Natural disasters

  • Improving earthquake early warning systems, data collection

    Researchers are working on what will be the U.S. first earthquake early warning system available to the public. Once fully implemented, the system will use networks of seismic instrumentation to detect when an earthquake is pending and send alerts via text message or other mass notification systems to people. The researchers are also workingon the Quake-Catcher Network to improve monitoring of earthquake activity around the world. Officials and city planners can use the data provided by Quake-Catcher to help decide where to build critical infrastructure such as power plants, hospitals, and water lines.

  • U.S. municipal data centers prepare to cope with sea-level rise

    The National Academy of Sciences says that 316 coastal cities in the United States are expected to be affected by sea-level rise within the next few decades. Those responsible for infrastructure maintenance are now considering how they can be better prepared for this eventuality. Among their tasks is the protection of data centers which handle much of the world’s information.

  • Napa earthquake may persuade lawmakers to fund earthquake warning system

    Last Sunday’s Napa earthquake may push Congress to increase funding for an earthquake warning system. Building out the West Coast earthquake warning system, called ShakeAlert, would cost $120 million over five years, and an additional $16 million a year to operate. Today, ShakeAlert operates in a testing phase, and sensors notify researchers and volunteer participants when an earthquake has been detected.

  • Seismic retrofitting of older buildings helps, but it has its limits

    Even before last Sunday’s magnitude-6 earthquake struck Napa, officials anticipated that such an event would damage many of Napa’s historic brick buildings. So years ago, brick structures were required to get seismic retrofitting — bolting brick walls to ceilings and floors to make them stronger. “We can’t keep every single brick in place in many of these older buildings without extraordinarily costly retrofits,” says a structural engineer. “We can reduce the damage in losses, but not eliminate them entirely in older buildings.”

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  • Investigating potential influences on recent U.K. winter floods

    A comprehensive review of all potential factors behind the 2013-14 U.K. winter floods does not definitively answer whether human activity played a role in the magnitude of the winter flood events. It does, though, examine how factors such as the state of the global oceans may have interacted with wind patterns and subsequent high-level atmospheric features.

  • Existing power plants will emit 300 billion more tons of carbon dioxide during use

    Existing power plants around the world will pump out more than 300 billion tons of carbon dioxide over their expected lifetimes, significantly adding to atmospheric levels of the climate-warming gas, according to a new study. The study is the first to quantify how quickly these “committed” emissions are growing — by about 4 percent per year — as more fossil fuel-burning power plants are built. Assuming these stations will operate for forty years, the power plants constructed globally in 2012 alone will produce about nineteen billion tons of CO2 during their existence, the researchers project.

  • Sunday tremor may accelerate deployment of West Coast early warning system

    Researchers and individuals working with California’s ShakeAlertsystem received a 10-second warning before last Sunday’s earthquake struck the San FranciscoBay Area at 3.20 a.m. “Earthquake! Earthquake!” the warning system cautioned, followed by “Light shaking expected in three seconds.” Mexico and Japan already have a public earthquake warning system, but a collaboration in California among several institutions to create a similar system is still in an experimental phase. The project needs about $80 million for equipment, software, and other seismic infrastructure upgrades to launch the warning system throughout the West Coast.

  • More states experiment with microgrids to withstand powerful storms

    During Superstorm Sandy, communities throughout the Northeast experienced power outages which affected critical facilities including hospitals, gas stations, and water treatment plants. As severe weather becomes more common, authorities are acknowledging the shortcomings of a large electric grid system. Some utility providers have contemplated burying power lines to help prevent outages, but it can cost up to $4 million per mile to place electric lines underground. Several states are now experimenting with microgrids, self-contained systems for generating and distributing power.

  • Southwest may face “megadrought” within century: Study

    Due to global warming, scientists say, the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decade-long drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a “megadrought” — one that lasts up to thirty-five years — ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century. While the 1930s Dust Bowl in the Midwest lasted four to eight years, depending upon location, a megadrought can last more than three decades, which could lead to mass population migration on a scale never before seen in this country.

  • Seismic faults make Diablo Canyon a nuclear catastrophe in waiting: Experts

    Sunday’s magnitude-6 earthquake in Northern California has renewed focus on the dangers of Diablo Canyon, considered by many as a nuclear catastrophe in waiting. In 2008 authorities discovered the Shoreline fault, which lies about 650 yards from the plant’s reactors. Surveys have mapped a network of other faults around the reactors. Diablo Canyon’s owner released research in 2011 which determined that any of the three nearby faults — the Shoreline, Los Osos, and San Luis Bay — is capable of producing significantly more shaking during an earthquake than was accounted for in the design of the plant’s most vulnerable equipment.

  • Florida better prepared to deal with disasters than it was in 2004 -- the Year of Four Hurricanes

    Much has improved for residents and emergency managers in South Florida since the state’s 2004 Hurricane season, known as the Year of Four Hurricanes. That season, Hurricane Charley released 150-mph winds, followed by Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. Officials in South Florida are implementing new technology and improved protocols to battle the next round of extreme weather events.

  • Rising sea levels force the Solomon Islands provincial capital to relocate

    Taro, the Solomon Islands provincial capital, will be relocated to the mainland due to coastal hazards and the risks of rising sea levels resulting from climate change. Taro is less than two meters above sea level, presenting a significant risk to the community, which will be compounded in the future with climate change and the resulting rise in sea levels. The relocation project is hailed by the Solomon Islands National Government as a best-practice model for natural hazard resilience planning for other provinces across the Solomon Islands and more broadly across the Pacific region.

  • New Jersey launches distributed energy initiative

    More than two million households lost power in New Jersey during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and water and wastewater treatment plants lacked electricity, forcing millions of gallons of raw sewage to be released into the state’s waterways. State officials concluded that relying exclusively on centralized grids for electrical power distribution would continue to be a risk during disasters such as hurricanes. The state recently announced the launch of the nation’s first Energy Resilience Bank(ERB), which will support the development of distributed energy resources at critical facilities throughout New Jersey.

  • Coast Guard, National Guard units in N.J. still dealing with Sandy’s damage

    The USCGC Sailfish, an 87-foot patrol boat, is temporarily based out of Bayonne, New York, unable to return to its berth at Sandy Hook, where the storm caused $50 million in damage to Coast Guard facilities. National Guard facilities around New Jersey sustained more than $35 million in storm damage, and further along the Jersey shore, the National Guard is dealing with over $40 million in damage to Army and Air Force facilities.

  • Ukraine tensions hobble U.S.-Russia cooperation on planetary asteroid defense

    Last week the United States said it would freeze a U.S.-Russian nuclear agreement, an agreement which would, among other things, allow Russian scientists into the nuclear complex at Los Alamos National Laboratoryand, in return, grant American scientists access to Russian nuclear facilities. The decision to suspend the agreement was taken in response to Russia’s conduct toward Ukraine. Experts say the decision may damage efforts to defend Earth against a common enemy. The option of using a nuclear weapon to destroy an Erath-threatening asteroid has been gaining in popularity among scientists, but its implementation calls for cooperation with Russia’s space agency.