Soil moisture may help predict power outages in hurricanes

Power outages, most often caused by trees and branches falling on electric lines and transformers, are one of the most debilitating aspects of hurricanes, knocking out power to large numbers of people and businesses. In a new effort to improve modeling of where and when power outages caused by falling trees will occur during hurricanes, researchers are making use of frequent measurements of soil moisture provided by NASA’s SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive) mission, which began collecting data in spring 2015. 

08 Mar 2017

Kaikoura quake jumped from fault to fault in New Zealand

A magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck New Zealand’s South Island at about midnight on Nov. 14, 2016, causing two fatalities, triggering a tsunami and multiple landslides, and destroying infrastructure across the region. Known as the Kaikoura earthquake, it is the largest quake to hit New Zealand since 2009, and it appears that the rupture jumped from one fault to another multiple times as it propagated. The event is still being investigated, but at the time EARTH went to press, at least 10 faults are reportedly thought to have been involved.

06 Mar 2017

Chinese air pollution clears up mystery of London's 1952 hazardous haze

In December 1952, a fatal fog crept through London for almost five days, smothering the city in a yellow haze that reeked of rotten eggs. The “Great Smog,” as it was called, caused up to 12,000 deaths and left more than 150,000 people hospitalized in the worst air pollution event in European history. The calamity sparked the British Parliament to pass the Clean Air Act in 1956, but the exact chemical processes that caused the event have remained a mystery, until now.

03 Mar 2017

Assessing how well earthquake hazard maps work: Insights from weather and baseball

Seismologists can gain insights about how well earthquake hazard maps work and how to improve them from other forecasting applications, like weather forecasting and baseball statistics. 

28 Feb 2017

Comment: Atmospheric rivers increase water supply in California — but only to a point

Atmospheric rivers can cause floods; their absence can cause droughts. How can water managers adapt to capture and store floodwaters brought by these enormous storms for later use?

10 Feb 2017

Burning grass releases more nitrogen pollution than burning wood

Smoke from fires — whether from wildfires or from residential and agricultural grass and crop burning — carries pollutants into the air that affect climate and can be toxic to humans and ecosystems. According to new research, smoke from crop and grass fires appears to contain higher levels of some hazardous nitrogen-containing chemicals than wood fire smoke. The work also calls into question whether certain chemicals commonly used as distinctive signatures of biomass burning are still valid.

06 Feb 2017

Temblor: An app that brings home your seismic hazard

The public has a serious thirst for seismic knowledge. But the language that matters to homeowners is dollars and safety. Temblor was founded with the goal of making seismic resilience personal and the language accessible.
30 Jan 2017

Initial earthquake behavior does not predict outcome

Can seismologists tell from the first few seconds of recorded seismic data how big an earthquake is going to be, or does it take longer and require data that come in after a quake rupture has progressed along the fault? The answer to this question underpins the usefulness of earthquake early warning systems and has perplexed scientists for decades. In a new study, researchers looking at near-source seismic recordings from shallow crustal earthquakes have found that, within the first few seconds of rupture, large and small earthquakes appear indistinguishable from one another, hinting that initial rupture behavior may be universal among variously sized events.

26 Jan 2017

Road salt may be a larger problem for lakes than thought

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that approximately 30 million tons of road salt were applied to U.S. roads during 2015 to speed up the melting of snow and ice. Recently, scientists have observed increasing impacts on ecosystems and water quality linked to its application. New research, for example, finds that road salt influx is geochemically disrupting the ecosystem health of urban lakes in Michigan, and it may even lead to rising methane emissions from the lakes.

19 Jan 2017

Scientists map U.S. geoelectric hazards

During solar storms, electrons and protons collide with Earth’s atmosphere, disrupting the geomagnetic field and sometimes creating the flashing waves of colorful light in the night sky we know as auroras. But these same storms — if strong enough — have the potential to severely damage power grids.

19 Jan 2017