• FloodsNew tool could help predict, prevent surging waters in flood plains

    A group of international scientists studying China’s Yellow River has created a new tool that could help officials better predict and prevent its all-too-frequent floods, which threaten as many as eighty million people. The tool — a formula to calculate sediment transport — may also be applied to studying the sustainability of eroding coastlines worldwide.

  • CollapseTipping points: When natural or social systems reach a point of no return

    A tipping point is a critical threshold at which a dynamical system undergoes an irreversible transformation, typically owing to a small change in inputs or parameters. This concept is very broad and can refer to the extinction of an animal or a plant species, the depletion of a water source, or the financial collapse of an institution, among many other natural and social phenomena. Researchers provide a better understanding of the characteristics of this point of no return and what happens to a system after its occurrence.

  • Energy securityHelping power utilities and others better plan for the future

    If you’re an electric utility planning a new power plant by a river, it would be nice to know what that river will look like twenty years down the road. Will it be so high that it might flood the new facility? Will the water be so low that it can’t be used to cool the plant? Generally, such projections have been based on records of past precipitation, temperature, flooding and other historical data. But in an era when temperature and precipitation are changing rapidly, historical patterns won’t do you much good. A new initiative by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory combines climate data and analysis with infrastructure planning and decision support, promises real help.

  • Man-made earthquakesWastewater injection rates triggered Oklahoma's largest earthquake

    The 3 September 2016 magnitude 5.8 Pawnee quake, felt widely across Oklahoma, is the largest earthquake recorded in the state since the 1950s. Most Oklahoma earthquakes since 2009 are thought to have been triggered by wastewater produced by oil and gas drilling that has been injected back into the ground – and a new report says that changes to the rate of wastewater injection in disposal wells may have contributed to conditions that led to the Pawnee earthquake.

  • DisastersRadar simulator helps characterize scattering of debris in tornadoes

    Researchers have developed the first numerical polarimetric radar simulator to study and characterize the scattering of debris particles in tornadoes. “An improved understanding of what weather radars tell us about tornado debris can help provide more accurate tornado warnings and quickly direct emergency personnel to affected areas,” says one researcher.

  • Water securityEurope’s economy vulnerable to global water scarcity, drought

    A new study of the impacts that increasing water scarcity and drought may have on the European Union’s (EU) economy finds that around 38 percent of the EU’s water demand lies outside its borders because many of the goods consumed by its citizens or used by its businesses are produced abroad. “The highest risk that the European meat and dairy sector will face due to climate change and weather extremes lies outside its borders. This is because it is highly dependent on soybean imports from locations that are vulnerable to water scarcity and drought,” says one expert.

  • TornadoesDangerous mix: Climate change, tornadoes, and mobile homes

    Tornadoes and mobile homes do not mix to begin with, but throw in the volatility of climate change and the potential for massive property damage and deaths is even higher in coming decades. The number of mobile homes in the United States has risen dramatically in the past 60 years, to about 9 million currently. Meanwhile, the United States is the most tornado-prone country in the world, with an average of 1,200 twisters per year.

  • Disaster responseCitizen science to aid in disaster response

    After natural disasters, communities need fast access to damage assessment maps to aid relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts. Researchers have developed a new way to link volunteers around the world with a way to help communities after major disasters, aiming to aid disaster damage mapping, providing much-needed real-time data to help communities recover and rebuild after disaster. For the next few weeks they are testing the new system – inviting the public to take part.

  • Emerging threatsTrade-offs between short- and long-term policies dealing with greenhouse gases

    Scientists and policymakers use measurements like global warming potential to compare how varying greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, contribute to climate change. Yet, despite its widespread use, global warming potential fails to provide an accurate look at how greenhouse gases affect the environment in the short and long-term, according to researchers. The researchers argue that because global warming potential calculates the warming effects of greenhouse gases over 100 years, they discount the effects of any greenhouse gas that disappears from the atmosphere after a decade or two. This masks the trade-offs between short- and long-term policies at the heart of today’s political and ethical debates.

  • FloodsNatural flood-prevention measures valuable, but not “a silver bullet”

    Natural measures to manage flooding from rivers can play a valuable role in flood prevention, but a lack of monitoring means their true potential remains unclear, researchers say. Such measures, including river restoration and tree planting, aim to restore processes that have been affected by human activities such as farming, land management and house-building.

  • Coastal vulnerabilityLouisiana’s westernmost, low-lying regions on track to drown under sea level rise

    Without major efforts to rebuild Louisiana’s wetlands, which serve as bulwarks against waves and rising seas, the state’s coast has little chance of withstanding the accelerating rate of sea level rise, a new study concludes. Wetlands can provide crucial protection from rising seas, especially in Louisiana’s low-lying westernmost areas, but the habitats have faced years of decline, mostly from coastal erosion. The erosion results in part from levees that have been built along the Mississippi River. The levees block mud deposits that flow to and underlie much of the Louisiana coast. The land, cut off from new building material, begins to sink.

  • Extreme space weather Extreme space weather hazardous to U.S. economy, national security

    While major geomagnetic storms are rare, with only a few recorded per century, there is significant potential for large-scale impacts when they do occur. Extreme space weather can be viewed as hazards for the economy and national security. A rare but powerful magnetic superstorm could cause continent-wide loss of electricity and substantial damage to power-grid infrastructure that could persist for months and cost the Nation in excess of $1 trillion.

  • Extreme weather eventsScientists test links between extreme weather and climate change

    After an unusually intense heat wave, downpour or drought, climate scientists inevitably receive phone calls and emails asking whether human-caused climate change played a role. In the past, scientists typically avoided linking individual weather events to climate change, citing the challenges of teasing apart human influence from the natural variability of the weather. But that is changing. “Over the past decade, there’s been an explosion of research, to the point that we are seeing results released within a few weeks of a major event,” says one expert.

  • EarthquakesPredicting major earthquakes

    A Nagoya University-led team reveals the mechanisms behind different earthquakes at a plate boundary on the west coast of South America, shedding light on historical seismic events and providing a foundation for risk prediction tools to assess the likelihood of earthquakes and tsunamis striking this region and their potential periodicity and intensity.

  • Coastal perilSea levels could rise by more than three meters: New study

    Global sea levels could rise by more than three meters – over half a meter more than previously thought – this century alone, according to a new study. The projections explicitly accounted for three scientific uncertainties – the speed at which the Antarctic ice sheet is going to melt, the speed at which the ocean is warming up, and the amount of emitted greenhouse gases over the twenty-first century.