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hazards

Longmenshan fault zone in the spotlight after two major quakes in five years

In May 2008, a magnitude-7.9 earthquake struck near Wenchuan, China, killing more than 80,000 people in the country’s biggest quake since 1950. Then, in April 2013, the magnitude-6.6 Lushan earthquake hit just 90 kilometers to the south — also within China’s Longmenshan Fault Zone, which separates the Tibetan Plateau to the west from the Sichuan Basin to the east — and caused another 200 deaths. Now, scientists have found that a roughly 60-kilometer segment of the fault zone between the epicenters of the two big temblors could be the next to rupture, although no one knows when or how big it might be.

05 Jun 2014

Lessons from the Russian meteor burst

Scientists can thank the high motor vehicle accident rate in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk for providing the most stunning videos ever recorded of a meteor burst. Because of the many traffic accidents in that city, dashboard cameras abound, constantly recording everything in front of a car — the road, other vehicles, pedestrians, and, incidentally, the sky.

At about 9:20 a.m. on Feb. 15, 2013, many of those cameras recorded the explosion of a large meteor 23 kilometers above the city. As was widely reported at the time, the air blast shattered windows, and meteorite fragments rained down in and around Chelyabinsk, causing damage to some 7,000 buildings and sending about 1,600 people to hospitals. Although no one was killed, it marks “the first ever asteroid impact disaster in human history,” according to Clark R. Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Planetary Science Directorate in Boulder, Colo., who presented research on the event at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San, Francisco, Calif., last December.

18 May 2014

Comment: The Oso landslide shows need for insurance and better planning

The deadly landslide that struck near Oso, Wash., in March killed more than 40 people and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage, most of which was not covered by insurance. The landslide was not a surprise to geologists. Could this disaster have been prevented — or can future disasters be prevented?

06 May 2014

Faking quakes at full scale: Giant shake tables simulate earthquakes to make buildings safer

At a few select facilites around the world, engineers are able to shake full-size buildings to learn how to make them safer during earthquakes. Take a look at the massive shake tables that make it possible.

23 Apr 2014

Resolving a misplaced source of volcanism in the Galapagos

Geological models have long suggested the mantle plume that built the Galápagos islands lies below Fernandina Island. Using a novel combination of seismic techniques, however, scientists have found a mantle anomaly that appears to be the Galápagos plume located 150 kilometers southeast of Fernandina Island. The new findings better explain the ongoing volcanic activity and also shed light on interactions between the mantle and crust, researchers say.

07 Apr 2014

Volcanic lightning generated in a bottle

Scientists know very little about how lightning is generated by volcanic eruptions, in large part because of the danger and difficulty in monitoring the phenomenon in the field. But a new apparatus for generating volcanic lightning in the lab may shed light on the subject.

06 Apr 2014

Social sciences improve tornado warnings

In 2013, 55 people in seven states were killed by tornadoes. Now, scientists behind a new report analyzing the effectiveness of tornado-warning processes are hoping to help reduce tornado fatalities in the 2014 storm season by combining the latest storm-tracking technology with a better understanding of how communities and people respond to tornado warnings.

03 Apr 2014

Massive earthquake strikes Chile

A massive magnitude-8.2 earthquake struck off the coast of Chile about 95 kilometers north of Iquique on Tuesday night at 6:46 p.m. local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Because the quake occurred underwater along a thrust fault in the subduction zone, a tsunami warning was issued for several cities along the Chilean coast and around the Pacific Basin. A 2.1-meter wave was reported in some Chilean cities. Preliminary reports indicate several deaths and some damage; power is out in many areas and landslides have also been recorded, according to news reports. So far, widespread destruction — which could easily accompany such a large quake — has thankfully not been reported.  The quake followed weeks of increased seismic activity, including dozens of earthquakes up to magnitude-6.7 that have struck since March 16. It is now clear these were foreshocks. 

01 Apr 2014

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

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