NH
Natural Hazards

Natural Hazards

Our first Interview is ready!

Our first Interview is ready!

Today we are happy to post our first interview and to thank our first interviewee, Paola Crippa for her contribution. The topic focuses on mortality from high concentration of particulate matter generated from widespread wildfires. This topic wants to be just the starting point to address another and broader theme: dealing with lack-of-data for research purposes in developing countries.

This will be inspired by one of the most recent researches published by Paola: “Population exposure to hazardous air quality due to the 2015 fires in Equatorial Asia” http://www.nature.com/articles/srep37074

Interview

1. Which problem did you address in your research?

Vegetation and peatland fires occur frequently across Equatorial Asia, as they are used to manage the land, clear vegetation and to prepare and maintain land for agriculture. Wildfires emit pollutants that can cause poor regional air quality and are extremely harmful to human health. As a result, each year thousands of premature deaths occur across Equatorial Asia. In fall 2015, these fires burned out of control in Indonesia as a result of the extremely dry landscape caused by strong El Nino conditions. In our study, we use a state-of-the-art air quality model (the Weather Research and Forecasting model with Chemistry, WRF-Chem) at high spatial-temporal resolution to quantify the impact of these fires on air quality and human health. We found that 69 million people were persistently exposed to unhealthy air quality conditions caused by fire emissions and that this pollution may have caused 11,880 (6,153–17,270) excess mortalities. Our results emphasize the need of a coordinated effort between scientists and policymakers to assess the impact of land use changes and human-driven deforestation on fire frequency, to possibly mitigate the impacts of these hazardous events on human lives.

2. Do mortality estimates from simulations actually agree with the corresponding real data?

We evaluated our model simulations relative to both ground- and satellite-based observations of aerosol properties and we are confident that our simulated results provide a realistic representation of the 2015 wildfires, and hence can be used to infer the impact on air quality and human health. We integrated our hourly maps of pollutant concentrations with population density data and estimated the number of people persistently exposed to unhealthy and hazardous air quality conditions during fall 2015 with respect to World Health Organization and Pollutant Standards Index guidelines. While these metrics gave us confidence in our assessment of population exposure, it was unfortunately not possible to validate our mortality estimates since no local hospitalization data were available for the period of interest.

3. No real data were available? This is certainly a strong limitation for the research community but also for those that deal with risk management. What is your position in this regard?

In order to estimate the number of premature deaths occurred as a result of exposure to degraded air quality conditions, epidemiological evidence to link pollutant concentrations and hospitalizations and mortality data are needed. Unfortunately, in Equatorial Asia, as well as in most developing countries, these cohort studies have never been performed, or at least those data are not available to scientists. In our work, we used exposure-response functions developed from studies conducted in Europe and United States where pollutant concentrations are much lower than those registered during the events we studied. Therefore, our mortality estimates are likely conservative. This is indeed a big limitation not only for scientists but also for policymakers when trying to reduce the negative impacts of natural hazards since no robust evidence of the magnitude of those events is available. If local governments would be able to collect, organize and release these data, this would allow scientists to better serve the community by providing better mitigation strategies.

4. Do other countries invest more in data collection allowing for a better coupling between simulations and ground-truth data?

In Europe and United States, epidemiological studies linking exposure to mortality and, most importantly, hospitalization data are easier to access. While still not as easily accessible as most publicly funded satellite and climate model repositories, we hope that Western governments would implement a standardized national or international database that can be used to produce considerably more reliable exposure maps. This would allow a better assessment of mortality in polluted areas such as London, but the level of exposure in less developed countries is on a different level of magnitude, with millions of human lives at risk, including children and elderly citizens. Since any extrapolation of Western data in these areas is problematic, the international community must invest in the development of local studies and data collection.

5. Do you think that simulations like yours can be useful not only in a post-disaster phase but as a risk prevention tool? 

One of the great advantages of using numerical models such as WRF-Chem is that they can be also used in forecasting mode, meaning that they can be used to predict where and how fast pollution would be transported from emission sources and consequently provide information for reducing population exposure. They can be also used to make projections as a function of emission scenarios. This is particularly important in regions subject to rapid land use change and human-driven deforestation, such as Equatorial Asia or South America. An example of successful integration of numerical model forecasts with mitigation strategies can be found in Santiago de Chile, where the government declares alert days based on numerical weather model forecasts of unhealthy pollution. This is the result of a close and constructive collaboration between scientists and policymakers.

 

Doing and wandering of NhET at the EGU’s General Assembly

We used this poster to catch the attention of young scientists, interact with them and understand if they were interested in joining the network. More than 20 researchers left their contact details and were willing to actively join the Team. Credit: Valeria Cigala.

If you were wondering what a group of young scientists such as NhET does in its free time, this is the right post for you to read!

In between doing exciting fieldwork on an active volcano, writing an inspiring paper on landslide monitoring and applying that complicated algorithm for the analysis of earthquake return times: we organize events at the EGU’s General Assembly (GA) targeting Early Career Scientists’ (ECSs) interests. Can you believe it? Since the deadline for sending an abstract for the 2018 GA is getting closer (January 10), why not telling you a bit of what we did during EGU’s 2017 GA and try to make you believe.

It was an exciting time at the 2017 GA for NhET, as we presented the team for the first time. We did it with a poster, of which you can see a photo at the beginning of this post, presented during the NhET-organized session Methods and Tools for Risk Management and Communications – Innovative ways of delivering information to end users and sharing data among the scientific community (IE4.3/NH9.12), which, by the way, we are re-proposing for EGU 2018! The poster session really helped us outlining our vision for creating NhET and getting in contact with more than twenty young scientists from all over Europe interested to collaborate and create a larger and more interdisciplinary network. Since the Natural Hazard (NH) division can relate almost every geoscience discipline, the more diverse the network is the best we can target specific needs of young scientists working with NH and this definitely wants to be our main goal.

Since we enjoyed organizing the session, we have decided to propose also another session for the coming EGU’s GA on Natural hazards and climate impacts in forest areas. We invite you to submit an abstract for both NhET-organized sessions!

Audience attending the proposed ‘Serious Games’ short course. Credit: Valeria Cigala.

In addition to the session, we organized three very different short courses, engaging with a large audience of ECSs and gathering positive feedback. One of the courses was Open-source software for simulating hillslope hydrology and stability. Here, we showed the audience a practical demonstration of an open source software for landslide simulations.

The second course was Serious games for Natural Hazards: understand the different roles in natural hazard prevention through a simple exercise. In this case, we aimed at highlighting why communication among the different society components, e.g. scientists, stakeholders, general public, is important and how the different components can help to break down barriers and thus, increase natural hazard resilience.

Last but not least, we co-organized a third short course with the Earth and Space Science Informatics (ESSI) Division. The course was Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology for monitoring natural hazardous areas and addressed the use of UAVs in different fields of research: from volcanic to hydrology related hazards. The workshop also discussed the risks and regulations connected with the use of this technology in the field.

The EGU’s GA can be a great opportunity for networking as well as organizing a course or a session on a topic you are interested to, but it is not accessible to you otherwise. With this idea in mind, we organized those events and we are looking forward to organize many more. If you are reading this, have an idea or a specific interest and would like to see it at a next GA: leave a comment or get in touch with us, also through our google forum, we can work together to make it real!

Happy Holidays from NhET

 

The risk of a Natural Hazard blog is now real, be prepared!

The risk of a Natural Hazard blog is now real, be prepared!

Hello and welcome to the blog of the Natural Hazards division! Starting from today we will try to enrich your readings every two weeks on Monday morning with a new blog post!

Our division encompasses and intersects various topics in geoscience. For this reason, we will aim to diversify the content from post to post, each time focusing on a different aspect of the complex natural hazard world.

We have structured our blog to feature either the Interview of the month or the Paper of the month. The former will give you the chance to dive into the perspectives of both young and established scientists regarding research activities and state of the art applications for managing/understanding natural hazards. The latter will be a review of important articles that have significantly contributed to the hazard science. Due to the wide breath of the division, we will balance the posts to keep the scientific content and make it clear to a wide readership.

Updates regarding natural hazard activities for ECSs (technical trainings, courses, summer schools and much more) will also be posted on a regular basis giving you the chance to stay up to date with our division.

Similarly, we aim at giving you the chance to check job offers and career opportunity though our page.

If you would like to receive a notification whenever we post something new, feel free to “Subscribe to blog” us by adding your email clicking on the right.

We belong to a huge division and being few we may overlook some topics of your interest. In such case, feel free to suggest any discussion alongside with any other suggestion you may have to improve our blog. If your interest goes even beyond, you are welcome to contribute with a blog post. In both cases, you can contact us at

  1. our email: nhecsteam@gmail.com
  2. our google group: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/nhet

 

Once again, welcome to our blog and we hope you enjoy readings!

The Natural Hazards Early Career Scientist Team (NhET).