Natural disasters

  • Limiting methane emissions would more quickly affect climate than limiting CO2

    When discussing climate change, scientists point to “radiative forcing,” a measure of trapped heat in Earth’s atmosphere from man-made greenhouse gases. The current role of methane looms large, they say, contributing over 40 percent of current radiative forcing from all greenhouse gases. The role of methane as a driver of global warming is even more critical than this 40 percent value might indicate, they note, since the climate system responds much more quickly to reducing methane than to reducing carbon dioxide. The implication is that while it is true that in order to slow, or even reverse, global warming we must limit emissions of both carbon dioxide and methane, it makes more sense to concentrate now on limiting methane emissions because reducing methane emissions would buy society some critical decades of lower temperatures.

  • Fire experiments will test new firefighting tactics

    Fire researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will return to Spartanburg, South Carolina, on 15-21 May 2014, as part of a collaborative effort on a series of controlled-burn experiments in detached single-family homes slated for demolition. Measurements of temperature, total heat flux and other ground truth data gathered during the live fire experiments will help the NIST team and its partners to further assess the effectiveness of new fire-suppression tactics known as transitional fire attack.

  • Coral reefs offer valuable protection for coastal infrastructure

    Growing natural hazards from coastal storms, flooding, and rising sea levels are leading to major investments worldwide in coastal defense structures such as seawalls and breakwaters. A new study shows that coral reefs can provide risk reduction benefits comparable to artificial defenses, and reef restoration and enhancement is a cost-effective alternative to manmade structures. Restoring coral reefs as a way to protect coastal infrastructure is also cheaper: the typical price for a tropical breakwater project is $197 million, compared with $129 million for restoring a reef.

  • 24 U.S. nuclear plants vulnerable to earthquakes

    The U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has concluded that the designs of twenty-four U.S. nuclear plants do not meet contemporary standards to withstand an earthquake in the vicinity of the facility. This analysis has revealed that these facilities could face significant, even disastrous, damage from earthquakes which are larger than what they were designed to encounter.

  • Loss of West Antarctic glacier unstoppable, contributing significantly to sea level rise

    A rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in irreversible decline, with nothing to stop the entire glacial basin from disappearing into the sea, according to researchers at UC Irvine and NASA. The new study presents multiple lines of evidence — incorporating forty years of observations — that six massive glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector “have passed the point of no return.” The volume of melted ice would be enough to raise global sea level by four feet.

  • Industry, Democrats reject GOP-sponsored TRIA-extension draft

    House democrats and members of Property Casualty Insurers, a leading insurance trade group, have rejected a Republican-sponsored draft proposal which would alter some measures of the current Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). The Property Casualty Insurers did not mince words, calling the GOP plan “unworkable for the marketplace.” The proposal would raise the amount of damage caused by a terrorist attack from the current $100 million to $500 million before government coverage is triggered (the higher threshold would apply to attacks which do not involve nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological means).

  • Teleoperated robots for smarter disaster response

    Electrical engineers have developed telerobotics technology which could make disaster response faster and more efficient. The researchers aim to combine existing “smart” technologies better to serve society during disaster and crisis response. This includes using teleoperated robots for rescues and safety operations; a high-tech dispatch system that gathers information from cameras and sensors and pushes it out to first responders; drones for damage surveillance and rescues; and vests outfitted with sensors and GPS tracking to be worn by search-and-rescue dogs.

  • Farmers try to cope with the challenges posed by extreme weather

    Across the country, farmers are reporting that they are at yet another critical juncture for agriculture. Citing more unpredictable and severe weather due to climate change, scientists are researching defensive measures and looking to previous agricultural challenges for inspiration. Some are looking to the way individual farmers and government agencies addressed the Dust Bowl hardships of America during the Great Depression as a source of inspiration.

  • Experts: Fracking-induced earthquakes are real, requiring scientific guidelines

    In the wake of increased seismic activity and rare advanced warnings, seismologists are urging the U.S. Geological Survey to include quakes resulting from hydraulic fracturing for underground oil and gas, or fracking, as an estimated hazard.

  • Miami “Ground Zero” for risks associated with sea level rise

    During a special Senate hearing last month in Miami Beach, Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) described Florida as “Ground Zero” for climate change and the threat it poses to coastal communities. Sea level rise is especially worrisome to Floridians because Miami has the most property assets at risk in the world, according to the World Resources Institute(WRI). Miami has $14.7 billion in beach front property. Also, fifteen million out of the state’s twenty million residents live in coastal communities vulnerable to sea level rise.

  • Researchers map 198,000 glaciers to improve sea-level rise estimates

    An international team of researchers has completed the first mapping of virtually all of the world’s glaciers — including their locations and sizes — allowing for calculations of their volumes and ongoing contributions to global sea rise as the world warms. The team mapped and catalogued some 198,000 glaciers around the world as part of the massive Randolph Glacier Inventory, or RGI, better to understand rising seas over the coming decades as a result of melting glaciers.

  • As fracking activity grows in Mexico, so does the number of fracking-induced tremors

    Mexico has the fourth largest amount of recoverable shale gas in the world, with 681 trillion cubic feet. As fracking activity has increased in the state of Nuevo Leon, so have the number of tremors. Between January and mid-April, forty-eight tremors, some reaching a magnitude of roughly 4.3, were recorded across the state of Nuevo Leon, compared to two tremors in the same period last year.

  • Ice melting in East Antarctica may lead to unstoppable sea-level rise

    The melting of a rather small ice volume on East Antarctica’s shore could trigger a persistent ice discharge into the ocean, resulting in unstoppable sea-level rise for thousands of years to come, a new study finds. East Antarctica’s Wilkes Basin is like a bottle on a slant, say the study’s authors. Once uncorked, it empties out. The basin is the largest region of marine ice on rocky ground in East Antarctica.

  • Wetland preservation is good business

    A recently published study is making the case for wetland preservation by highlighting the economic incentives that such preservation could provide to urban centers.Infrastructure investment in urban waterfronts could soon be seen as one of the best economic decisions a city could make. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that “$1 million invested in coastal restoration creates 17.1 jobs, compared to just 8.9 jobs for every $1 million invested in oil and gas development.”

  • Longer periods of tornado activity are more destructive, but also more predictable

    Significant tornado outbreaks, and especially strong tornadoes, are more likely occur within periods of activity lasting three or more days, according to a new study. The study examined thirty years of U.S. weather records and found that an outbreak of twenty or more reported tornadoes had a 74 percent probability of occurring during a period of tornado activity lasting three or more days. During those same periods, a tornado rated 3 or higher on the Enhanced Fujita scale had a 60 percent probability of hitting.