Natural disasters

  • U.K. coastal railways at increasing risk from climate change

    Footage of a railway line suspended in mid-air and buffeted remorselessly by the storm that had caused the sea wall to collapse beneath it made for one of the defining images of 2014. Scenes such as those witnessed at Dawlish in Devon are set to become more frequent as a result of climate change, and the U.K. government and rail companies must face up to difficult funding decisions if rural areas currently served by coastal lines are to continue to be connected to the rail network. For railway builders in the mid-nineteenth century the coast was cheaper, flatter, and easier than using inland sites, one expert points out. “We wouldn’t have built these railway lines where they are if we had today’s knowledge.”

  • Earthquake-proofing L.A.’s water infrastructure

    Since Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced his earthquake-safety proposal in December 2014, public attention has focused on requirements to retrofit old vulnerable buildings, but the plan also calls for fortifying the city’s vast network of water pipes and aqueducts. Water infrastructure is “the single biggest vulnerability we’re facing in Southern California,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Lucy Jones, who helped develop Garcetti’s earthquake-safety plans.

  • World population may outpace water supply by mid-century

    Population growth could cause global demand for water to outpace supply by mid-century if current levels of consumption continue. It would not, however, be the first time this has happened, a new study finds. Using a delayed-feedback mathematical model which analyzes historic data to help project future trends, the researchers identified a regularly recurring pattern of global water use in recent centuries. Periods of increased demand for water — often coinciding with population growth or other major demographic and social changes — were followed by periods of rapid innovation of new water technologies that helped end or ease any shortages. The researchers’ conclusions: Technological advances will be needed in coming decades to avoid water shortages.

  • Rising sea level will double Hawaii’s coastal erosion by mid-century

    New research brings into clearer focus just how dramatically Hawaiʻi beaches might change as sea level rises in the future. Chronic erosion dominates the sandy beaches of Hawaiʻi, causing beach loss as it damages homes, infrastructure, and critical habitat. Researchers have long understood that global sea level rise will affect the rate of coastal erosion. The research team developed a simple model to assess future erosion hazards under higher sea levels, taking into account historical changes of Hawaiʻi shorelines and the projected acceleration of sea level rise reported from the IPCC. The results indicate that coastal erosion of Hawaiʻi’s beaches may double by mid-century.

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  • Policy makers discount damages from future climate tipping points – but they should not

    Most methods that weigh up the costs and benefits of tackling climate change ignore climate tipping points, and especially the uncertainty surrounding them. Instead, they assume that future damages from climate change are known perfectly and can therefore be discounted at a rate comparable to the market interest rate – thus reducing the willingness to pay now to protect future generations. New research shows, however, that the prospect of an uncertain future tipping point should greatly increase the amount we are willing to pay now to limit climate change. The study argues that society should set a high carbon tax now to try and prevent climate change reaching a point of no return.

  • Japan debating 400 km sea wall to protect coast from tsunami, floods

    Four years after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami destroyed much of Japan’s northeastern coast, officials are reviewing plans for a $6.8 billion, 400 kilometer chain of concrete seawalls for protecting coastal towns from future flooding and tsunamis. Opponents say the project will harm fisheries and damage marine ecology and scenery, while offering little, if any, actual protection and creating unjustified complacency among coastal residents. Former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa is leading a Green Wall coalition which calls for an alternative: planting mixed forests along the coasts on tall mounds of soil or rubble, creating a living green wall which would last long after the concrete walls have crumbled. The green wall project would not completely prevent flooding but it would slow tsunamis and weaken the force of their waves.

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  • Blowing up Mississippi River levee reduced 2011 flood risk

    A controversial decision in 2011 to blow up Mississippi River levees reduced the risk of flooding in a city upstream, lowering the height of the rain-swollen river just before it reached its peak, according to a new analysis. “Our model’s not saying the water would have definitely overtopped the levees at Cairo,” says one of the study’s authors. “It doesn’t say it wouldn’t have happened. What we’re saying is that detonation reduced the risk of flooding.” The new research found that allowing those levees to overtop naturally would have resulted in less erosion – so they urge greater control of erosion in future scenarios involving blowing up levees.

  • Economists count true business costs of climate change

    A new report, prepared for leading social housing provider Aster Group, urges businesses to consider the true financial costs of climate change in order to better plan for extreme weather events. From countering the effects of extreme winter weather to summer heat waves, the report highlights three main risk factors: flooding, subsidence, and the risk of over-heating for elderly residents. The report pinpoints detailed cost implications for the organization were no actions to be taken.

  • Colorado deploys latest flood forecasting technology

    Colorado governor John Hickenlooper has raised concerns about House Bill 1129, a 5-year, $10 million proposal to implement a new technology which would assist with predicting the direction and intensity of wildfires and floods. Scientists have spent twenty years working on the proposed technology for Colorado, saying it is finally ready for implementation. The technology uses rainfall estimation, precipitation forecasting, and water modeling along with hundreds of thousands of atmospheric data points to predict the direction, speed, and intensity of floods, with up to 12-hour notice. As advancements in technology and computing allow for more accurate flood predictions, some variables remain a challenge for hydrologists.

  • California exploring water purification, imports, and conservation as water situation worsens

    California officials are calling on residents better to manage their water usage as the state enters its fourth consecutive year of drought. An average American uses 100 gallons of water each day, and reservoirs in California only have enough water to supply this level of consumption until the end of 2015. In 2014 alone, the state’s agriculture sector lost $2.2 billion in revenue as a result of the drought. State officials acknowledge that a heavy rainfall alone will not be sufficient to restore the groundwater the state needs, so water districts are investing in water recycling plants and exploring strategies ranging from importing water to encouraging greater conservation.

  • Diminished Utah snowpack threatens Salt Lake City water supply

    Studies of water use from 2005 to 2010 show that Utahans used more water for public supply than any other state, despite Utah being ranked the second most arid within the country. Significantly lower levels of Utah snowpack this winter are the biggest climate challenge now facing Salt Lake City: The Northeastern part of the country is inundated with record amounts of snow, but Salt Lake City’s snowpack is 69 percent below the 30-year average.

  • States must consider climate change threats to be eligible for FEMA disaster preparation funds

    Roughly every five years, states publish reports detailing their vulnerability to natural disasters, qualifying them for part of the nearly $1 billion aid money administered annually by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). States looking to receive grants from the federal Hazard Mitigation Assistance program to help them prepare for natural disasters such as floods, storms, and wildfires will have,beginning next year, to consider the threats posed by climate change.

  • Investigating changing sea levels

    The sea level has been rising by an average of 3.1 millimeters a year since 1993. Long-term measurements recorded since the start of the twentieth century indicate an acceleration in the averaged sea level change. Coastal flooding and land loss are just some of the severe consequences. Traditionally, sea level changes are recorded at coastal tide gauge stations, which measure the water level relative to a fixed point of the Earth’s crust. Some of the records go back to the nineteenth century and provide important insights into sea level evolution. Since 1991 it has been possible to measure the surface of the oceans across the entire globe using satellite altimetry.

  • Climate change discussion: Shifting from mitigation to adaptation

    Many infrastructure protection experts say that there is a need to discuss not only how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also how to plan for and adapt to the inevitable consequences of those emissions, which are already changing the climate. One area in which adaptation to climate change is likely to be especially painful is in coastal areas affected by sea level rise. In some coastal regions, communities will be forced to retreat from the coast as a result of rising sea level and increasing damage from storms and flooding. Part of the problem is that policies such as disaster relief programs and insurance regulations create a system that protects many property owners from the true costs of building in risk-prone areas of the coast. “We have a system of private gains and externalized costs,” said one expert.

  • Record seasonal snowfall caused significant financial losses in New England

    Following large snowfall totals this winter, much of New England is now coping with massive economic losses to the regional economy as a result of business closures. Economists estimated that the state of Massachusetts alone suffered roughly $1 billion in lost profits and lost wages following the recent winter storms. Economists expect that ripple effects from the New England winter will be felt nationally, but they warn that it is still too early to measure these effects.