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Yesterday (Monday) morning I also attended a session run by the Natural Hazards division on Great Disasters of the 21st Century.  First up was Mark Bove from Munich Re, who talked about two different aspects of natural hazards.  The first was to highlight the increasing levels of loss associated with natural disasters – in particular financial losses in the first decade of the 21st Century were equivalent to those of the 1980s and 1990s combined.  Whilst he attributed this primarily to increased vulnerability, he used the Munich Re disaster catalogue to explore whether there might be an increase in occurrence of meteorological hazards as a result of an increasingly warm world.  He presented two lines of evidence to support this – first, he showed that increasing occurrence of weather-driven hazards is far exceeding that of tectonic hazards.  Second, he reported work they have undertaken to develop a measurement driven index of thunderstorm potential in the USA.  This shows a clear increase with time, suggesting that the climate is changing.  Of course this is not necessarily human induced, but in my view (and that of the majority of scientists) this is by far the most likely cause. Read more

The American Geophysical Union Meeting is an immense science conference, the largest of its kind in the world.  Taking place in the multilevel citadel known as the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco, it lies within the city’s technological landscape and seedy urban environment.  I was fortunate enough to catch the first session of a press conference on the Tohoku earthquake that devastated Japan early this year, in particular its most destructive secondary hazard – the tsunami – that slammed into the east coast killing tens of thousands of people and causing catastrophic damage.  Not surprisingly much attention is being given to the earthquake and tsunami at the conference.  The first press conference on the disaster focused on technologies that were in place to track the tsunami, but also public risk perception of tsunami events in Japan, which needless to see seem alarming in regards to preparing for future tsunami events in Japan.

Prior to the tsunami in March of this year, there were four DART buoys in place along the coast of Japan.  Three of them were owned by the US, while the other one was monitored by Russia.  These buoys allowed researchers to see the tsunami 30 min after it first occurred and empirical observations matched modelling of the tsunami according to Dr Eddie Bernard from the Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory in Seattle, Washington.  The buoys take measurements from the sea floor, detecting the changes in the weight of the water above it.  Bernard thinks that solely reporting tsunami wave heights is insufficient for evacuating populations before a tsunami strikes, instead there should be ‘flood forecasts’ that can inform people about the levels of flooding that will likely occur, but this will vary depending on where people live along the coast line.  Also, Bernard argues that flood forecasting cannot be done without the information available from DART.  ‘An earthquake shakes the earth for four minutes and a tsunami crashes the Earth for 12 hours’, he said.

‘For the people who deal with this along the coastline for 12 hours, any additional information you can provide them as soon as possible, whether it’s five minutes, 40 minutes or 50 minutes, would have been very useful’. Read more

Japan has experienced a large number of aftershocks since the initial 9.0 earthquake in March.  The USGS has recorded 726 aftershocks so far and according to a recent report affected areas are very much in need of aid as 15,077 people have been reported missing and around 500,000 people have been displaced.  There are also large amounts of debris from damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami.  This tragic scenario, combined with the risks posed by leaked radiation from the damaged nuclear reactors, makes this one of the worst disasters Japan has ever faced in history. Read more

The post below is mirrored from Prof Dave Petley’s blog.  He describes the Sendai earthquake from a geological perspective noting that these events were far from unusual taking into account the seismic history of the region.

The impact of the Sendai earthquake, and the media coverage of it, is undoubtedly extraordinary.  This is a tragedy that has so many dimensions, ranging from tragedy (in so many cases) to ecstasy (as a survivor is found), including farce and the surreal.  It plays on our fears of the breakdown of society; of catastrophic loss of all we hold dear; and of being trapped.  The ongoing nuclear crisis brings back memories of the Cold War, a drum beat to which so many of us grew up.  And the effects of the disaster continue to ripple outwards, and will do so for years to come, as the financial markets, insurance industry and energy generators strive to face the consequences.  Of course for most of us life will go on essentially as before, but in every case at least some, often intangible, elements will have changed. Read more

The earthquake that struck Japan 11 March is the largest on record in the country’s history.  It is also one of the largest recorded earthquakes in the world.

Director of Hazards research in IHRR, Dr Alex Densmore, was interviewed by The Guardian about the aftershocks that have taken place since the 9.0 magnitude earthquake first hit Japan.  Much of Densmore’s research has focused on large earthquakes and their secondary hazards, including the 2008 Sichuan earthquake in ChinaRead more

Waves from 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Southern Thailand (AFP/GETTY)

What does religion and theology have to do with hazards and risks in society?  In what ways does religious discourse shape how we perceive events that are often still interpreted as ‘Acts of God’?  After the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland, that left many people stranded at airports throughout the world due to the volcanic ash cloud over Europe, some insurance companies would not reimburse travellers claiming they couldn’t compensate for losses due to ‘Acts of God.’  Theology and religion still appear central to ‘secular’ or ‘modern society’ in generating discourse (dialogue, conversation, discussions etc.) for framing hazards in the world today.

Dr. Claudia Merli from the Department of Anthropology at Durham University recently gave a presentation on her research at IHRR about how theodicies shape political, ecological and other forms of discourse about hazards, ‘Context-bound theodicies: When God, nature and politics meet.’  As Merli stated, theodicy can be basically defined as a “…theological and/or existential problem of reconciling the concept of a merciful, just and omnipotent God with the existence of evil and unjust human suffering,” and by introducing the concept ‘context-bound theodicies’ she wants to highlight that these plural discourses are always inextricably related to cultural, political, religious and social contexts.  Some people perceive large-scale hazards based on theodicies, which impacts how they are socially affected by a hurricane, earthquake or other hazard.  Not only do theological discourses shape their understanding of these events, but they also play a role in defining their identity. Read more

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