Stoves, design and DRR

After meeting the inspiring Renee Durocher, founder and president of Eko Ayiti that makes functional biofuel stoves in Haiti, I realized the power of smart design and food security.  Glad to see this story in the New York Times about flexible stove design.  The stove in this story, the BioLite is pure genius- not only does it cook food using wood, but it also has a built-in charger for mobile phones, critical devices with emerging tools like mobile banking microfinance.

The genius of Eko Ayiti’s stoves is that they can burn anything from bagasse (the waste fibrous material from sugar production) to the ubiquitous garbage that seems to be enveloping parts of the world.  Not only does this stove allow rural people to cook their food, but because of its fuel’s versatility, saves on the use of charcoal, which has contributed to Haiti’s devastating deforestation.  Furthermore, Mr. Durocher designed the grate that holds the pots to work with the existing tools that most families have in the rural parts of the country.

Curiously, I met the Eko Ayiti team as they were unsuccessfully trying to lobby the UNEP to support their project.


“Asian tsunami alert system passes major test”

No, it did not.

A very strange, M=8.6 earthquake struck in the Indian Ocean on 11 April 2012.  It was the largest earthquake ever to be recorded on a transform fault.

Which is telling.  A transform fault is different from a normal or reverse fault in that it has minimal vertical displacement.  Therefore it is more difficult- but not impossible- to generate a large tsunami.

An article circulated from the great website quotes Reuters stating that a warning was issued by the Indonesian government at 3:38 PM local time.  Not only did people in Banda Aceh never receive the warning, but considering that the earthquake occurred one hour earlier at 2:38 local time (according to the USGS), had it actually generated a tsunami, the warning would have reached the affected areas long after the initial tsunami impact.

This does not constitute passing.

The Tsunami Project has stated in the past what the people of Banda Aceh apparently already know- If you live in a coastal area near a subduction zone and you feel a BIG earthquake, go inland quickly.  Do not wait for an official warning.



Richard Lindzen is Fat

And he smokes.  Story has it that he doesn’t care for seatbelts either….

This was the critique of a colleague of mine, stating that because he has a high-risk tolerance, we should not give credence to his work.

But, does that mean that this MIT atmospheric scientist who discovered that chemicals in the atmosphere are responsible for the ozone hole is wrong?

A recent story suggests that this storied “climate skeptic” is doing the service to the climate dissenters by saying the clouds will act as an “iris” as the planet heats up- as more water evaporates from the tropics, billowy, low-level clouds will reflect radiation back into space, cooling the planet.  In fact, many atmospheric scientists disagree with Lindzen’s assertions.

What the Tsunami Project takes issue with is not that climate change is somehow not ‘real’ (one would have to be willfully ignorant to think that there is such a thing as climate stability), but rather how climate change poses risks and to whom.

For example, the following statement from the NY Times piece is problematic:

“…polls say 97 percent of working climate scientists now see global warming as a serious risk.”

Global warming may contribute to the risks faced by some, but cannot be a risk in itself.  Risk, when viewed as the interaction of a hazard with something that can be hurt, will not be equal across the board.  In the US, we have a climate that supports a wide range of economic activity, from farming to skiing, and we have adapted our behaviors, residences, lifestyles… heck, everything to take advantage of this.

Now, these things will change.  Growing seasons may be longer or shorter depending on temperatures or the timing of rainfall events.  If this past ski season is a harbinger of things to come, entire states will have to rethink their long-term economic development strategies.  And how will nations that stand to benefit from the new climate?  The climate that we in the US have evolved with over the last 300 years has been very good for our economic well being, and now that environmental paradigm is being threatened.  The recent climate has not been so kind in the marginal agricultural regions of sub-Saharan Africa where the combination of drought and political instability has resulted in famine.  Will they have the capital available to shift their economies to take advantage of, say, increased rainfall that could help crops grow in these marginal lands?

I saw Richard Lindzen speak several years ago.  We had a long talk about rates of atmospheric vs. oceanic circulation, and how latent heat of evaporations affect the distribution of heat around the planet, and how the Global Climate Models deal with those variables.  I cannot recall if he claimed he was an unabashed climate skeptic or not.  I know that the climate is changing because the idea of a stable climate is preposterous, and while I am pretty sure that burning vast quantities of carbon that has been stored in underground reservoirs for millions of years is making the climate not only warmer, but also more unpredictable and possibly violent, I am not sure that I understand how the predictions made by Global Climate Models spell doom and gloom for the planet as a whole, especially when “variables” like clouds have not been accounted for.

Does that make me a climate skeptic?

I sure hope so.  Because a scientist without skepticism is no longer a scientist.


1.2 m of Hail in Texas

How much extreme weather will it take to convince people that out climate is changing? The Tsunami Project contends that you have to be willfully ignorant to deny climate change- there is no such thing as a static climate.  The question is, How will we prepare for the inevitable extremes that will come?  And more importantly, How will those people who lack the resources to prepare handle the inevitable?

Here are some amazing pictures from the Christian Science Monitor that shows some extremely bad weather from this year alone.


Earthquake/Tsunami in Aceh, Sumatra

This is a very strange event.

This morning, a very large, M=8.6 earthquake struck over 100 km SW of the Sunda Arc subduction zone.  This intraplate event (one that did not occur on a plate boundary) was unusual because 1) we don’t tend to expect earthquakes of this magnitude to occur on transform faults in the middle of the ocean (they usually occur at subduction zone), and 2) because there is very little vertical movement of the seafloor, they do not tend to produce tsunami.

This earthquake has apparently produced a moderate tsunami.  One report form states that a 6 m wave hit Simeulue Island ( 2°40’06.77″ N  95°54’38.23″ E), however that may have been a misinterpretation of statements made by Prih Harjadi of Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics (BMKG) who stated the models predicted up to 6 m on Aceh’s west coast.

A recent report states that there was only a 10 cm wave reported in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Hopefully there has not been too much damage in Aceh.  Asalaam Alaikum and Good Luck.


Revised Japanese Tsunami Hazard

The Japanese have wisely revisited their tsunami hazard estimations for Shikoku Island.

There is a lot of work remaining to determine the maximum earthquake magnitude the Nankai Trough is capable of producing, but in the wake of last year’s devastating M=9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake and tsunami that was grossly underestimated, this was a necessary reassessment.  The panel assembled knows their stuff, and far from being sensationalistic, the amount of assets exposed on this coastline are deserving of more conservative assessments.

We are presently working on a project looking into submarine landslides as indicators of past seismic activity.  While the margin offshore Shikoku has very few landslides that are large enough to generate a damaging tsunami, it is possible that large earthquakes could have generated smaller landslides, and the deposits from these landslides could be used to date the frequency and possibly magnitude of past earthquakes.

Traditional seismology must be paired with paleotsunami work as well as the submarine geomorphology described above to constrain the hazard.  When it comes to an earthquake and tsunami that could affect a highly exposed coastline such as this, as many lines of evidence as possible must be marshaled to constrain it’s potential for destruction.


Disaster Robots

In the wake of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident that followed last year’s Japanese tsunami, the US Defense Advanced Research Planning Agency (DARPA) is hosting a competition to create robots to go into disaster situations that aren’t safe for humans.

I cannot help but wonder- How many people have died worldwide due to all things nuclear, accidents or otherwise? Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima?  Nevada and Bikini Atoll?  Hiroshima and Nagasaki?


Boom Town

The strange happenings in Clintonville, Wisconsin certainly need a transdisciplinary approach to solving the mystery of the very large “BOOMS!” that people have been hearing at night.


Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Last night, I had the pleasure of watching a very moving movie about the 2011 Tohoku-Oki Tsunami in Japan- The Tsunami and The Cherry Blossom.

YouTube Preview Image

The video showing at Vassar College was sponsored by React to Film’s Campus Action Network with the aim of sparking dialog on campus around an important social issue.

While I am not entirely sure what the social issue was that students are meant to mobilize around after viewing this poignant film, it did spark a discussion about the responsibility of Science to inform the public of potential hazards.  We talked about how geologists did discover a precedent for a tsunami of this magnitude in the 869 Jogan tsunami, and that they did inform TEPCO of the potential of a tsunami that could overwhelm their impressive defenses.  What it came down to was a simple cost benefit analysis based on the comfort level of risk exposure of those in power to make decisions.

Remember, Port-au-Prince has been destroyed three times in its relatively short history, New Orleans has been hit by major hurricanes numerous times since its founding.  And it will happen again.  It could happen this year.

So, the question for discussion that I would like to pose is, “What are you/we/they going to do about it?”


Time to go?

When to abandon an exposed location is one of the issues that is of primary concern to anyone dealing with Disaster Risk Reduction.

Hurricane Katrina was paramount in highlighting an ‘at risk’ location that the traditional DRR measures would only end up making matters worse.  Building stronger and larger levees might offer better short-term protection, but the cost of maintenance of this infrastructure might be better spent on education or poverty reduction.  Furthermore, if and when these new and improved levees are overtopped, flooding will be worse in the floodplains (FLOODplains!) that were robbed of the regenerating sediment that is necessary for their survival.

So, Harrisburg, Illinois has had a hard time of it.  Floods, ice storms and now tornadoes.

Why stay?

Maybe you don’t have a choice.  The economy hasn’t done any good in Harrisburg for years, and people may just not have the resources to just pick up and leave.

And maybe you don’t want to.  Home means different things to different people.  We make cost-benefit analyses every day based on what data we have available.  Do I bring an umbrella to work today?  Should I repair the roof or send my kids to college?  Or, as a friend once told me, do I go to the hospital because I fear I have an infectious disease and risk getting deported?

These questions must be answered with knowledge of the best information available.  It is our job as scientists to get this information out in a timely and accessible way to as many people as possible.  And no, this doesn’t mean a Science or Nature paper.