Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ignore the doomsday rumors, the sun'll come up tomorrow (and next year too)

There are a lot more rumors and doomsday prophecies flying around, especially on the Web, than I realized.     Dr. David Morrison, at NASA's Ames Research Center, takes aim at each of the wild ideas circulating and dismisses them.  But I don't expect the doomsday proponents will pay much attention to the scientific community on this.

The USGS also posted details and links for more extensive resources to answer questions about each of the major disasters including:


USGS earthquake forecasting and hazards research

USGS Earthquake Hazards Program website 

earthquake myths website

Signs of Volcanic Unrest
The United States is home to 169 active volcanoes, many of which could erupt at any time. Fortunately, volcanoes generally show signs of unrest hours, weeks and months before they erupt. Changes in gas emissions, swelling of a volcano, and swarms of small earthquakes are signs that a volcano is awakening. All of these changes can be detected with proper monitoring equipment.

The USGS National Volcano Early Warning System is designed to detect these signs of unrest at the earliest stages. The USGS issues warnings and alerts of potential volcanic hazards—including imminent or ongoing eruptions, ash fall forecasts, and when eruptions have ended—to responsible emergency-management authorities and those potentially affected. These warnings prevent episodes of volcanic unrest from becoming volcanic disasters.

USGS Volcano Hazards website

Landslide Hazard Potential
Landslides occur in all 50 states and pose a significant risk in many areas. Scientists know landslides are likely on the west coast during its rainy season from November to March, during spring and summer thunderstorms in the western mountain states, and during hurricane season along the east coast. People at especially high risk for landslide damage are those living on or below steep hill slopes.

Wildfires can lead to flash flooding and debris flow, as vegetation is removed that would have served as a stabilizing factor and the remaining burned soil is less able to absorb rainwater. Landslides can also occur from earthquakes, volcanic activity, changes in groundwater, or disturbance and change of a slope by man-made construction activities.

The USGS is working with the National Weather Service on a prototype Debris Flow Warning System to help provide forecasts and warnings about what areas are at imminent risk of having a debris flow or mudslide when rainfall thresholds are met.

USGS Landslide Hazards Program website
Report your landslide experiences and sightings at the new USGS “Did You See It?” website.

Tracking Wildfires
The USGS plays an integral role in preparing for and responding to wildfires.  The USGS also provides real-time geospatial support for firefighters during the events, including up-to-the minute maps and satellite imagery about current wildfire extent and behavior.

Hurricanes, Storms, Floods and More
Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November, with September as the peak time when they are most likely to strike. But hurricanes and tropical storms can hit at other times as well.
Flooding from storms is another concern, as is drought from lack of rainfall. The USGS conducts real-time monitoring of the nation’s rivers and streams, and you can visit USGS WaterWatch to see whether river levels are higher or lower than normal. You can also use USGS WaterAlert to receive texts or emails when water levels at a specific streamgage exceed certain thresholds.  The National Weather Service relies on timely and accurate USGS data to issue flood warnings, and the partnership between the two agencies runs deep. Together, the USGS, the National Weather Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are also developing flood inundation maps that show, street by street, block by block, and hour by hour exactly where the flood waters will be.

Monitoring Magnetic Storms
What is a magnetic storm? The sun is always emitting a wind of electrically charged particles that flows outward into space. If these concentrations of solar wind are directed towards the Earth, then the magnetic field of the Earth in space (the magnetosphere) can be disturbed, sometimes for days.

Large magnetic storms can cause loss of radio communication, affect global-positioning systems, damage satellite electronics and cause electrical blackouts. Damaging storms occur about 4 times a decade, with smaller events occurring more frequently. Magnetic storms can be detected up to 2 days in advance by monitoring the sun. They come in all sizes, but the largest storms tend to occur when sunspots (concentrations of magnetic energy on the surface of the sun) are most numerous.

The monitoring of “space weather” conditions is a responsibility of several U.S. government agencies, including NOAA, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force. The USGS has the unique responsibility of monitoring geomagnetic activity at the Earth’s surface, close to where most of the effects of magnetic storms are actually realized. Learn more and view near-real time conditions of the magnetic field.

Be Prepared, Every Day
The question to consider on December 21, 2012, and every day is: Have I done everything I can to ensure that my family and I are prepared, should a disaster strike? This includes preparing and practicing your emergency plan and building a disaster supplies kit with food, water and basic needs. Natural disasters will continue to occur, on any given day, but a more informed scientific understanding can lead to better preparedness and safer communities. 

[Thanks to NASA and USGS]

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