Natural disasters

  • Geologist: Cities located next to earthquake “time bombs” should prepare for the inevitable

    A geologist, who is the author of the forthcoming Earthquake Time Bombs, points to several areas around the worlds where large cities lie on or adjacent to a major plate boundary creating a ticking time bomb: Tehran, the capital of Iran; Kabul in Afghanistan; Jerusalem in the Middle East; Caracas in Venezuela; Guantanamo, Cuba; Los Angeles, California; and the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the northwestern United States and near British Columbia. “These places should take lessons from the regions that already have experienced major earthquakes, including Nepal,” he says.

  • Corruption, lax building codes exacerbate natural disasters in poor countries

    While all heavily populated earthquake zones face the challenge of preparing for inevitable but unpredictable quakes, the poorest zones face the most risk as they invest less in building resilience and safe construction practices.Nepali experts note that bribery, lax law enforcement, and a lack of land-use controls left buildings vulnerable to seismic disasters.

  • New measuring systems remotely assessing avalanche risk

    Accurate forecasting of avalanches, and the risk of flooding in Alpine catchment areas during the spring thaw, primarily requires time-resolved data on snow volumes and the levels of liquid water in the snow cover. Geographers have developed a novel measuring system relying on two different physical methods which promises to enhance forecasting of avalanches and spring floods. The method combines GPS and radar to measure snow properties also on the slopes.

  • Warm ocean hot spots caused mid-1930s U.S. Dust Bowl

    The unusually hot summers of 1934 and 1936 broke heat records that still stand today. They were part of the devastating dust bowl decade in the United States when massive dust storms traveled as far as New York, Boston, and Atlanta, covering the decks of ships with silt 450 km off the east coast. Two ocean hot spots have been found to be the potential drivers of these hot 1934 and 1936 summers in the central United States, knowledge that may help predict future calamities.

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  • Seismologists deploy after a quake to learn more, so we can prepare for the next one

    The simple truth about great earthquakes, and the miserable cascade of events they often trigger, is this: if an earthquake has affected a region, recently or in historical records, then future earthquakes in that region are inevitable. Globally, we need a program of identification and characterization of potentially hazardous faults in urban areas. From those studies, site-specific expected seismic shaking maps can be developed and construction codes and engineering design specifications for infrastructure enacted, mitigating hazard to new and future construction. Then urban political leaders and civil defense agencies must collaborate to lead local populations in an open and honest dialog to identify both irreplaceable cultural heritage, and also infrastructure that must survive natural disasters intact in order to prevent an earthquake from triggering a series of consequent catastrophes — fires, water, and food shortages and disease outbreaks. These structures should be retrofitted to survive the predicted shaking from the maximum expected magnitude earthquake for the given area. A number of different mechanisms to pay for this costly preventive engineering are almost certainly needed, tailored to local conditions.

  • Preparing for extreme weather events

    “Arthur,” “Katrina,” “Allan,” and “Bertha” are examples of extreme weather events that have ravaged European and North American communities in recent years. Such extreme events often have enormous economic consequences, but they also represent irreplaceable losses for people whose homes have been destroyed. Since extreme weather is one consequence of climate change, we know that we need to prepare ourselves for more Arthurs and Katrinas in the coming years. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) are studying how Norwegian communities are tackling climate change and extreme weather events.

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  • Young students compete at the Sea Level Measurement Device Design competition

    Global warming is bringing about a rise in the mean sea level, and this increases the risk of coastal flooding brought by storm surges during the passage of tropical cyclones. Two-hundred young students – from 4th grade to junior high — from twenty-five primary, secondary, and international schools designed and produced sea level measurement devices to compete for various prizes in the Sea Level Measurement Device Design Competition held last Sunday at the University of Hong Kong.

  • Protecting the U.S. power grid

    The U.S. power grid is made up of complex and expensive system components, which are owned by utilities ranging from small municipalities to large national corporations spanning multiple states. A National Academy of Sciences report estimates that a worst-case geomagnetic storm could have an economic impact of $1 trillion to $2 trillion in the first year, which is twenty times the damage caused by a Katrina-class hurricane.

  • Disaster and recovery: The unexpected shall come to be expected

    In the days following the Nepal earthquake, the media has been focusing on the heart-wrenching human interest and hero-tragedy stories, but what must be emphasized is that this disaster was anticipated. More importantly, we now have the tools and building technologies to mitigate the impact of even major earthquakes. The frequency of earthquakes has not changed over the past few million years, but now millions of people live in vulnerable situations. The unexpected must come to be expected. Much-needed humanitarian assistance must transition into long-term development efforts. Simply put, instilling a culture of disaster risk reduction, investing in hazard mitigation, building as best as we can, and retrofitting what remains, will save lives.

  • Aquifer Storage and Recovery should be phased in to reverse Everglades decline

    The aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) is a key component in the Central Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a joint state-federal effort to reverse the decline of the Everglades ecosystem. CERP aims to “get the water right” by improving the quantity, timing, and distribution of water flows. Over a century of canal drainage and water management has led to extensive losses of natural water storage, leaving the Everglades in critical need of new storage. Although uncertainties about ecological impacts are too great to justify near-term, large-scale implementation of the ASR in the Everglades, the ASR could be phased in to answer several important scientific questions and provide some early restoration benefits, says a report from the National Research Council (NRC).

  • U Oregon expands role in Pacific Northwest earthquake early warning system

    The University of Oregon will soon be playing an active role in preparing West Coast residents for the next magnitude 9 earthquake. Working in cooperation with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN), the UO will maintain fifteen seismometers previously owned by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The seismic network is a cooperative between the UO and the University of Washington, and is a key player in the development and testing of a West Coast earthquake early warning system. The recent passage of Oregon Senate Bill 5543, which was signed 30 March by Gov. Kate Brown, paved the way for the state of Oregon to acquire the seismometers with a one-time appropriation of $670,000.

  • What works and doesn’t in disaster health response

    On Saturday, 24 April 2015, a major (Magnitude 7.8) earthquake hit Nepal shortly after midday. At the moment, the most important question is how can the global community best respond? What can and what should international relief teams be prepared to do when responding to such an event? Research provides some well-documented evidence that many international health-oriented responses are poorly targeted and may be influenced by objectives that play well on the home front rather than what’s needed on the ground. As we respond to Nepal’s earthquake, and as we look forward to the next international earthquake responses, let us take into account what we have learned from past experiences, and, in coordination with our local hosts, provide the kinds of health assistance that are most likely to meet the needs of the people affected.

  • California drought highlights the state’s economic divide

    As much of Southern California enters into the spring and warmer temperatures, the effects of California’s historic drought begin to manifest themselves in the daily lives of residents, highlighting the economic inequality in the ways people cope. Following Governor Jerry Brown’s (D) unprecedented water rationing regulations,wealthier Californians weigh on which day of the week no longer to water their grass, while those less fortunate are now choosing which days they skip a bath.

  • NIST releases draft Community Resilience Planning Guide for public review

    Over the last four years, the United States experienced forty-two extreme weather events which caused at least $1 billion in damage, for a total cost of about $227 billion and 1,286 lives lost. In all, there were 334 major disaster declarations in the United States between 2010 and 2014. The United States experienced about 500 natural disasters between 1994 and 2013, ranking second globally, behind China. The ten deadliest of these U.S. disasters killed more than 4,000 people. NIST issued a draft guide to help communities plan for and act to keep windstorms, floods, earthquakes, sea-level rise, industrial mishaps, and other hazards from inflicting disastrous consequences.

  • Web app helps Miami residents visualize how sea level rise affects their homes

    Researchers have developed a web app, known as the Sea Level Rise Toolbox, which helps Miami-Dade residents visualize the possible impact of rising seas in South Florida on their neighborhoods. The Web app, using elevation data from the Google Elevation Service, and based on sea level rise calculations created by Peter Harlem, a scientist at FIU’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Center, is an interactive sea-level rise viewer where users can enter an address to visualize how up to a 6-foot rise in sea level may affect Miami-Dade County neighborhoods.