Multi-hazard warning system tested


Flash flood
The system was used to forecast flash floods in California

An early warning system for earthquakes, tsunamis and floods is being trialled in the US.

Scientists are using GPS technology and other sensors to detect the impending threat of natural disasters.

The network is installed in Southern California and has already helped scientists to alert emergency services to the risk of flash floods.

Yehuda Bock from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography said: “This can help to mitigate threats to public safety.”

And added: “It means real-time information can be made available.”

Ground motion

The minutes and even seconds before a natural disaster strikes are crucial.

Early warning systems can help emergency services to prepare and respond more effectively and can provide vital information for the public.

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We can measure displacements that occur during an earthquake”

Dr Yehuda Bock Scripps Institute of Oceanography

In California, researchers have been testing a prototype network for a range of hazards.

The system builds on existing networks of GPS stations, which use satellite technology to make very precise measurements of any ground movement.

On these, they have installed seismic sensors and other instruments that can track changes in weather conditions.

Dr Bock said: “By combining the data from the GPS with the data from these other sensors, we can measure displacements that occur during an earthquake or another event.”

He added that the system could detect the tremors that appear seconds before a large earthquake strikes, and accurately assess its magnitude and whether it is likely to generate a tsunami.

The GPS sensors and the meteorological instruments also help the team to monitor the water vapour in the air.

Dr Angelyn Moore, from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “It might be surprising that we are using GPS to monitor weather hazards, but GPS is a weather instrument.

“Fundamentally, a GPS station is measuring the time it takes a signal to travel from the GPS satellites to the receiving stations on the ground, and that travel time is modified by the amount of moisture in the air.

“Whenever we measure the position of a GPS station, we are also measuring the amount of water vapour above it.”

Through this, the team is able to track in real time how air moisture is changing and whether heavy rain is likely.

GPS Station
GPS stations like this one are fitted with small seismic and meteorological sensors

In the summer, the researchers used the system to forecast rainfall in San Diego.

Traditionally, some of this data comes from weather balloons.

“But there are only two sites at the southern border of California and these are about 150 miles apart. And the weather balloon launches are also infrequent: in San Diego it’s only every 12 hours,” said Dr Moore.

“In between those many hours between the weather balloon launches, we were able to use the GPS to monitor how the water vapour was changing.”

With this real-time information, the team was able to issue flash flood alerts.

Dr Moore added: “This was verified – there were quite a few reports of flooding.”

The sensing technology is being combined with communication advances to make sure the information is widely distributed, fast.

Dr Mark Jackson, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s National Weather Service, said: “When a forecaster presses that button to issue that warning, it then goes to the police or fire person that’s responsible for taking action to protect life and property almost instantaneously.

“We also have the public who now on their smartphones can receive warnings directly that say there is a warning in effect for your area.”

The team said the technology was inexpensive, and systems like it could be rolled out around the world.

The findings were presented at the recent American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

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California coastline hosts ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’


Tons of plastic have accumulated in an area between Hawaii and California, and the convergence of currents swirls the trash into what is now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Bottle caps, trash bags and broken plastic are now part of the diet of many birds and sea creatures around the world.

It’s very depressing, initially, to realize the extent of the problem,” said Captain Charles Moore, founder of Alagalita Marine Research Institute.

One of the largest concentrations of marine debris is in the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Hawaii and California. It’s called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Moore accidentally found the garbage patch in 1997 while sailing through a gyre, where ocean currents circulate and accumulate trash.

It’s a piece here, a piece there. It’s not a solid island. In general what we see is a soup of plastic. Not really an island of plastic,” said Moore.

Next year, Captain Moore is planning to spend a month at the Garbage Patch to research its effects on the food chain.

It is difficult to see the collection of trash from above because it’s made up of pieces of plastic the size of a finger nail. Researchers believe that there could be 2 million of these little pieces of plastic per square mile.

Millions of creatures are dying every year, tangled in plastic,” said Moore.

It’s not just the wildlife that is being fooled into eating this stuff and getting tangled in it, it’s we ourselves that are changing our biological being with these chemicals in this hyper-consumptive world that we live in,” Moore added.

Scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego have also been trying to figure out how the marine debris is changing the world. A Scripps study estimated that fish in the intermediate ocean depths of the North Pacific Ocean ingest plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tons per year.

Cleaning up the mess that’s already been made is likely impossible, but experts believe the problem could potentially be saved with a radical change in economic and social culture.

When you hear politicians talk about growth, you would think it’s one of the 10 Commandments,” said Moore.

Our very being is consumers of products. This defines us these days. The type of car we have, the type of shoes we wear. The type of hair gel we do. The band of clothing we have. This is how we get our identity,” Moore added.

Moore argues that consumption habits and our creature comforts have led to an earth shattering problem: where to put all of the trash we generate.

We have to really redefine ourselves as human beings, as something other than a consumer in order to beat this problem,” said Moore.

New shorelines created of trash are appearing in all oceans, and even in America’s Great Lakes.

As world economies continue to thrive on mass consumption, Captain Moore will continue to sail and study the plastic oceans.

Quiet Climate Milestones.


 “All we are not stares back at what we are.” —“The Sea and the MirrorW.H. Auden

Throughout my life, there have been poets and poems I’ve carried with me everywhere, like a briefcase that’s always packed and sitting by the front door. And while it might sound strange, I’ve found myself coming back to Auden in the past few weeks after two things happened in the climate world. First, it was the European Union effectively giving up on its emission trading scheme (ETS) for regulating carbon pollution. Then it was the news that atmospheric carbon levels had reached a new record concentration of 400 parts per million (ppm).

As global milestones go, this was a quiet one. Life went on much as it had when we stood at 399.9 ppm, and few will remember exactly where they were when they heard the news. What it means, though, is that the atmosphere now has more of the heat-trapping gases driving climate change than ever before, taking us further away from the 350 ppm level scientists agree we can safely handle. With the effective collapse of the ETS, our challenge in responding becomes even greater.

Which brings me back to Auden. I can’t help thinking about this line because I can’t help thinking these two events show that we’re simply not rising to meet our potential. When it comes climate change, we’re avoiding the tough decisions instead of stepping up to the challenge, pure and simple. Seeing us cross the 400 ppm threshold or reading another climate denier distort the facts in the papers, I know we are better than this. Because what we are not, as Auden would have it, is extraordinary.

As we celebrate Memorial Day, think back to the generations that came before us and the existential challenges they faced. The ones, for example, who came together selflessly to defeat Nazi tyranny, whether they were daily risking death on the front lines or working hard on the home front. They took on this challenge because there were people and places in their lives they loved deeply and utterly, and there was nothing they wouldn’t do to protect them. And in part because of that love, they won.

We don’t have to face bullets, but we do have to face reality and make real choices about climate change. Those of us who’ve been working in the movement for decades are used to being called merchants of doom and gloom (and sometimes much worse). These names miss the point entirely. What gets me out of bed isn’t dread, but love for the faces that appear in my picture frames and around my breakfast table. Given a choice between giving up my arms or something happening to my family or friends, I’d offer you my legs too. Just like any mother, I want my children to have the freedom to make the lives they want. I also want to be able to run in the mountains and savor a cup of Moka Java in the morning. I could go on and everyone will have their own list, but in every case, this means taking care of what we love on this exquisite planet.

This is the challenge of our time, the one that will define us to our grandchildren and beyond. The good news is that the solution starts with a simple step: putting a price on carbon. With a price on carbon, we curb the carbon pollution accelerating climate change and ultimately take care of what we love. It will not be easy, but it’s a challenge we can solve together. It’s past time to step up, to be worthy of the generations before us and faithful to the ones who’ll come after.

Source: Source: http://climaterealityproject.org