• NZ earthquake illustrates risks for U.S. west coast

    The recent 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, killed many more people and caused far more damage than the September 2010 7.1 magnitude earthquake which struck the same area; the reason: even though this earthquake was weaker than last year’s event, it was much shallower; was situated directly under Christchurch; hit during the lunch hour when more people were exposed to damage; and shook sediments that were prone to “liquefaction,” which can magnify the damage done by the ground shaking; scientists say the same description nicely fits many major cities and towns in Washington, Oregon, California, and British Columbia

  • Satellite system to provide earlier earthquake warnings

    British and Russian scientists are planning a satellite system that will monitor seismic activity from space in the hope of one day predicting the occurrence of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
    The TwinSat project will put one micro-sized and one nano-sized satellite into low earth orbit some 400 kilometers apart, which will work in unison to collect and interpret electromagnetic signatures from the ground

  • Haiti's quake damage yields better building codes

    In the aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that shook Haiti last year and killed more than 300,000 people, University of Arizona researchers descended upon the country’s capital to study buildings that survived the quake; researchers documented damaged buildings to develop a sophisticated three dimensional model; they are working to develop stricter building codes to ensure that buildings can withstand earthquakes in the future; their focus is on designing low-cost easy to implement localized solutions; buildings that were not built to withstand earthquakes were the primary cause of death in the disaster

  • Rising seas will affect major U.S. coastal cities by 2100

    The Gulf and southern Atlantic coasts will be particularly hard hit by rising sea levels, research predicts. Miami, New Orleans, Tampa, Florida, and Virginia Beach, Virginia could lose more than 10 percent of their land area by 2100

  • Be prepared: earthquakes big and small

    The February issue of the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America offers insights into small seismic problems — and big ones — the United States faces; there were a series of small tremors in the Dallas-Forth Worth area — home to more than four million residents that has experienced no previous earthquakes in historic time; the Coachella Valley section of the San Andreas fault, between San Gorgonio Pass and the Imperial Valley, is the only portion of the fault which has not ruptured in a major earthquake during historical time; this is not good news: This long period of quiescence suggests that an unusually large amount of elastic strain has built up along the southern San Andreas segment, making it likely to produce a large to great (Mw7-8) earthquake in the near future

  • Melting glaciers threaten Peru

    Rising temperatures have caused glaciers in Peru to melt at alarming rates; Peru depends heavily on rivers fed by glaciers to provide drinking water, irrigation, and electricity; some scientists estimate that in ten years, whole glaciers will disappear entirely from the Andes; millions of Peruvians depend entirely on the glacier fed rivers as their primary source for water; the United States fears that water, food, and power shortages in Peru could cause stability and spark conflict across the region

  • Protecting vital infrastructure as sea levels rise

    As the world gets warmer, sea levels are rising; it has been happening at a snail’s pace so far, but as it speeds up more and more low-lying coastal land will be lost; at risk are many of the world’s cities and huge areas of fertile farmland; the sea is set to rise a meter or more by the end of this century, swamping much vital infrastructure and displacing hundreds of millions of people; scientists are looking at various ways to slow down or reverse the rise in sea levels — and of ways of coping with its consequences

  • 2010: a year of costly disasters

    Altogether, a total of 950 natural catastrophes were recorded last year, nine-tenths of which were weather-related events like storms and floods; this total makes 2010 the year with the second-highest number of natural catastrophes since 1980, markedly exceeding the annual average for the last ten years (785 events per year); the overall losses amounted to around $130 billion, of which approximately $37 billion was insured; the five “great natural catastrophes” of 2010 — the earthquakes in Haiti (1/12), Chile (2/27), and central China (4/13), the heat wave in Russia (July to September), and the floods in Pakistan (July to September) — claimed approximately 295,000 lives

  • Asia faces climate-induced migration crisis

    Asians accounted for 89 percent of the 207 million people affected by natural disasters globally last year; Asian governments are currently focused on mitigating weather changes induced by climate change, but a new report from the Asian Development Bank says they should start laying down policies and mechanisms to deal with the projected population shifts; weather changes such as significant temperature increases, changing rainfall patterns, greater monsoon variability, sea-level rise, floods, and more intense tropical cyclones would force millions of people to flee their homes to safer havens within countries and across borders

  • Pakistan floods last summer could have been predicted

    Five days before intense monsoonal deluges unleashed vast floods across Pakistan last July, computer models at a European weather-forecasting center were giving clear indications that the downpours were imminent; if the information had been processed, forecasters could have predicted extremely accurate rainfall totals 8-10 days beforehand; the lack of a cooperating agreement between the forecasting center and Pakistan, however, meant that these rainfall warnings did not make it to the Pakistani people, nor did Pakistan’s own meteorological agency forecast the flooding

  • Minnesota will see major floods in spring

    Meteorologists project major floods in Minnesota this spring; emergency response officials warn that major roadways will likely be closed and are urging residents to immediately purchase flood insurance; officials are also encouraging residents to develop evacuation plans and to begin raising appliances off of basement floors; a third particularly rainy autumn followed by double the average amount of snow is to be blamed for the floods, as excessive snow melt will swell rivers in the spring; last year similar conditions caused rampant flooding and an estimated $28 million in damages

  • Dinosaurs survived mass extinction by 700,000 years

    The long established impact theory of dinosaur extinction holds that the age of dinosaurs ended between 65.5 and 66 million years ago, after Earth was hit by an asteroid; the impact caused massive fires, throwing smoke and soot into the atmosphere, blocking sun light for months, and causing the death of plants on which the vegetarian dinosaurs depended; a femur bone of a hadrosaur found in New Mexico is only 64.8 million years old, meaning this particular plant eater was alive about 700,000 years after the mass extinction event

  • California dams plagued by seismic concerns

    Half of Santa Clara County, California’s reservoirs cannot be filled to their full capacity due to seismic concerns; engineering tests revealed that in the event of a major earthquake the dam could slump sending a deadly tidal wave across densely populated communities; seismic retrofit costs to the county’s dam are estimated at $150 million; with the reduced capacity, the county’s dams must be maintained at 67 percent of its total capacity and cannot store more water in preparation for future droughts; the lost capacity could provide water for 280,000 people for a year

  • Megastorm could devastate California, not just earthquakes

    A team of over 100 scientists, engineers, and emergency planners are urging California disaster planning officials to prepare for megastorms; the team projected that a catastrophic megastorm could decimate California with massive landslides and flooding; the findings were based on geological evidence of such powerful storms that occur every 300 years; the last megastorm occurred in 1861 and left the Sacramento Valley an “inland sea”

  • Aussies flee more flooding

    Flood water in northern Australia now cover an area larger than Germany and France combined; in addition to Queensland, large parts of the state of Victoria are now under water; around sixty towns across an area larger than Denmark to the north-west of the state capital, Melbourne, have been hit by floods as heavy rain from recent weeks makes its way across broad floodplains to the Murray River; the estimated damage in hard-hit Queensland now stands at US$19.8 billion