Natural disasters

  • How best to adapt to the U.S. water shortage?

    The water crisis in the western United States — most notably in California and Washington — may be the most severe and most publicized, but other threats to the nation’s water supply loom, says a water expert. “We have settled in places and undertaken industrial and agricultural activities largely based on water availability,” he says. “When that availability changes, we must adapt. If the change is rather rapid, we often face a crisis.”

  • Washington State more prepared now for volcanic eruption

    Thirty-five years after the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption in Central Washington, which killed fifty-seven people and blanketed much of the state in ash, state officials say that they are far more ready for a future emergency than they were previous to that disaster.

  • Antarctica’s ice shelf disintegrating, accelerating sea level rise

    Ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean. Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise. A new NASA study finds the last remaining section of Antarctica’s Larsen B Ice Shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is quickly weakening and likely to disintegrate completely before the end of the decade. “Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet. This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone,” says one scientist.

  • Climate change changing intensity, frequency of hurricanes

    Climate change may be the driving force behind fewer, yet more powerful hurricanes and tropical storms. Hurricanes can form when ocean waters are 79 degrees Fahrenheit or more. As the warm water evaporates, it provides the energy a storm needs to become a hurricane. Higher temperatures mean higher levels of energy, which would ultimately affect wind speed.

  • U.S. West's power grid must be “climate-proofed” to lessen risks of power disruption

    Electricity generation and distribution infrastructure in the Western United States must be “climate-proofed” to diminish the risk of future power shortages, according to researchers. Expected increases in extreme heat and drought events will bring changes in precipitation, air and water temperatures, air density, and humidity. the changing conditions could significantly constrain the energy-generation capacity of power plants — unless steps are taken to upgrade systems and technologies to withstand the effects of a generally hotter and drier climate.

  • 75 percent of L.A. County water systems vulnerable to drought, other challenges

    Despite the importance of potable water to the quality of life, economy, and ecosystems in Los Angeles County, surprisingly little is known about the 228 government and private entities which deliver water, and how vulnerable or resilient they are to withstanding pressures from droughts and climate change. Innovative maps in a Water Atlas compiled by UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation show which areas are most threatened. The Water Atlas finds that 75 percent of community drinking water systems in Los Angeles County exhibit at least one indicator of supply vulnerability due either to dependency on a single type of water source, local groundwater contamination, small size, or a projected increase in extreme heat days over the coming decades.

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  • South Africa must start managing its retreat from the coast

    In 2015 there may remain some small uncertainties about the pace and intensity of climate change, but the inevitability of storm surges and sea level rise is not one of them. Due to the warming ocean’s thermal mass, thermal expansion, melting ice, and other complex interactions between air, land, and water, the sea level will rise significantly over the next few centuries. Even if we stopped using fossil fuels today, this is inevitable. African cities and coastlines, like the rest of the world, absolutely need natural coastal defenses: dunes, estuaries, mangroves, reefs, and coastal plains – but in many areas these defense would not be sufficient. In those areas, another approach should be considered: A managed retreat from the coast. In many places along the African coast such retreat is essential to minimize risk to coastal societies and maximize social and economic stability. And if planned properly, it can generate significant economic growth rather than chaos. The alternative is a grim scenario of treacherous coastline littered with rusting hulks of drowned and broken buildings, displaced coastal communities, and attendant impacts on health, food security, disaster risk management, and social and economic stability.

  • More proof needed that PG&E’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is safe from earthquakes: NRC

    Despite repeated assertions by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. that the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is safe from earthquakes, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ordered PG&E to provide more proof. Critics of the plant’s continuing operation say the order confirms concerns that faults surrounding Diablo Canyon are capable of more ground motion than the reactors were built to withstand and that the plant is in violation of its operating license and should be closed immediately.

  • FEMA considering overhauling the National Flood Insurance Program

    Federal legislators and officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are trying to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program which relies on eighty-three companies to sell policies, collection premiums, and calculate damages after disasters. The program covers roughly 5.2 million homes and businesses nationwide. The move comes just as FEMA is in talks to settle almost 1,800 lawsuits filed by homeowners claiming they were underpaid on flood insurance claims after Superstorm Sandy. The flood insurance program was launched in 1968 after private insurers increased their coverage prices due to newer risk assessments, leaving most homeowners unable to afford them.

  • LA to require seismic standards for new cellphone towers

    Last Friday Los Angeles became the first U.S. city to approve seismic standards for new cellphone towers, part of an effort to reduce communications vulnerabilities in case a large earthquake should strike. The Los Angeles plan requires new freestanding cellphone towers to be built to the same seismic standards as public safety facilities. Cellphone towers are currently built only strong enough not to collapse during a major earthquake. There are not required to be strong enough to continue working.

  • Why is oil and gas activity causing earthquakes? And can we reduce the risk?

    If you’ve been following the news lately, chances are you’ve heard about — or even felt — earthquakes in the central United States. During the past five years, there has been an unprecedented increase in earthquakes in the North American mid-continent, a region previously considered one of the most stable on Earth. Oklahoma has gone from experiencing fewer than two magnitude-three earthquakes per year to greater than two per day, the report found. Similarly, Texas has experienced a near 10-fold increase in magnitude-three earthquakes or greater in the past five years. Many studies indicate that human activities, including activities related to oil and gas extraction, are beginning to play a significant role in triggering earthquakes in the central United States. History dictates that the advent of new technology often leads to new and unforeseen challenges. The printing press, the automobile, and splitting the atom have provided incalculable benefits to humanity but also incredible responsibility. What is recognized as the Texas-led “Shale Revolution,” arguably one of the most significant innovations of the modern era, is no different.

  • Marshes, reefs, beaches can bolster coastal resilience: NOAA

    Coastal erosion, storms, and flooding can reshape the shoreline and threaten coastal property. With approximately 350,000 houses, business, bridges, and other structures located within 500 feet of the U.S. shoreline, erosion is a problem many U.S. coastal communities are addressing. Coastal flooding caused by extreme weather events and sea level rise is of growing global concern. In 2012, just two coastal extreme weather events caused $68 billion in damages — Sandy accounted for $65 billions, and Hurricane Isaac for $3 billion. The resilience of U.S. coastal communities to storms, flooding, erosion, and other threats can be strengthened when they are protected by natural infrastructure such as marshes, reefs, and beaches, or with hybrid approaches, such as a “living shoreline” — a combination of natural habitat and built infrastructure, according to a new NOAA study.

  • Seismic safety of nuclear power plants in Scandinavia to improve

    Since the Fukushima accident, Nordic nuclear power plant areas have given greater priority to understanding the safety implications of seismic events. The Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT) and various Nordic players are co-developing new methods of making seismic hazard estimates of anticipated earthquakes in Fennoscandia — the region comprising the Scandinavian Peninsula, Finland, Karelia, and the Kola Peninsula in Russia.

  • Sea level rise accelerated over the past two decades, research finds

    Sea level rise sped up over the last two decades rather than slowing down as previously thought, according to new research. The research corrects other studies which relied on records from tide gauges and satellites, records which have shown sea level rise to be slowing slightly over the past twenty years. This slowing down surprised scientists: As the ice sheets of West Antarctica and Greenland melt and send huge amounts of water into the ocean, climate models predicted that sea level rise would accelerate, not slow down. The new research, in which researchers used data sets generated by both tidal gauges and altimetric satellites, found, however, that the record of sea level rise during the early 1990s was too high. When adjustments are made for the initial error, the rate of sea level rise is not slowing down but accelerating, and the IPCC climate modelling proves right.

  • Florida coastal communities’ infrastructure officials say state government ignores sea level rise

    Water officials serving communities along Florida’s 1,200-mile coastline say the state government has rejected the scientific consensus on man-made climate change. These officials are worried that unprecedented flood levels will erode their buildings, push seawater into drinking water wells, and overburden aging flood-control systems. Despite warnings from water and climate experts about risks to Florida’s cities and drinking water, deniers and skeptics of climate change science have suppressed efforts at all levels of state government to address these risks.