To celebrate the excellent display of science writing across the network and division blogs, we are launching the EGU Blogs competition.
We’ve asked our blog editors to put forth their favourite post of the year in the running to be crowned the best of the EGU blogs. From now until Monday 14th January, we invite you, the EGU Blogs readers, to vote for your favourite post of 2018. Take a look at the poll below with the shortlisted posts, click on the titles to read each post in full, and cast your vote for the one you think deserves the accolade of best post of 2018. The post with the most votes by will be crowned the winner of the public vote. EGU blog editors and staff will also choose their favourites; the post with the most votes from this group will be deemed the winner of the panel vote.
New in 2018
Not only have the blogs seen some great writing throughout the year, they’ve also continued to keep readers up to date with news and information relevant to each of our scientific divisions.
Are you a budding science writer, or want to try your hand at science communication? All the EGU Blogs, from GeoLog (the official EGU blog), through to the network and division blogs, welcome guest contributions from scientists, students and professionals in the Earth, planetary and space sciences.
It couldn’t be easier to get involved. Decide what you’d like to write about, find the blog that is the best fit for your post and contact the blog editor – you can find all editor details on the individual blog pages. If in doubt, you can submit your idea for a post via the Submit a Post page on GeoLog, or email the EGU Communications Officer, Olivia Trani, who can help with initial enquiries and introduce you to individual blog editors.
Don’t forget to a look at the blog pages for a flavour of the content you can expect from the new, and existing, blogs in 2019. The blogs are also a great place to learn about new opportunities, exciting fields of research and keep up to date with news relating to the upcoming 2019 General Assembly.
Editor’s note on the EGU Best Blog Post of 2018 Competition: The winning post will be that with the most votes on 14th January 2019. The winner will be announced on GeoLog shortly after voting closes. The winning posts will take home an EGU goodie bag, as well as a book of the winners choice from the EGU library (there are up to 3 goodie bags and books available per blog. These are available for the blog editor(s) – where the winning post belongs to a multi-editor blog, and for the blog post author – where the author is a regular contributor or guest author and not the blog editor). In addition, a banner announcing the blog as the winner of the competition will be displayed on the blog’s landing page throughout 2019.
Planning your first trip to the General Assembly can be overwhelming - let us help! Credit: Credit: EGU/Pfluegl
Will this be your first time at an EGU General Assembly? With more than 15,000 participants in a massive venue, the conference can be a confusing and, at times, overwhelming place.
To help you find your way, we have compiled an introductory handbook filled with history, presentation pointers, travel tips and a few facts about Vienna and its surroundings. Download your copy of the EGU General Assembly guide here!
And if you plan to apply for funding support to attend the General Assembly, don’t forget the deadline is just around the corner: the call closes on Saturday, 1 December. For details on how to submit your abstract and apply to the Roland Schlich travel support scheme at the same time, check out this blog post from a few weeks ago.
EGU 2019 will take place from 7 to 12 April 2017 in Vienna, Austria. For more information on the General Assembly, see the EGU 2019 website and follow us on Twitter (#EGU19 is the official conference hashtag) and Facebook.
The 2018 Carr Fire that burned 229,651 acres in California. It's currently listed as the seventh-largest wildfire recorded in the state's modern history. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management California via Bureau of Land Management California)
The end of the Northern hemisphere summer tends to be a good time to regroup from natural hazards, as the frequency and intensity of storms, as well as the incidence of wildfires, tends to trail off. At the time of writing, however, Hurricane Willa had just crashed into Mexico, while Typhoon Yutu has just hit the Northern Mariana Islands so hard that any equipment designed to record wind-speed had been swept away. Both storms rapidly strengthened, and the latter was described by the US National Weather Service as ‘likely [to] become the new yard stick by which future storms will be judged.’
Super Typhoon Yutu (24 October 2018) making its way towards the Northern Mariana Islands, a territory of the United States. (Photo: Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory)
What if we changed the way we think about such events, though? What if, instead of focusing on the wind-speed of a typhoon or the magnitude of an earthquake, the first points of discussion were about the human aspect and impact associated with a specific event. How would this summer’s events be framed? It’s a crucial distinction; natural disaster is in some ways a paradox in terms – although the hazard, or physical manifestation, of a hurricane or earthquake is natural, the impacts, and thus the disaster, are entirely a result of human exposure and vulnerability. Let’s first explore some of the most dramatic themes from this summer’s disasters, and then try and put them in this new human context.
What links this summer’s events?
The recent Hurricanes – Yutu, Willa, Florence and Michael – encapsulate well the intensity and frequency at which we’ve seen disasters come over the last few months. Earthquakes, storms, droughts and wildfires have all caused havoc in a hugely diverse spectrum of locations, and while the specter of natural hazards is always present in many parts of the world, there seems to be something more intense and urgent with respect to this summer’s catastrophes, especially in the media coverage.
The availability of smartphones and the proliferation of social media use means we can see ever more easily from the safety of our homes what others experience in terror during disasters; who could forget the scarring imagery from the earthquake and tsunami in Lombok in September, as houses were tossed about like toys as the ground turned to liquid.
Elsewhere, Japan experienced a plethora of hazards as flooding, typhoons, landslides, earthquakes and drought brought a whole range of challenging conditions which caused a large number of fatalities, despite Japan’s status as one of the best prepared countries in the world for natural hazards.
Much of the media discussion related to disasters has focused on the links between hazards and climate change, and whether the severity of events like Hurricane Florence can be attributed in part to anthropogenic emissions. While it has historically proven difficult to attribute the strength of different storms to climate change, this summer marked the first time scientists attempted it in earnest while an event was taking place – some researchers argued that the rainfall forecast for Hurricane Florence was 50% higher than it would otherwise have been, although such estimates are still in their infancy. What is clearer from scientific predictions of future climate change is that storms will likely be stronger, wetter and slower moving, suggesting similar intense storms could become more normal.
Beyond tropical storms, records were broken by other catastrophes. The Northern hemisphere wildfire season was among the worst we’ve ever experienced on record, at least in terms of acreage burned. Californian fires were so intense that smoke was noticeable on the East Coast, while the extent of fire in western Canada was second only to the cataclysmic fires last year. Abnormally warm temperatures in Scandinavia prompted wildfires to break out north of the Arctic circle, an extremely rare and concerning occurrence.
A different way to think about catastrophes
While it’s interesting and important to discuss the potential for increased storm severity as a result of climate change, it seems that this should only form a part of the larger discussion: how will trends in climate co-evolve with trends in human exposure and vulnerability to hazards? Similarly, why focus on the numbers associated with a disaster – the earthquake magnitude, the depth of flooding, acres of forest burned – when we could instead look at who has been impacted, and how to prevent this in the future.
It’s especially important to frame the ‘cost’ of a given event in this context. Often, we think of cost in either loss-of-life or financial terms, but it’s worth considering those as functions of exposure and vulnerability. For example, Hurricane Florence, which recently made landfall on the US eastern seaboard, is likely to cost 40-50 billion US dollars. Compare this to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017; some estimates for the cost of the storm were around 100 billion US dollars. While Hurricane Maria cost roughly twice as much as Florence, the relative impact on Puerto Rico was far greater than that value would imply. The vulnerability of the economy of Puerto Rico to a disaster of that scale was far higher than the mainland US; with a GDP of over 10 trillion US dollars, the US economy can absorb shocks like Florence, but the GDP of Puerto Rico declined by a massive 8% in the aftermath of Maria. It is worth noting that Puerto Rico is in fact a territory of the US, and received federal funding to assist with recovery – so the economic impact might even have been more severe without it.
U.S. Customs & Border Protection & FEMA personnel deliver food and water to isolated Puerto Rico residents after their bridge was destroyed by Hurricane Maria in the mountains around Utuado, Puerto Rico (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Joshua L. DeMotts via FEMA)
We can build the same framing for loss of lives; countries with well-developed disaster response and recovery mechanisms suffer significantly fewer fatalities in the face of a similar magnitude event to a poorly equipped country, all things being equal. This kind of social vulnerability to disaster is difficult to quantify, and encompasses a range of aspects including cultural awareness of natural hazards and healthcare expenditure, but it has to be considered alongside the trends in hazard intensity.
I would argue that coverage of (and research related to) disasters needs to shift away from the headline numbers, like skyrocketing costs or the increasing intensity of storms and wildfires, and instead discuss whether disasters are hitting harder in places that are more vulnerable, or whether the relative economic or human exposure to a given type of disaster is worsening or not. While it’s fascinating to see images of multiple hurricanes over a single basin, it’s an incomplete picture unless the risk is incorporated.
Flash flood impacts in Peru after torrential rain in 2013 (Photo: Galeria del Ministerio de Defensa del Perú via Flickr)
Reframing our vision of disasters would put the focus squarely on where inequality and climate change interact; if more vulnerable developing countries or regions are expected to be more exposed to disasters under a changing climate, then there is real potential for inequalities to be exacerbated – and this is indeed what the UN anticipates will occur. More fundamentally, reframing would help us shift away from a coldly analytical perspective of ‘disasters by the numbers’ and instead consider where the worst impacts would be, and who the people at risk are. While trends in the developed world indicate fewer and fewer deaths from disasters over the last 100 years, many countries don’t have the same capacity to absorb shocks.
The human tendency to dwell on the extraordinary, and the ephemeral nature of modern news coverage certainly encourages reporting to focus on the records broken by a given event. Perhaps it’s futile to add another voice to the many that have already asked for more context and temperance from such coverage, but it seems important to highlight that there may be other ways to cover disasters; those affected may benefit greatly, in both the long and short term.
Robert Emberson is a Postdoctoral Fellow at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and a science writer when possible. He can be contacted either on Twitter (@RobertEmberson) or via his website (https://robertemberson.com/)
Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post that expresses the opinion of its author, whose views may differ from those of the European Geosciences Union. We hope the post can serve to generate discussion and a civilised debate amongst our readers.
This photo, captured by drone about 80 metres above the ground, shows a nested sinkhole system in the Dead Sea. Such systems typically take form in karst areas, landscapes where soluble rock, such as limestone, dolomite or gypsum, are sculpted and perforated by dissolution and erosion. Over time, these deteriorating processes can cause the surface to crack and collapse.
The olive-green hued sinkhole, about 20 m in diameter, is made up of a mud material coated by a thin salted cover. When the structures collapse, they can form beautiful blocks and patterns; however, these sinkholes can form quite suddenly, often without any warning, and deal significant damage to roads and buildings. Sinkhole formations have been a growing problem in the region, especially within the last four decades, and scientists are working hard to better understand the phenomenon and the risks it poses to nearby communities and industries.
Some researchers are analysing aerial photos of Dead Sea sinkholes (taken by drones, balloons and satellites, for example) to get a better idea of how these depressions take shape.
“The images help to understand the process of sinkhole formation,” said Djamil Al-Halbouni, a PhD student at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany and the photographer of this featured image. “Especially the photogrammetric method allows to derive topographic changes and possible early subsidence in this system.” Al-Halbouni was working at the sinkhole area of Ghor Al-Haditha in Jordan when he had the chance to snap this beautiful photo of one of the Dead Sea’s many sinkhole systems.
Recently, Al-Halbouni and his colleagues have employed a different kind of strategy to understand sinkhole formation: taking subsurface snapshots of Dead Sea sinkholes with the help of artificial seismic waves. The method, called shear wave reflection seismic imaging, involves generating seismic waves in sinkhole-prone regions; the waves then make their way through the sediments below. A seismic receiver is positioned to record the velocities of the waves, giving the researchers clues to what materials are present belowground and how they are structured. As one Eos article reporting on the study puts it, the records were essentially an “ultrasound of the buried material.”
The results of their study, recently published in EGU’s open access journal, Solid Earth, give insight into what kind of underground conditions are more likely to give way to sinkhole formation, allowing local communities to better pinpoint sites for future construction, and what spots are best left alone. This study and further work by Al-Halbouni and his colleagues have been published in a special issue organised by EGU journals: “Environmental changes and hazards in the Dead Sea region.”
By Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer
Imaggeo is the EGU’s online open access geosciences image repository. All geoscientists (and others) can submit their photographs and videos to this repository and, since it is open access, these images can be used for free by scientists for their presentations or publications, by educators and the general public, and some images can even be used freely for commercial purposes. Photographers also retain full rights of use, as Imaggeo images are licensed and distributed by the EGU under a Creative Commons licence. Submit your photos at http://imaggeo.egu.eu/upload/.