Natural disasters

  • Court: San Diego infrastructure, mass transportation plans fail to meet climate tests

    Two lawsuits by environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, and the Center for Biological Diversity, against the San Diego County government and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) could force the region to rethink how it plans to spend billions of dollars in the next few decades on infrastructure and mass transportation projects.

  • Reducing the impact of extreme weather

    How do we reduce the impact of extreme weather today while preparing ourselves for future changes? What can we do to build our resilience? A new report from the Royal Society investigates these, and other, key questions to help inform important decisions about adaptation and risk reduction that are being made at global, national and local levels.

  • New report highlights “significant and increasing” risks from extreme weather

    A comprehensive new report, published by the Royal Society, indicates that exposure of human populations to extreme weather is set to increase as global climate and population size, location, and age continue to change. The report focuses on the risks to people from floods, droughts, and heatwaves. These are some of the most frequent and damaging extreme events that currently occur and their impacts will change with the changing climate. The report also calls for changes to global financial accounting and regulation to ensure that extreme weather risk is made explicit. At present, these risks are not systematically factored into investors’ valuations or assessed by creditors.

  • USGS awards $2 million grant to Center for Earthquake Research and Information

    The U.S. Geological Survey has awarded the Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI) at the University of Memphis $2 million over the next three years to continue monitoring earthquakes in the central and southeastern United States. The CERI seismic network includes 140 seismographs in nine states. It integrates data in real-time from an additional 160 stations to process about forty gigabytes of data each day and processes information from about 500 earthquakes each year.

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  • California’s early-warning ShakeAlert system to be rolled out next year

    Officials in California expect the state’s ShakeAlertsystem to be available to some schools, fire stations, and more private companies early next year. Until now, only earthquake researchers, some government agencies, and a few private firms have received alerts from the statewide earthquake early warning system. The 2015 expansion will occur as long as Congress approves a $5 million funding request that has passed committees in both the Senate and House. A full vote on the budget was delayed until after the midterm elections.

  • Resilience of California’s transportation infrastructure questioned

    A significant number of bridges and elevated roadways lie above or close to active fault lines, and Californians often wonder how the state’s towering interchanges and freeway network would perform during a major earthquake.The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has spent over $13 billion in the last forty years to reinforce vulnerable bridges and interchanges. Caltrans officials note that during a major earthquake, freeways are likely to sustain significant damage, but engineers feel confident that freeways will not collapse.

  • Global warming skeptics unmoved by extreme weather

    What will it take to convince skeptics of global warming that the phenomenon is real? Surely, many scientists believe, enough droughts, floods, and heat waves will begin to change minds. A new study throws cold water on that theory. Winter 2012 was the fourth warmest winter in the United States dating back to at least 1895. Researchers found, however, that when it came to attributing the abnormally warm weather to global warming, respondents largely held fast to their existing beliefs and were not influenced by actual temperatures. This study and past research shows that political party identification plays a significant role in determining global warming beliefs. People who identify as Republican tend to doubt the existence of global warming, while Democrats generally believe in it.

  • Architecture of doom: DIY planning for global catastrophe

    A thriving industry has grown up around planning for apocalypse, with the design and equipping of the ideal home as a key element. Discussion of survival retreat design focuses on issues such as strategic location, energy self-sufficiency, water supply, waste treatment, food production, and home security. Survivalists can easily be caricatured as lonely lunatics sitting on piles of freeze-dried food and exotic armaments in their foil-lined bunkers. Researchers say, however, that survivalism is rarely about extremist action. Rather, it is more often about tinkering with tools, exchanging ideas, and creative storytelling. We can see the design of the survival retreat as a wilder version of the more familiar impulse towards DIY and home renovation. Survivalists use these projects as a focus for developing the personal skills, knowledge, and praxis needed to embrace a radically changing world. Potential chaos and crisis are embraced as the opportunity for developing personal autonomy. Seen in this way, the survival retreat starts to seem to be an eccentric but understandable reaction. The challenge survivalism poses is thus not extremism. Survivalists tend to privilege privatized, self-regulated, individualist modes of living – but exit from the grid challenges the collective infrastructures that have been so vital to more equitable urban environments. What, then, of our public networks such as water, electricity, transport, and telecommunications? What of our common urban future?

  • China’s second “great wall” is not so great

    China’s coastal regions are only 13 percent of the country’s land area, but contribute 60 percent of its gross domestic product. With that come layers of incentives to turn lush wetlands into engines of development and industry. A new study finds that China’s second great wall, a vast seawall covering more than half of the country’s mainland coastline, is a foundation for financial gain - and also a dyke holding a swelling rush of ecological woes.

  • New technology increases awareness of landslide risks

    Engineers have created a new way to use lidar technology to identify and classify landslides on a landscape scale, which may revolutionize the understanding of landslides in the United States and reveal them to be far more common and hazardous than often understood. The new, non-subjective technology can analyze and classify the landslide risk in an area of fifty or more square miles in about thirty minutes — a task that previously might have taken an expert several weeks to months. It can also identify risks common to a broad area rather than just an individual site.

  • "Slow slip events" could help in predicting magnitude of earthquakes, tsunamis

    Earthquakes and tsunamis can be giant disasters no one sees coming, but now an international team of scientists has found that subtle shifts in the earth’s offshore plates can be a harbinger of the size of the disaster. The team reports that a geological phenomenon called “slow slip events,” identified just fifteen years, ago is a useful tool in identifying the precursors to major earthquakes and the resulting tsunamis. The scientists used high precision GPS to measure the slight shifts on a fault line in Costa Rica, and say better monitoring of these small events can lead to better understanding of maximum earthquake size and tsunami risk.

  • Low-lying island nations say rising seas levels spell doom

    The president of the Seychelles on last week urged the Earth’s small island nations to unite for a campaign against climate change — or else drown. The call came at the start of a two-day summit of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of small islands and low-lying coastal countries, ahead of global climate talks which will take place in Lima, Peru, in December. Low-lying island nations, some of which are little more than one meter (three feet) above sea level, are regarded as among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels, which is one of the manifestations of global warming.

  • New app turns smartphones into sensors for an earthquake early-warning system

    The MyShake app, still in test mode, uses smartphone accelerometers and locators to augment the data on incoming quakes issued by the 400 seismometers which are part of California’s ShakeAlert program.Registered phones act as additional earthquake sensors, as the app runs an algorithm which detects when the phone is still or shaking. Should several registered phones in the same area begin to shake at the same time, an earthquake alert is issued.

  • Court overturns manslaughter conviction of seismologists over 2009 L'Aquila quake

    An appeals court in Italy on Monday overturned manslaughter convictions of six of the seven natural disaster experts and seismologists who faced prison sentences for what a lower court described as having falsely reassured residents ahead of a 2009 earthquake which killed 309 people in the central Italy city of L’Aquila. The 2012 ruling was met with outrage and dismay by the scientific community, which argued that the convictions were based on a complete misunderstanding of the science used to calculate the probability of an earthquake. Leasing scientists warned that the case could prevent scientists from offering potentially life-saving advice on natural disasters in the future.

  • Energy engineers call for new, less restrictive regulatory framework for fracking

    Leading energy engineers are suggesting that U.K. regulations on the surface vibrations caused by shale gas fracking are unnecessarily restrictive. The engineers state in a new paper that widely applying restrictions similar to those currently in force on fracking would require a ban on heavy vehicles from passing houses or walking on wooden floors. They also state that the threat of serious earthquakes caused by fracking activity is considerably lower than commonly feared.