• Japan widens evacuation radius

    Japanese officials have enlarged the evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, as workers continue their struggle to repair the damaged nuclear reactors; last Friday a “voluntary evacuation” of people still living within nineteen miles of the plant was issued; residents within nineteen miles have remained indoors unable to leave their homes to purchase basic supplies and companies have refused to deliver; the voluntary evacuation could add an even greater strain to existing temporary shelters; currently 242,881 people are still living in shelters around the country and officials are struggling to provide enough basic supplies like food, water, and sanitary goods

  • "Solarball" promises to deliver clean water to developing countries

    Contaminated drinking water is the world’s leading killer with more than 3.4 million people a year, including two million children, dying from water borne diseases; to help combat these preventable deaths, one Australian university student has designed an affordable solution to provide clean drinking water to people across the world; the device, called the Solarball, can provide up to three liters of clean water a day by harnessing the energy from the sun; the Solarball can be manufactured cheaply, is simple to use, and made of durable materials; it was designed specifically for use by people in hot, wet, tropical climates

  • Fifteen U.S. nuclear reactors are located in an active seismic zone

    There are 104 nuclear plants in the United States, and fifteen of them are located in what is known as the New Madrid Seismic Zone, a region defined by a fault line of the same name; the New Madrid Seismic Zone involves eight states, and it is an active earthquake area in the central United States that follows the Mississippi River between Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Tennessee; while the U.S. earthquake zone is active, scientists say the ingredients do not exist there for a Japan-style nuclear disaster; should a large seismic event strike this part of the country, seismologists offer Christchurch, New Zealand, rather than Japan as an example of what to expect. In February, Christchurch suffered a 6.3 magnitude quake and billions of dollars in losses

  • UN warns of potential food crisis

    A UN Food and Agriculture Organization official warned that countries are not doing enough to increase food production to meet rising demand and that the world could be headed for a global food crisis; global food production must rise by 70 percent in order to meet the estimated demand for food; food prices have already soared in recent months and in 2010 food prices increased by 25 percent; rising prices sparked food riots in Egypt and Tunisia, which contributed to the overthrow of their governments; large disasters and droughts have significantly reduced crop yields across the world; as supply has fallen, demand has spiked due to population growth and increased use of food to manufacture biofuels

  • California schools seismically unsafe, lack funding for retrofits

    Hundreds of thousands of students across California are at risk, as school districts have not retrofitted aging concrete buildings that are susceptible to collapse; the state has identified dozens of structures at schools that are at risk of collapsing in a strong earthquake, but most are still in use and have no plans for repairs; engineers are particularly concerned about old concrete school buildings that were erected before 1976; these structures are constructed with “non-ductile” concrete, a type of material that did not hold up well in the recent earthquake in New Zealand; cash-strapped school districts are hesitant to begin long and expensive retrofitting projects even with state help

  • Precision parachute system for pin-point delivery of sensitive loads

    Military units often operate behind enemy lines, and disasters often sever transportation links; in both cases, the provision of supplies — military or humanitarian — is a major issue; now there is a solution; the manufacturer says that the precision air-cargo parachute — classified as a UAV becasue of its navigation capabilities — is the only commercially available system in the world that can ensure the pin-point delivery of sensitive mission equipment, humanitarian aid, and supplies fully automatically from the air without damage

  • Oregon declares state of emergency to repair damaged ports

    The 11 March tsunami born of Japan’s 8.9 magnitude quake battered U.S. coasts and ports from Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest to southern California; the governor’s office in Hawaii expects damages to run about $10 million with estimates heading toward $50 million in California; one county in Oregon is reporting $25 million worth of destruction in one of three damaged ports

  • Past "hyperthermals" offer clues about anticipated climate changes

    Bursts of intense global warming that have lasted tens of thousands of years have taken place more frequently throughout history than previously believed; most of the events raised average global temperatures between 2° and 3° Celsius (3.6 and 5.4° F), an amount comparable to current conservative estimates of how much temperatures are expected to rise in coming decades as a consequence of anthropogenic global warming; most hyperthermals lasted about 40,000 years before temperatures returned to normal

  • Shock absorbers making buildings earthquake-proof

    An upstate New York manufacturer has developed dampers, or shock absorbers, which increase the earthquake resistance of a building by threefold; the patented dampers are based on technology first developed by the military to protect U.S. missile silos against Russian attacks during the cold war

  • Minnesota braces for spring floods

    As dense snow packs in Minnesota begin to melt, officials are preparing for what may be their worst spring flooding yet; with record snow falls and heavy rains expected, weather officials are forecasting that floods are on their way; last September’s heavy rains saturated the soil with water which will exacerbate spring floods this year; officials are preparing the state for floods and St. Paul city officials have sent letters to all residents warning that they should find alternative places to stay and keep their vehicles in safe areas if they are forced to evacuate as water levels rise

  • The problems with major disasters

    There are three problems with major disasters: small miscalculations of probabilities can have large effects on outcomes when dealing with large events; our reward structures do not encourage spending the time or the money to deal with low-probability disasters; the very complexity of modern life — including our transportation and communication systems, our economy and our social interactions — is directly implicated in the severity of catastrophes; in more complex systems, even small changes or perturbations can have disproportionate and unpredictable effects

  • Japan facing a nuclear catastrophe

    Initial estimates say that the Magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami killed about 10,000 people and made hundreds of thousands homeless; Japan is facing another threat: radioactive contamination from four damaged nuclear power plants; the tremor damaged the cooling systems in the reactors, forcing the companies operating the plants to flood the reactors with corrosive sea water and boric acid; one containment vessel was destroyed in an explosion, and in order to prevent more explosion, radioactive-contaminated hydrogen had to be released, increasing the radioactive levels to unsafe levels; more than 200,000 people living in the vicinity of the reactors were evacuated; the government has began distributing iodine pills to citizens (the pills are used to protect the thyroid gland from the effects of radiation); the difficulties at the nuclear power plants mean that rotating power outages will be imposed across Japan as of Monday

  • Sensors detecting nuclear tests detect tsunamis, too

    The Comprehensive Nuclear test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) is supported by arrays of sensors at sixty sites across the world that listen for the low boom of atmospheric blasts. They are tuned to infrasound — frequencies under 20 hertz (cycles per second), the lowest humans can hear; these sensors are meant to pick up illicit nuclear tests, but they can also pick up tsunami-producing tremors — and provide timely warning to those likely to be affected

  • Anchorage unprepared for next big quake

    Geologists warn that Alaska’s next big earthquake could be even larger than the Good Friday earthquake of 1964; the massive 9.2 magnitude earthquake is the second largest quake in recorded history and resulted in massive ground failures, tsunamis, and landslides; officials are worried about the Port of Anchorage which lies along an area that is highly susceptible to ground failure; engineers warn that with more than 50 percent of its foundation corroded the port cannot survive another massive quake; large portions of Anchorage are also vulnerable as building codes have not been strictly enforced; the city is built upon a unique soil that is prone to liquefaction in large earthquakes

  • New Orleans debates hurricane protection plans

    The Army Corps of Engineers is currently deciding how best to implement its $2.9 billion Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) restoration plan in New Orleans; the plan is part of several projects designed to protect the Louisiana coast line from hurricane storm surges; residents are clashing over the plan and the public hearing period for the plan has been extended; state legislators are currently debating with the corps, as the $2.9 billion project funds do not include the costs for land acquisition, design, and operation and maintenance; the project is expected to take ten years to complete and construction could begin as early as 2012