An earthquake simulator in Tokyo, Japan shows off what a Magnitude 9 earthquake feels like. Scary stuff!
An earthquake simulator in Tokyo, Japan shows off what a Magnitude 9 earthquake feels like. Scary stuff!
by Huw Goodall
Half awake, half asleep. The room is shaking. You realise you are not at home. You are in central Italy. Now the room is really shaking, you sprint over to hide under the desk as the floor moves under your feet, grabbing clothes as you go. The shaking continues, you put on the random assortment of clothes, pulling the bag you packed the night before, with the essentials to survive, close to you, wondering when the shaking will stop. Preparing mentally to be buried under the roof and hunker under the desk until the rescue team gets to you, you listen as the doors and windows rattle and bang. Then there is silence.
Pulling your shoes on (why didn’t you untie them last night!) you run into the corridor, your colleagues are out there, everyone is unhurt. Down the gloomy hotel corridor you all hurry out into the square, where slowly but surely the population of Ascoli Piceno gathers in the beautiful early morning sun. After an hour or so delay, including dashing back into the ancient building to grab field kit, interviews with the BBC and a delayed breakfast, you escape from the medieval town towards the epicentre of the earthquake.
Driving up the winding mountain roads, dodging between boulders that have been dislodged by the shaking, your team of 4 make their way towards the centre of the earthquake. As you approach, the tiny villages that dot the route show increasing signs of damage. Then you see it. The rupture. This is where the earth has been cut by the quake. The work begins. High precision surveys are taken from this site, after a brief discussion it is decided to return to where you were working the previous day and see if the fault has moved in the earthquake there too.
This involves driving through the isolated town of Castellucio, a stunning hilltop village, famous for its lentils. As you drive up the hill, the residents are in the street. Your Italian is only good enough to order food, but you can tell they are scared, confused and don’t know why you are there. You are probably the second car at most that has passed this way since the earthquake that morning. The destruction is clear, walls collapsed a pancaked building along the road, other houses simply gone. There is a helicopter landing in the street. People are everywhere.
Eventually the situation is explained in a hash of Italian and English and you are allowed to pass through, to continue to do your work as the people of the village continue to take stock. The next two weeks are non-stop field work, police checkpoints, late dinners and early starts. You measure how the fault has ruptured the surface, using a high-tech laser scanner, GPS, cameras and the good old fashioned ruler and notebook.
We spent the fortnight mapping new parts of the rupture as well as repeating measurements at some sites, to generate a picture of how the fault is moving in the days after the earthquake. This data set will be unlike any other in existence and hopefully will give us an insight into why earthquakes happen the way they do.
Huw is a PhD student in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds. His work involves using precise chemical analysis of earthquake faults to understand how they have moved in the past.
Incredible footage of lava flows out of Erta Ale volcano in northeastern Ethiopia. Erta Ale is located in the Afar depression, a badland desert area that is part of the northern section of the East African Rift system. The volcano is one of only a few in the world with a constantly active lava lake.
Bangladesh is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. In addition to frequent cyclones and drought, large areas of the country are at risk of earthquakes.
With densely populated cities, even a relatively small earthquake could have catastrophic consequences. Amrai Pari (Together We Can Do It) is harnessing the power of animation to help people be better prepared. Find out more about the project: http://bbc.in/2gsG8Tx
Over the last 20 years, 90% of all deaths due to natural disasters occurred in low and middle-income countries.
Hurricanes are one of the planet’s most destructive natural weather phenomenons. With Hurricane Matthew currently making it’s way through the Caribbean, it’s important that communities adhere to local emergency services and action plans.
Hurricanes are very large storm whose birth originates in the tropical oceans. They rotate about a central axis commonly called ‘the eye’. The oceans are a massive source of heat energy. Variations in sea surface temperature result in pressure differences in the atmosphere which cause storms to build up.
To be classified as a hurricane a storm must reach wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour. The rotation of the Earth gives these storm their characteristic spiral shape. Cyclonic storms in the northern hemisphere rotate anticlockwise while those in the southern hemisphere rotate clockwise.
The main hazards from hurricanes are strong winds (up to 150 miles per hour for the very large storms) and high volumes of rain. Hurricane winds can uproot trees and destroy houses. Large amounts of rainfall in a short period of time can cause floods and rising groundwater tables.
The water-clogged landscape remains unstable, with increased risk of landslides and surface failures, for many years after a particularly large event. For example, there were increased number of landslides in Taiwan for 6 years after Cyclone Bhola.
Historically significant hurricanes
The effect hurricanes have on people’s lives is illustrated by the word hurricane itself; after the Caribbean god of evil, Hurrican. They are a devastating force of nature.
What can we do?
Cyclone Mahasen hit Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma last season in May and resulted in far less deaths than expected thanks to swift action from the local governments. This shows that rapid response can save lives.
Houses with appropriate shelters (as in the U.S.) need to be built in hurricane prone regions. Proper training should be given from early school level onwards on the appropriate actions to take before and after such events: e.g. having enough clean drinking water, tinned food, spare batteries for lights, mobile phone chargers, first aid kits etc.
Have a rapid response system in place from the national governmental level to manage pre-event evacuation (if needed) and post disaster recovery.
There is no clear agreement on what sort of effects climate change and global warming will have on hurricanes. However most scientists agree that the change will be for the worse whether it is in the form of increased number of hurricanes each year, increased size of the hurricanes or changes to the length of the hurricane season . We need to invest more into understanding the science behind these storms and the effects global warming will have on their magnitude and frequency of occurrence.
 National Hurricane Centre
 George M. Dunnavan & John W. Dierks (1980). An Analysis of Super Typhoon Tip (October 1979), Joint Typhoon Warning Center,1980
Spectacular drone footage of the recent eruptions at Piton de la Fournaise volcano on Reunion Island.
A fantastic figure created by the wonderful Randall Munroe of xkcd.
By Amantha Perera
Food shortages brought on by extreme weather events have resulted in almost a quarter of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people becoming malnourished, says a World Food Programme (WFP) document.
“The increased frequency of natural disasters such as drought and flash floods further compounds food and nutrition insecurity,” says the document, the latest WFP country brief for Sri Lanka, released in June.
As per WFP’s most recent Cost of Diet Analysis, almost 6.8 million (33 per cent) Sri Lankans cannot afford the minimum cost of a nutritious diet and a large portion of this vulnerable population lives in poverty and is frequently subjected to extreme weather events.
In May heavy rains, brought on by Cyclone Roanu, affected 340,000 persons in 22 of the island’s 25 districts. “These people have very limited coping mechanisms, and these kinds of disasters can drive them deeper into poverty,” says minister for disaster management Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.
After the landslides and rains the government decided to shift out those living in high-risk areas but, according to public officials, they were faced with the problems of locating safe land and making income from agriculture.
“Most of those living on these high-risk areas rely on agriculture and we need to see how to secure their livelihoods,” head of the disaster management centre, Kegalle district, tells SciDev.Net.
The UN estimates that every year around 700,000 Sri Lankans are impacted by extreme weather, some repeatedly. “A sizeable segment of the flood affected population are squatters living in vulnerable areas prone to frequent flooding,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said following estimates made soon after the May floods and landslides.
“We need to develop long-term solutions, not stop-gap answers,” says Yapa, agreeing that there were serious problems arising from erratic weather patterns in Sri Lanka in recent years.
Scientists have used satellite observations to study how the distribution of land and water on the Earth’s surface has changed over the last 30 years.
They found that the Earth’s surface has gained 115,000 sq km of water of extra water bodies and 173,000 sq km of water has now become land. The study is published in Nature Climate Change.
The interactive Aqua Monitor was developed by the Deltares Research Institute in the Netherlands. It is the first global-scale tool that shows, with a 30 metre resolution, where water has been transformed into land and vice-versa.
The largest increase in water has been on the Tibetan Plateau, where increased water from melting glaciers are creating huge new lakes.
A rise in the number of dams built over the last 30 years has also increased the number of inland water bodies. Using the satellite data, the team were able to identify previously unreported constructions in Myanmar and North Korea.
The Aral Sea, which lies between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, has seen the the greatest conversion of water into land. Formerly one of the four largest lakes in the world, the Aral Sea has been steadily shrinking since the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects.
There have also been striking changes along our coastlines. The largest coastal water to land change is the construction of Palm Island and adjacent islands along the coast of Dubai. Many countries have shaped and extended their coastlines by land reclamation, including almost the entire coastline of eastern China from the Yellow Sea all the way down to Hong Kong.
Big data at everyone’s fingertips
Universally-available analytics for big satellite data may have major implications for monitoring capacity. At the very local scale, members of the general public can now make assessments without expert assistance if their houses are threatened by coastal erosion. At the regional scale, countries can monitor their water body changes and assess flooding impacts and strategy for disaster risk reduction.
Jaap Kwadijk, the Deltares scientific director: “This has never been done before. So it is difficult to imagine all the new applications that will be made using this tool. But the tool can be used by everybody and so I am sure multiple applications will emerge in the next few years”.
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