Stories tagged natural disasters

Aug
08
2010

Russian wheat withers and burns

Plenty of wheat (Moscow)
Plenty of wheat (Moscow)Courtesy Chris
Fires and drought has destroyed so much of the wheat in Russia, that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin issued a ban on wheat exports for the rest of this year. Last year Russia exported more 17.5 million metric tons of wheat.

Surplus wheat in India is rotting

Pounding monsoon rains threaten to rot 17.8 million metric tons of wheat in India that are stored under tarps outdoors. Why they don't sell it at today's high prices or give it to the starving poor is supposedly explained in this quote:

Exporting the grain would be politically explosive because food inflation has been in the double digits for months. The government buying less wheat from farmers in a country where over half the population makes its living off the land is equally untenable. Selling more at subsidized prices to the poor is off the table because it would add to a swelling fiscal deficit. Associated Press

Wheat speculation will lead to higher food costs and starvation

The United States is having a bumper yield this year and global wheat stockpiles are high. So why have Chicago wheat prices nearly doubled since June?

We fear that excessive speculation on wheat by bankers has led to the price soaring. Speculators have bought unusually high numbers of wheat contracts in recent weeks." ABC News

Aug
08
2010

Here is a link to the BBC photo coverage of a devastating mud slide in China.

For videos, You Tube has a Chinese TV coverage of the Gansu, China landslide

In searching for links I discovered Dave's Landslide Blog by Dave Petley, who is the Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk in the Department of Geography at Durham University in the United Kingdom. Check it out if you want to learn something.

Aug
03
2010

Extreme heat, fires, and flooding

Weather hazard
Weather hazardCourtesy NOAA
In my previous post about our global warming trend you were told to expect more extreme rainfalls and record setting heat. Examples of each have recently made the news.

Globally, at least 14 different countries have reported all-time record high temperatures this year. AOL News

  • Moscow, Russia 102° F
  • Maryland and Virginia 105° F
  • Finland 99° F
  • Saudi Arabia &Iraq 125.6° F
  • Pakistan 128.3° F

Russia declares fires "a natural disaster"

"President Dmitry Medvedev called the fires "a natural disaster" Discovery News

Hundreds of thousands of firefighters, including army troops battled forest fires raging across central Russia in a heat wave that has killed more than 30 people.

Devastating floods in China and Pakistan

Over a thousan people have died or are missing in central and southern China in the country's worst floods in more than a decade. The huge Three Gorges Dam, designed to withstand a 10,000 year flood, was within 20m of overflowing.

Over a million people are effected by the flooding in Pakistan. In Swat alone, the floods have destroyed more than 14,600 houses and 22 schools.

Jun
28
2010

Tropical Storm Alex, which formed over the northwestern Caribbean Sea out of a westward-moving tropical wave on Friday and Saturday (June 26 and27), emerged overnight into the Bay of Campeche from the Yucatan Peninsula. Since emerging from that landmass as a tropical depression (signifying sustained winds weaker than 35 knots), it has strengthened back to Tropical Storm status. Current forecasts place it as a hurricane — possibly major — near the northern Mexico Gulf Coast later this week.

It's Friday, so it's time for a new Science Friday video. Science Friday
Science Friday
Courtesy Science Friday
"Lightning is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of the atmospheric sciences, researchers say. Scientists at the International Center for Lightning Research and Testing in Florida are inducing lightning to strike so they can understand it better. Though summer doesn't begin officially for a few weeks, one of the signature marks of summer may already be in the air near you -- the evening thunderstorm. Thousands of lightning strikes occur on the planet every minute, but the summer heat and humidity help to ramp up the number of lightning-producing thunderstorms. We'll talk about the science of lightning."
Learn more.

Eyjafjallajökull isn't the only volcano to rock our modern world. Thirty years ago today Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington State, making it one of the most spectacular and devastating volcanoes in the history of the United States. For those of us who were not alive or old enough to remember the event, here is a haunting description of the explosion from Boston.com:

"On May 18th, 1980, thirty years ago today, at 8:32 a.m., the ground shook beneath Mount St. Helens in Washington state as a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck, setting off one of the largest landslides in recorded history - the entire north slope of the volcano slid away. As the land moved, it exposed the superheated core of the volcano setting off gigantic explosions and eruptions of steam, ash and rock debris. The blast was heard hundreds of miles away, the pressure wave flattened entire forests, the heat melted glaciers and set off destructive mudflows, and 57 people lost their lives. The erupting ash column shot up 80,000 feet into the atmosphere for over 10 hours, depositing ash across Eastern Washington and 10 other states."

And for everyone, here are some fabulous Boston.com photos to commemorate the event.

Cumulonimbus Cloud Over Africa: High above the African continent, tall, dense cumulonimbus clouds, meaning "column rain"; in Latin, are the result of atmospheric instability.
Cumulonimbus Cloud Over Africa: High above the African continent, tall, dense cumulonimbus clouds, meaning "column rain"; in Latin, are the result of atmospheric instability.Courtesy NASA
Got this image from NASA's "image of the day" feature yesterday. Its beautiful, awe-inspiring. And also, a bit scary that these are the kinds of clouds associated with lightning, high wind speeds and tornadoes - things that can be fun (I love a good harmless thunderstorm) and also devastating. Learn more about cumulonimbus clouds here.

Apr
20
2010

Physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said,

"If you're scientifically literate, the world looks very different to you. And that understanding empowers you."

(You can hear Mr. Tyson "sing" this line in the Symphony of Science/Poetry of Reality video below.)

Earthquake: Are you going to listen to the guy who tells you this happened because of a ghost? A pact with the Devil? Because God is angry with unveiled and unchaste women? No, thanks. My money's on the well-understood science of plate tectonics, and I'll be looking to the science peeps for the solutions, too.
Earthquake: Are you going to listen to the guy who tells you this happened because of a ghost? A pact with the Devil? Because God is angry with unveiled and unchaste women? No, thanks. My money's on the well-understood science of plate tectonics, and I'll be looking to the science peeps for the solutions, too.Courtesy United Nations Development Programme

I've been thinking about that idea a lot today after hearing two stories:

  1. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, Protestants, Catholics, and practitioners of Voodoo are trying to increase followers by placing blame for the quake on supernatural causes. Some blame it on Voodoo, claiming that the earthquake is the price for a centuries old covenant made on the eve of the Haitian revolution. Others say Voodoo isn't at fault, but the consequence of not properly burying Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a hero of the Haitian revolution. (And you don't have to be living in Haiti to believe some of this stuff -- just listen to Pat Robertson).
  2. And in Iran, one of the most earthquake-prone places on Earth, Senior Cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was recently quoted saying, "Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes. ... What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? ... There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes."

Huh?

The cause of the Haitian earthquake is clear--100% explainable without having to invoke pacts with the Devil or martyr's ghosts. Same in Iran -- geologic activity in the area will continue whether or not women are veiled and chaste.

The solution is not "to take refuge in religion." The wrangling over unverifiable, supernatural causes for things diverts very needed resources and attention from real world solutions to very urgent problems.

The solution is to take refuge in science. Michael Shermer (yup, he "sings") says,

"Science is the best tool ever devised for understanding how the world works."

The Earth hasn't changed. People have. We're seeing quake activity with big consequences because there are more of us than ever before, many, many of us live in developing countries where large populations live in dense communities with lax building codes, and communications technology means that we know what has happened, not because we're paying a geological price for not living our lives correctly.

So what do we do? We innovate. We devise new and better monitoring and warning systems. We develop building techniques that are both locally appropriate and safer in the event of a quake. We teach people how to protect themselves in an emergency and how to react afterwards.

Richard Dawkins (my current nerd crush; you can watch him "sing" in the video, too.) said,

"Science replaces private prejudice with publicly verifiable evidence."

How can you not get behind an idea like that?