Saturday, 14 May 2011

Newswatch: Geohazards

To end the week in which the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction took place in Geneva, here is a collection of interesting news stories from around the web relating to geohazards, disaster risk reduction and international development:

Research suggests that the risk of tsunamis in coastal towns close to strike-slip faults is higher than previously thought. A strike-slip fault (where two plates move alongside each other) does not generally cause vertical displacement (associated with the generation of tsunamis), however research suggests they can trigger submarine landslides leading to a higher tsunami risk. Cities this research could have implications for include Kingston (Jamaica), Istanbul (Turkey) and Port au Prince (Haiti).

Research suggests that the possibility of a large earthquake in the eastern Andes is much higher than previously thought. Hazard assessments had previously put the expected maximum magnitude at 7.5, but it is now previously thought to extend to M8.9. The implications of this are significant, as there are millions living in the region (especially the city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia) in poor infrastructure, with inadequate building standards in place.

Staying on the theme of South America, research revealed at the end of last year indicates that if temperatures rise by 1.5-2°C, parts of Peru and Bolivia will become almost desert like. Palaeoclimate research, analysing fossilised pollen within lake sediments, suggests that almost 85% of Lake Titicaca dried up in the past due to evaporation and higher temperatures. This palaeoclimate research gives us an important indication as to the effects of climate change, and how communities need to adapt to increase their resilience.

Reuters reports the results of research suggesting sea level rises could be much larger than previously expected… reaching 1.6m by 2100. This higher value is based on observations of quickening climate change in the Arctic and Greenland’s ice melting. The implications of this would include large scale flooding of low-lying and coastal areas. Developing nations such as Bangladesh and many Pacific islands would be particularly vulnerable, in addition to more developed countries such as China and the UK. To see the implications of sea-level rise around the world, check out this clever map made using Google Earth and NASA data. This is set to a conservative 1m sea-level rise, but you can also adjust this to 2, 3, 4m etc.

Finally, the BBC reports that the UK has taken over the Chair of the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters for the next six months. This organisation is responsible for taking satellite images when there is a natural disaster. These satellite maps can be vital to planning emergency response, giving a clear indication of the level of damage, possible evacuation/emergency supply routes etc. The Charter has been used 12 times already in 2011, providing photos for the Japan earthquake and tsunami, as well as a range of other disasters.