions over the past three million years. What is most concerning, scientists say, is that amount of melting was caused by an increase of only 1-2 degrees (Celsius) in global mean temperatures. Six meters (or about twenty feet) of sea level rise does not sound like a lot. However, coastal cities worldwide have experienced enormous growth in population and infrastructure over the past couple of centuries — and a global mean sea level rise of ten to twenty feet could be catastrophic to the hundreds of millions of people living in these coastal zones.

  • ResilienceSocial engagement helps in disaster preparedness

    People who participate in social activities in their community are more likely to plan and prepare for future disasters, such as tsunamis, according to a new study. The study was based on household surveys in tsunami-prone areas of Phang Nga, Thailand, a region which was hard hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and which has been active in setting up tsunami early warning systems and disaster training programs.

  • ResilienceSt. Louis prepares for a warmer future

    Researchers have recently presented findings in St. Louis, Missouri to raise awareness about local climate change, in the attempt to motivate local and state governments, as well as the citizenry, to take action. Summers like the very-hot 2012 season will become the norm for St. Louis within the next forty years. Between 2041 and 2071, the region’s 30-year average temperature is estimated to rise between 4.7 to 4.9 degrees, according to his models. Even under a scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions are already significantly reduced, he adds, the region can expect temperatures roughly 3.6 degrees warmer within the next thirty years.

  • Man-made quakesOklahoma Supreme Court: Oil companies may be sued for fracking-induced quakes

    On 30 June the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that oil companies may be sued over quakes if they can be linked to hydraulic shale fracturing methods, or “fracking.” Numerous scientific studies found a direct link between the increase in fracking activity in Oklahoma and the sharp rise in the number of quakes in Oklahoma, a region which until 2009 was considered seismically stable. The number of earthquake in the state has increased from 1.5 tremblors a year before to 2008, to an average of 2.5 a day, according a report from Richard Andrews, the Oklahoma state geologist.