HAZARDS

hazards

Seattle's landslide risk greater than thought

Landslides have been part of Seattle’s history “from a time to which the memory of man runneth not back,” wrote famed city engineer Reginald Thomson in 1897. A new study shows that landslides will also play a central role long into the future. They will be “extensive and potentially devastating, causing direct losses and impeding recovery,” reported a team in Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

17 Mar 2014

Sudden gas eruption shakes the ground near Rome's airport

On Aug. 24, 2013, visitors arriving at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, located in the Fiumicino municipality, flew over a surprising hazard: a gas emission that suddenly exploded from the ground a few meters outside the airport compound. The expulsion, referred to as the Fiumicino Gas Vent (FGV), occurred about 15 kilometers southwest of Rome and was first noticed by passing motorists. Shortly after the explosion, scientists sought  to determine the gas’ makeup and whether it posed a continuing danger.

03 Mar 2014

GPS measurements of ground inflation help forecast ash plumes

When Grimsvötn Volcano in Iceland erupted in May 2011, northern European airspace was closed for seven days and about 900 passenger flights were canceled. Scientists were charged with trying to read the volcano — to tell how high the ash plume would go and to figure out how long the violent eruption would last. Such features are hard to predict, but in a novel study, one research team has found a correlation between the height and composition of the Grimsvötn ash plume and ground deformation before and during the eruption. The findings, the team says, could improve volcanic plume dispersion models, which in turn could help air traffic managers determine when and where it’s safe to fly when volcanoes like Grimsvötn and Eyjafjallajökull suddenly erupt.

20 Feb 2014

Benchmarks: February 23 – 24, 1999: Alpine Avalanches sweep through Austrian towns, killing dozens

For skiers, snowboarders and other high-elevation winter adventurers, avalanches pose an ever-present, if difficult-to-anticipate, risk. But tourists and townspeople at the lower elevations and on the flatter terrain of mountain valleys are usually far from such threats. For the tiny Austrian towns of Galtür and Valzur — popular winter destinations for their ski trails and chalets — that was not the case in late February 1999.
 
03 Feb 2014

Hazards abroad: Sent home

On May 19, 2012, seismologist Roger Bilham of the University of Colorado at Boulder landed at the airport in Delhi, India, on his way to Bhutan. He debarked from the plane and was met by Indian customs officials, who declared he was on the “blacklist” and not allowed entry to India, despite having a valid visa. Two hours later, he was on a plane heading back to the U.S.

15 Dec 2013

Be prepared: Navigating the risks of hazards research

Just over a year ago, in a cavernous room of the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, Calif., hundreds of geophysicists, seismologists, volcanologists and climate scientists, as well as a few journalists and a lawyer or two, sat transfixed as a panel discussed the manslaughter conviction of six scientists and a public official in Italy a few months earlier.

11 Dec 2013

Benchmarks: May 12, 2008: Earthquake devastates western China

Just before 2:30 p.m. local time on May 12, 2008, a magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Sichuan province in Western China. One eyewitness recalls seeing a mountain “blowing up” and boulders two-stories tall crashing into gorges. Another recalls thinking there had been a natural gas explosion, while a third described a hill split in half. It was the country’s largest earthquake in more than 50 years, and it left 18,000 people missing and presumed dead, nearly 375,000 injured and more than 69,000 confirmed fatalities. 
 
12 May 2013

Benchamrks: December 4, 1992: The Seattle Fault Zone is described

Since the early 1900s, scientists, boaters and residents have known that a ghostly, submerged forest of dead trees lurked just below the surface of Lake Washington, on Seattle’s eastern edge. The trees were mostly too deep to bother anyone until the Lake Washington Ship Canal opened in 1916, connecting the lake and Puget Sound and dropping the level of the lake three meters. Then the dead trees — many of which were still upright — became hazardous to boaters. In response, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blasted and chained down 186 trees in one submerged forest. Forty years later, when a diver visited a different underwater forest in 28 meters of water, he found himself in a dense grove of dead trees — predominately Douglas fir — the largest of which had a circumference of 9 meters. 
 
04 Dec 2012

Benchmarks: November 29, 1991: The Interstate 5 dust storm injures hundreds

It was about 2:30 p.m. on the day after Thanksgiving and traffic was heavy on Interstate 5, which connects Northern and Southern California. A 31-year-old substitute teacher was traveling southbound on I-5 with her husband, 32, and their two sons, ages 4 and 1. They were a little north of Coalinga, a farming town in the San Joaquin Valley about 250 kilometers south of San Francisco. 
 
01 Nov 2012

Down to Earth With: Volcanologist John Eichelberger

The 2010 eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull showed that volcanic hazards are blind to international borders. After the eruption ended and air traffic returned to normal, discussion among the public of “ash” and “jet turbine blades” cooled. Not so for volcanologist John Eichelberger, who, as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Volcano Hazards Program Coordinator, deals with volcanic hazards daily, while working to improve monitoring of the United States’ many dangerous volcanoes and to internationalize research and risk reduction

13 Aug 2012

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