Natural disasters

  • Likelihood of Calif.’s Big One within next 30 years higher than previously thought: USGS

    The U.S. Geological Surveypredicts a 7 percent chance of a magnitude 8.0 or greater earthquake hitting California within the next thirty years. This is up from 4.7 percent from the last forecast. The reason for the increased estimate is due to better understanding of how different faults are connected.The new forecasts are not meant to startle the average citizen, but property developers and homeowners should be informed. City planners will consider these predictions when forming new building codes and the California Earthquake Authority will use the predictions to evaluate insurance premiums.

  • People in coastal zones in Asia, Africa are most vulnerable to sea-level rise

    The number of people potentially exposed to future sea level rise and associated storm surge flooding may be highest in low-elevation coastal zones in Asia and Africa, according to new projections. The researchers assessed future population changes by the years 2030 and 2060 in the low-elevation coastal zone and estimated trends in exposure to 100-year coastal floods. The number of people living in the low-elevation coastal zone, as well as the number of people exposed to flooding from 100-year storm surge events, was highest in Asia. China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Viet Nam had the largest numbers of coastal population per country and accounted for more than half of the total number of people living in low-elevation coastal zones.

  • New “life years” measure assesses human impact of 2011 Canterbury, New Zealand quake

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has devised the Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) calculations, which assesses the cumulative number of “lifeyears,” or healthy years, citizens have lost due to death, injuries, and being otherwise significantly affected such as having to evacuate their homes, and the financial damages they have incurred. Globally, on average the world loses about forty million lifeyears per year because of disasters, the vast majority in low- and middle-income countries. Using the DALY calculations, researchers have calculated that each person in Canterbury, new Zealand lost approximately 150 days of “healthy life” in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake.

  • Boston prepares for life with rising sea levels

    A 2013 World Bank studylisted only seven cities in the world as more vulnerable to flooding than Boston. The other American cities are Miami, New York, New Orleans, and Tampa. Faced with the prospect of having a significant portion of the city underwater, city officials and private developers have launched a competition to redesign Boston for the year 2100, with the assumption that sea levels will be five feet higher than they are today. The Living With Watercompetition looks to prove that the future of Boston can coexist with rising sea levels.

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  • Geologists: Popular Irish tourism hotspot “slowly drowning”

    Geologists have found evidence that Connemara, described by Discover Ireland, a tourism body, as one of the country’s “most iconic destinations,” is slipping under the sea.”It’s certain that the sea has encroached considerably onto the land around Galway Bay since the ice melted…and that the strange, watery landscape is indeed being shaped by a slow drowning”of Connemara, said Jonathan Wilkins, a geologist with the Earth Science Ireland (ESI) group.

  • Predicting the scope of flash flooding

    Devastating flooding, such as Iowa’s flood of 2008 — which swamped many Iowa communities, along with ten square miles of Cedar Rapids — are notoriously difficult to predict. Researchers set out to gain a better understanding of flood genesis and the factors impacting it. They were able to do this by zeroing in on the impacts of certain rainfall patterns at the smallest unit of a river basin: the hillslope scale.

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  • Oklahoma warns insurers not to deny claims for man-made-earthquake damage

    Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak is warning insurers about the practice by some insurance companies to exclude “man-made” earthquakes from their policies without clear intent. Some companies are marking quakes caused by waste water injection wells — or “fracking” — as “man-made” and therefore outside of the scope of coverage of policies. This denial of coverage follows a dramatic increase of tremors in the state since 2013. The increase in fracking activity in the state has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in the number of earthquakes: Last year, the Oklahoma Geological Survey identified 567 tremors at or above a 3.0 magnitude, the point at which such quakes can be felt by humans and cause property damage.

  • Sea level rise causing changes in ocean tide levels, tidal ranges

    Scientists have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

  • Drones to help assess post-disaster infrastructure damage

    Drones can be used for a number of applications including civilian and military purposes. Monitoring and surveillance are two of the biggest uses for drones. Now, researchers are utilizing similar technology to develop an operational prototype that will use innovative remote sensing approaches and cameras mounted on low cost aircraft or unmanned drones to detect and map fine scale transportation infrastructure damage such as cracks, deformations, and shifts immediately following natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. The researchers hope the technology becomes the new, Department of Transportation approach to monitoring infrastructure after natural disasters.

  • World’s metropolitan areas increasingly vulnerable to floods

    A heads-up to New York, Baltimore, Houston, and Miami: a new study suggests that these metropolitan areas and others will increase their exposure to floods even in the absence of climate change, according to researchers. Their study presents first-ever global forecasts of how the exposure of urban land to floods and droughts may change due to urban expansion in the near future. In 2000, about 30 percent of the global urban land (over 75,000 square miles) was located in the high-frequency flood zones; by 2030, this will reach nearly 40 percent (280,000 square miles) as the global urban land grows from 250,000 square miles to 720,000 square miles.

  • Nature-based solutions to coastal infrastructure risks

    The Indonesian and Dutch government the other day launched a five-year, multimillion euro public-private partnership initiative for enhancing coastal safety at the North Coast of Java. The initiative aims to build stable coastlines with reduced erosion risk through a unique integration of mangrove restoration, small scale hard-engineering, and sustainable land use. Beginning last year, the UN Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction now includes reducing disaster risk through nature-based solutions.

  • “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.