Natural disasters

  • EarthquakesOur new anti-earthquake technology could protect cities from destruction

    By Pierfrancesco Cacciola

    Protecting cities from earthquakes is still a grand challenge that needs addressing, as recent disasters in Nepal, Japan, Haiti, and Chile confirm. Although significant progress has been made in understanding seismic activity and developing building technology, we still don’t have a satisfactory way of protecting buildings on a large scale. This is a serious problem, since large numbers of buildings that don’t have built-in protection exist in earthquake zones, particularly in developing countries where replacing them or introducing stricter — and more expensive — building codes aren’t seen as an option. Researchers have designed a novel vibrating barrier (ViBa) to reduce the vibrations of nearby structures caused by an earthquake’s ground waves. The device would be buried in the soil and detached from surrounding buildings, and should be able to absorb a significant portion of the dynamic energy arising from the ground motion with a consequent reduction of seismic response (between 40-80 percent).

  • FloodsFlash flooding risks increase as peak downpours intensify

    Thirty-year weather records from seventy-nine locations across Australia reveal peak downpours during storms are intensifying at warmer temperatures, leading to greater flash flood risks. Patterns of peak rainfall during storms will intensify as the climate changes and temperatures warm, leading to increased flash flood risks in Australia’s urban catchments, new research suggests.

  • Climate & securityU.S. exposed in Arctic as a result of climate change: Military experts

    Senior former military commanders and security advisors warn that global warming is jeopardizing U.S. national security. They said that political gridlock in Washington over climate change has left the U.S. military exposed to Russia’s superior fleets in the Arctic, flooding in U.S. naval bases, and a more unstable world. “We’re still having debates about whether [climate change] is happening, as opposed to what we should do about it,” said a former undersecretary of defense. “We need to guard against the failure of imagination when it comes to climate change. Something is going to happen in the future years, and we’re not going to be prepared.”

  • FloodsMajor Midwest flood risk underestimated by as much as five feet: Study

    As floodwaters surge along major rivers in the Midwestern United States, a new study suggests federal agencies are underestimating historic 100-year flood levels on these rivers by as much as five feet, a miscalculation that has serious implications for future flood risks, flood insurance, and business development in an expanding floodplain. Moreover, high-water marks are inching higher as global warming makes megafloods more common.

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  • WaterOur mostly dry planetary neighbors once had lots of water -- what does that imply for us?

    By David A. Weintraub

    Our two closest solar system neighbors, Venus and Mars, once had oceans — planet-encircling, globe-girdling, Earth-like oceans, but neither Venus nor Mars could hold onto their water for long enough to nurture advanced life forms until they could flourish. The lessons from Venus and Mars are clear and simple: water worlds are delicate and fragile. Water worlds that can survive the ravages of aging, whether natural or inflicted by their inhabitants — and can nurture and sustain life over the long term — are rare and precious. If we allow the temperature of our planet to rise a degree or two, we may survive it as a minor environmental catastrophe. But beyond a few degrees, if we allow a runaway greenhouse effect to kick up the temperature a few more notches, do we know the point at which global warming sends our atmosphere into a runaway death spiral, turning Earth into Venus? We know what the endgame looks like.

  • Coastal resilienceSea-level rise threatens $40 billion of national park assets, historical and cultural infrastructure

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell last week released a report revealing that national park infrastructure and historic and cultural resources totaling more than $40 billion are at high risk of damage from sea-level rise caused by climate change. The report was conducted by scientists from the National Park Service and Western Carolina University and is based on an examination of forty parks — about one-third of those considered threatened by sea-level rise — and the survey is on-going.

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  • Community resilienceTen universities join natural disaster preparedness initiative

    In March, Texas A&M urban planning researchers formed a new initiative with scientists from ten other universities to help communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters. The headquarters of the coalition, the Community Resilience Center of Excellence, is based at Colorado State University. Colorado is centrally located in the United States, but the universities involved are spread across the country to maximize the reach of the research. Other universities — such as Rice University, the University of Oklahoma, and Texas A&M University-Kingsville — are contributing to the research to help create resilient communities through their own models of information.

  • Coastal resilienceUNC-Chapel Hill launches Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill officially launched its new Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC), made possible through a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, Office of University Programs five-year, $20 million grant. The CRC initiative led by UNC-Chapel Hill will include collaboration with more than a dozen partner universities to address the challenges facing communities across the United States which are vulnerable to coastal hazards.

  • Coastal resilienceProtecting coastal communities, critical infrastructure

    University of South Alabama (USA) researchers are joining a nationwide effort to help communities recover from disasters. The effort is the centerpiece of the Community Resilience Center of Excellence, which will be based at Colorado State University, and USA is one of ten universities offering their expertise. USA’s department of civil engineering will provide their unique coastal engineering knowledge related to hurricane storm surge and waves. “With well over 50 percent of the U.S. population living within fifty miles of a coastline, much of our nation’s critical infrastructure is vulnerable to coastal hazards and the expected impacts of long-term sea level rise,” said Prof. Bret Webb, an associate professor of civil engineering at USA.

  • ResilienceDisaster resilience competition generates innovative ideas

    The National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC), an innovative partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation, is already bearing fruit — even before the selection of any finalists or winners. The Foundation offers six examples of innovative, substantial steps that communities around the country are taking to create, and maintain, a culture of resilience.

  • FloodsImproving flood risk management in Europe

    From 2000 to 2013, floods resulted in 5.5 billion euros in annual losses in Europe, and this figure is set to increase fivefold by 2050, according to a study published last year in Nature. European governments have been hard at work trying to ensure sustained protection from floods by developing dykes, dams, or floodgates, but are such defense strategies alone sufficient?

  • Man-made earthquakesEarthquakes in Oklahoma linked to oil, gas drilling

    A new study finds that the recent spike in triggered earthquakes in Oklahoma is primarily due to the injection of wastewater produced during oil production. Geophysicists have identified the triggering mechanism responsible for the recent spike of earthquakes in parts of Oklahoma — a crucial first step in eventually stopping them. The study shows that the state’s rising number of earthquakes coincided with dramatic increases in the disposal of salty wastewater into the Arbuckle formation, a 7,000-foot-deep, sedimentary formation under Oklahoma.

  • ResilienceWe need to change how and where we build to be ready for a future of more extreme weather

    By Keith Krumwiede

    The human and economic losses resulting from extreme weather events during the last several years vividly demonstrate the U.S. historically shortsighted approach to development. The ill-advised, fast-paced construction of human settlements in low-lying, coastal and riverine environments prone to flooding has long been the American way. From Galveston to Hoboken, we have laid out our grids and thrown up our houses with little regard for the consequences. Storms like Sandy are a harbinger of extreme weather events to come as a result of climate change. Without concerted action, the costs, in lives and property, of future weather events will only multiply. Rather than spending $25 million on PR campaigns to convince ourselves we’re “stronger than the storm,” we should start making choices that prove we’re smarter. For while we can’t say when the next hurricane with the force of Sandy (or even greater force) will batter the Atlantic Coast or when extreme flooding will hit Texas, we do know that there will be a next time. And we’re still fundamentally unprepared for it. We can’t continue to bet against climate change; we’ll lose in the end.

  • Flood insuranceTying insurance rates to flood risk for low-lying structures

    Current methods used by the National Flood Insurance Program for setting risk-based insurance rates do not fully capture the flood risk for low-lying structures, which are more likely to incur losses because they are subject to longer duration and greater depth of flooding and are flooded more frequently and by smaller flood events, says a new report from the National Research Council. The report offers alternative approaches for calculating risk-based premiums for these structures, ranging from incremental changes to current methods to a complete overhaul of the system, although it does not recommend which approach the NFIP should adopt or what the new rates should be.

  • FirefightingInterconnected technologies to make firefighters safer

    When responding to the more than 1.2 million blazes reported annually, the nation’s firefighters usually start with a dangerous disadvantage: They often lack critical information — even something as basic as a floor plan — that could be vitally important in mounting the most effective and safest attack. That information gap could be erased with today’s communication, computing, sensor and networking technologies.