Natural disasters

  • “Pee-power” to light refugee camps in disaster zones

    A toilet, conveniently situated near the Student Union Bar at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), is proving pee can generate electricity. The prototype urinal is the result of a partnership between researchers at UWE Bristol and Oxfam. It is hoped the pee-power technology will light cubicles in refugee camps, which are often dark and dangerous places particularly for women. Students and staff are being asked to use the urinal to donate pee to fuel microbial fuel cell (MFC) stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting.

  • Seismologists detail lessons learned from the 24 August 2014 Napa earthquake

    In the recent issue of Seismological Research Letters, a journal published by the Seismological Society of America, scientists have detailed the lessons learned from the 24 August 2014 Napa earthquake. Several authors in the issue acknowledged that the Napa temblor has helped them develop a fast and more accurate mapping of fault systems, which will give municipalities and developers a better sense of where to safely rebuild after an earthquake.

  • Climate change and the origins of the Syrian war

    A new study says a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-10 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising. Researchers say the drought, the worst ever recorded in the region, destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement, and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011. A growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars. Researchers project that man-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or that it is already doing so. The new study, combining climate, social, and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

  • Warming temperatures cause of recent California droughts

    California has experienced more frequent drought years in the last two decades than it has in the past several centuries. That observed uptick is primarily the result of rising temperatures in the region, which have climbed to record highs as a result of climate change, Stanford scientists say. Researchers have examined the role that temperature has played in California droughts over the past 120 years. They also examined the effect that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are having on temperature and precipitation, focusing on the influence of global warming upon California’s past, present, and future drought risk. The team found that the worst droughts in California have historically occurred when conditions were both dry and warm, and that global warming is increasing the probability that dry and warm years will coincide. The findings suggest that California could be entering an era when nearly every year that has low precipitation also has temperatures similar to or higher than 2013-14, when the statewide average annual temperature was the warmest on record.

  • New map outlines landslide risks in western Oregon

    Landslides are already a serious geologic hazard for western Oregon. During an earthquake, however, lateral ground forces can be as high as half the force of gravity. The Coast Range is of special concern because it will be the closest part of the state to the actual subduction zone earthquake, and will experience the greatest shaking and ground movement. New landslide maps have been developed that will help the Oregon Department of Transportation determine which coastal roads and bridges in Oregon are most likely to be usable following a major subduction zone earthquake that is expected in the future of the Pacific Northwest.

  • Florida lawmakers want homeowners to have more flood insurance options

    Lawmakers in Florida are planning for a future in which coastal communities can no longer depend on the federal government for affordable flood insurance coverage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) flood program is facing insolvency after recent disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, so Congress has moved to increaseflood insurance rates across the nation.Legislation proposed by Florida state senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) will give homeowners more coverage options in the local private insurance market. If passed, Brandes’s bill could lower premiums by excluding coverage of a detached garage or covering only the value of a home’s mortgage rather than its full replacement cost.

  • IPCC sea-level rise scenarios insufficient for high-risk coastal areas management

    The sea-level rise scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not necessarily provide the right information for high-risk coastal decision-making and management, according to new research. Researchers warn that the IPCC scenarios are often inappropriate or incomplete for the management of high-risk coastal areas as they exclude the potential for extreme sea-level rises. This missing information is also crucial for a number of policy processes, such as discussions by G7 countries to establish climate insurance policies and allocations of adaptation funding by the Green Climate Funds.

  • A 2-year spike in sea level along NE North America

    Sea levels from New York to Newfoundland jumped up about four inches in 2009 and 2010 because ocean circulation changed, new research has found. Independent of any hurricanes or winter storms, the event – which stands out in its time extent as well as its spatial extent — caused flooding along the northeast coast of North America. Some of the sea level rise and the resulting flooding extended as far south as Cape Hatteras. The spike was the result of a change in the ocean’s Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation and also a change in part of the climate system known as the North Atlantic Oscillation. The researchers found that at the current rate that atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, such extreme events are likely to occur more frequently. The research also confirmed that, as others have reported, sea level has been gradually rising since the 1920s and that there is some year-to-year variation.

  • Ocean acidification threatens U.S. coastal communities

    Coastal communities in fifteen states that depend on the $1 billion shelled mollusk industry (primarily oysters and clams) are at long-term economic risk from the increasing threat of ocean acidification, a new report concludes. The Pacific Northwest has been the most frequently cited region with vulnerable shellfish populations, the authors say, but the report notes that newly identified areas of risk from acidification range from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay, to the bayous of Louisiana.

  • Bay of Bengal: Rising seas to force 13 million to evacuate to higher grounds

    Within the next thirty years, a substantial area — called the Sundarbans — in the Bay of Bengal will be underwater as a result of climate change-induced rising sea levels. The roughly thirteen million people living in the region, which consists of approximately 200 delta islands in India and Bangladesh, will be forced to abandon their homes, making their displacement the largest exodus in modern history. The migration of eight million Bangladeshis and five million Indians inland will create the largest group of “climate refugees,” challenging social, agricultural, logistical, and governmental structures.

  • More resilient mass transit to improve Chicago emergency evacuation system

    A group of Argonne Lab researchers will be studying methods and creating tools for building more resilient mass transit systems to evacuate major cities under a $2.9 million grant announced today by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration. The project will bring together researchers from the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory with Chicago’s Pace Suburban Bus and Metra Commuter Rail Service to investigate ways to improve the detection, analysis, and response to emergencies, and how best to evacuate the city in a major emergency.

  • Coping with fracking-induced earthquakes

    A new study provides a case for increasing transparency and data collection to enable strategies for mitigating the effects of human-induced earthquakes caused by wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production in the United States. The study suggests that it is possible to reduce the hazard of induced seismicity through management of injection activities.

  • What historic megadroughts in the western U.S. tell us about our climate future

    In an important paper published in Science Advances last week, scientists found that future droughts driven by human-induced global warming could surpass even the driest periods in North America over the past 1,000 years. The scientists combined knowledge of past droughts and future projections in order to compare the projected twenty-first-century states of aridity in the western United States to the megadrought periods over the last millennium. They stitched 1,000 years of paleoclimatic estimates of soil moisture variability derived from tree rings, together with an ensemble of state-of-the-art climate model simulations for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. When they compared the future projections of drought to the past they found that they were more severe and persistent than at any time during the last thousand years, even if they considered only the driest megadrought periods. The findings are sobering, but they are consistent with past experience, the researchers write: “When it comes to drought in the American West, particularly in the Southwest and Central Plains, expect more, worse, and longer events.”

  • NASA scientists issue New York City climate change 2015 report

    A new report by NASA and Columbia University researchers details significant future increases in temperature, precipitation, and sea level in the New York metropolitan area. The report aims to increase current and future resiliency of the communities, citywide systems, and infrastructure in the New York metropolitan region to a range of climate risks. “Climate change research isn’t just something for the future,” said the NASA scientist who chaired the panel which produced the report. “It’s affecting how key policy decisions are being made now.

  • Earthquake early-warning system to be deployed in Washington, Oregon

    California has been testing ShakeAlert, an earthquake early-warning system. Emergency officials and first responders in Washington and Oregon have been working with their counterparts in California to design a similar system specifically for the Pacific Northwest. The project, estimated to cost roughly $16 million a year, has received $6 million from a private foundation, $5 million from Congress for the coming year, and the White House’s new budget calls for another $5 million.