Natural disasters

  • Japan boasts an earthquake early-warning system, but critics question its value

    Since 1979, scientists with the Japanese earthquake prediction program have been monitoring a stretch of coastline southwest of Tokyo, watching for ground motion which might signal a pending rupture on the nearby fault zone. If motion is detected, Japanese law requires the prime minister to issue an emergency warning to close schools, secure hospitals, and shut down critical public transportation systems. Critics argue Japan will be unable to predict earthquakes in the same manner meteorologists track approaching typhoons or rain storms, saying that the program offers false hope.

  • ShakeAlert’s performance during August Napa tremor should lead to regional deployment: Supporters

    See video

    Before the magnitude-6 earthquake struck Napa County late August, the Bay Area Rapid Transit received an alert ordering trains to stop, and some 911 operators had a few seconds of warning to brace for an influx of calls from concerned residents. The success of ShakeAlert, California’s earthquake early-warning system currently in the testing phase, has encouraged state lawmakers to push for funding — and deploying — the regional early warning system.

  • New Orleans creates economic value out of environmental vulnerability

    Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans and the state of Louisiana have become so adept at dealing with disaster reconstruction, that their new-found skills are now seen as an economic asset to be shared, for profit, with other states and localities. The area’s new environmental awareness is also a source of economic growth, as analysts now consider “emerging environmental” as one of six key industries in the city and state to focus on development, along with coastal restoration and water management, disaster mitigation and management, hazardous waste disposal, advanced bio fuels and waste water treatment.

  • American cities leading on climate change preparedness

    Many mid-size American cities are becoming the most innovative responders when it comes to creating infrastructure which is ready for the consequences of climate change on the scale predicted by scientists. With these scientific predictions in mind, and citing deadly and costly “super storms” such as Sandy in 2012 — which killed 130 people, destroyed 650,000 homes, and left 8.5 million people without power —cities have not only looked to rebuild following such natural disasters, but also to create “resiliency” within their infrastructure and communities.

  • Experts defend operational earthquake forecasting

    After the devastating 2009 L’Aquila earthquake in Italy, critics suggested that operational earthquake forecasting (OEF) is ineffective, distracting, and dangerous. In an editorial published in the Seismological Research Letters, experts defend OEF, arguing the importance of public communication as part of a suite of activities intended to improve public safety and mitigate damage from earthquakes.

  • Improving earthquake early warning systems, data collection

    Researchers are working on what will be the U.S. first earthquake early warning system available to the public. Once fully implemented, the system will use networks of seismic instrumentation to detect when an earthquake is pending and send alerts via text message or other mass notification systems to people. The researchers are also workingon the Quake-Catcher Network to improve monitoring of earthquake activity around the world. Officials and city planners can use the data provided by Quake-Catcher to help decide where to build critical infrastructure such as power plants, hospitals, and water lines.

  • U.S. municipal data centers prepare to cope with sea-level rise

    The National Academy of Sciences says that 316 coastal cities in the United States are expected to be affected by sea-level rise within the next few decades. Those responsible for infrastructure maintenance are now considering how they can be better prepared for this eventuality. Among their tasks is the protection of data centers which handle much of the world’s information.

  • Napa earthquake may persuade lawmakers to fund earthquake warning system

    Last Sunday’s Napa earthquake may push Congress to increase funding for an earthquake warning system. Building out the West Coast earthquake warning system, called ShakeAlert, would cost $120 million over five years, and an additional $16 million a year to operate. Today, ShakeAlert operates in a testing phase, and sensors notify researchers and volunteer participants when an earthquake has been detected.

  • Seismic retrofitting of older buildings helps, but it has its limits

    Even before last Sunday’s magnitude-6 earthquake struck Napa, officials anticipated that such an event would damage many of Napa’s historic brick buildings. So years ago, brick structures were required to get seismic retrofitting — bolting brick walls to ceilings and floors to make them stronger. “We can’t keep every single brick in place in many of these older buildings without extraordinarily costly retrofits,” says a structural engineer. “We can reduce the damage in losses, but not eliminate them entirely in older buildings.”

  • Investigating potential influences on recent U.K. winter floods

    A comprehensive review of all potential factors behind the 2013-14 U.K. winter floods does not definitively answer whether human activity played a role in the magnitude of the winter flood events. It does, though, examine how factors such as the state of the global oceans may have interacted with wind patterns and subsequent high-level atmospheric features.

  • Existing power plants will emit 300 billion more tons of carbon dioxide during use

    Existing power plants around the world will pump out more than 300 billion tons of carbon dioxide over their expected lifetimes, significantly adding to atmospheric levels of the climate-warming gas, according to a new study. The study is the first to quantify how quickly these “committed” emissions are growing — by about 4 percent per year — as more fossil fuel-burning power plants are built. Assuming these stations will operate for forty years, the power plants constructed globally in 2012 alone will produce about nineteen billion tons of CO2 during their existence, the researchers project.

  • Sunday tremor may accelerate deployment of West Coast early warning system

    Researchers and individuals working with California’s ShakeAlertsystem received a 10-second warning before last Sunday’s earthquake struck the San FranciscoBay Area at 3.20 a.m. “Earthquake! Earthquake!” the warning system cautioned, followed by “Light shaking expected in three seconds.” Mexico and Japan already have a public earthquake warning system, but a collaboration in California among several institutions to create a similar system is still in an experimental phase. The project needs about $80 million for equipment, software, and other seismic infrastructure upgrades to launch the warning system throughout the West Coast.

  • More states experiment with microgrids to withstand powerful storms

    During Superstorm Sandy, communities throughout the Northeast experienced power outages which affected critical facilities including hospitals, gas stations, and water treatment plants. As severe weather becomes more common, authorities are acknowledging the shortcomings of a large electric grid system. Some utility providers have contemplated burying power lines to help prevent outages, but it can cost up to $4 million per mile to place electric lines underground. Several states are now experimenting with microgrids, self-contained systems for generating and distributing power.

  • Southwest may face “megadrought” within century: Study

    Due to global warming, scientists say, the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decade-long drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a “megadrought” — one that lasts up to thirty-five years — ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century. While the 1930s Dust Bowl in the Midwest lasted four to eight years, depending upon location, a megadrought can last more than three decades, which could lead to mass population migration on a scale never before seen in this country.

  • Seismic faults make Diablo Canyon a nuclear catastrophe in waiting: Experts

    Sunday’s magnitude-6 earthquake in Northern California has renewed focus on the dangers of Diablo Canyon, considered by many as a nuclear catastrophe in waiting. In 2008 authorities discovered the Shoreline fault, which lies about 650 yards from the plant’s reactors. Surveys have mapped a network of other faults around the reactors. Diablo Canyon’s owner released research in 2011 which determined that any of the three nearby faults — the Shoreline, Los Osos, and San Luis Bay — is capable of producing significantly more shaking during an earthquake than was accounted for in the design of the plant’s most vulnerable equipment.