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News Archive » Natural hazards

Here you will find all articles that have been published in the weekly Science for Environment Policy News Alert.

Browse archives by year and theme below.

Scientists calculate risks of further earthquakes from gas drilling in Groningen, the Netherlands

A recent overview and analysis shows that increasing amounts of gas drilling at Groningen, the largest gas field in Europe, led to a dramatic rise in regional earthquakes between 2001 and 2013. After a reduction in extraction was introduced by the Dutch Government, earthquake numbers started to fall. Statistical analysis reveals that if high extraction rates were resumed, about 35 earthquakes, with a magnitude (M) of over 1.5 on the Richter scale, might occur annually from the year 2021 onwards, including four with a damaging magnitude of over 2.5.

Managing flood risk: more realistic models need to take account of spatial differences

Effective flood-risk management requires accurate risk-analysis models. Conventional analysis approaches, however, are based on the evaluation of spatially homogenous scenarios, which do not account for variation in flooding across a river reach/ region. Since flood events are often spatially heterogeneous (i.e. unevenly distributed), this paves the way for error. Now, scientists have developed a novel framework for risk analysis that accounts for their heterogeneity, and successfully demonstrated the accuracy of the approach by applying it in a proof-of-concept exercise in Vorarlberg, Austria. By facilitating improved prediction and quantification of flood events, this model is likely to inform future flood-risk management and related decision-making.

Floods due to rising sea levels may mobilise arsenic from contaminated soils

New research has shown that flooding of soils contaminated with arsenic, which may occur as sea levels rise due to climate change, could lead to the mobilisation of this toxic element in the environment. The study shows that arsenic is more stable in soil flooded with saltwater, compared to river water, as salt stabilises mineral oxides and could inhibit microbial activity. However, microbes that transform arsenic into water-soluble forms may adapt to saline conditions, and the risk of arsenic entering waters due to rising sea levels should receive further attention.

Three-quarters of all human releases of mercury have occurred since 1850

A new study has, for the first time, estimated total anthropogenic releases of mercury over the last 4 000 years, up to 2010. Overall, the study estimates that a total of 1 540 000 tonnes of mercury have been released; three-quarters of this since 1850, and 78 times more than was released through natural causes over this period. Therefore, human activity has been responsible for a significant level of contamination, and this inventory can be used to inform and assess mitigation measures. The publication coincides with the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the new EU Mercury Regulation1, which prohibits the export, import and manufacturing of mercury-added products, among other measures.

Tackling mercury pollution in the EU and worldwide – November 2017

Mercury is a heavy metal that is well known for being the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and normal pressure. It is also a potent neurotoxin with severe global human health impacts. It can be converted from one form to another by natural processes, and, once released, actively cycles in the environment for hundreds to thousands of years before being buried in sediment. This In-Depth Report from Science for Environment Policy summarises the latest scientific studies and research results on mercury pollution in the global environment.

Environmental hazards due to climate change set to increase in Europe — with regional differences

Researchers have modelled the exposure to multiple hazards across different regions of Europe in relation to heat, cold, drought, wildfire, flooding and wind. The study indicated that, over the next century, environmental hazards are likely to increase, particularly along coastlines and on floodplains, and that south-western Europe is likely to be the worst-hit region.

Nature-based flood management needs joined-up policy approach to manage benefits and trade-offs

Natural water-retention measures, which ‘keep the rain where it falls’, have great potential to be used as part of flood-risk management plans. But their benefits for downstream urban areas can bring costs to the upstream agricultural areas where they are installed, a recent analysis explains. The researchers behind this analysis suggest that we need new and/or improved policies and institutions to oversee the trade-offs and benefits for agriculture and flood management, and a better scientific understanding of the measures’ likely impact on urban flood risk.

Responding to floods in Europe: new framework assesses effectiveness of Flood Emergency Management Systems

A new framework has been developed to assess how effective Flood Emergency Management Systems (FEMS) are in Europe. Examining FEMS in five European countries, this study highlights the strengths and weaknesses of existing systems and makes recommendations for improving their effectiveness, particularly in relation to institutional learning, community preparedness and recovery.

Rapid and significant sea-level rise expected if global warming exceeds 2°C, with global variation

The world could experience the highest ever global sea-level rise in the history of human civilisation if global temperature rises exceed 2 °C, predicts a new study. Under current carbon-emission rates, this temperature rise will occur around the middle of this century, with damaging effects on coastal businesses and ecosystems, while also triggering major human migration from low-lying areas. Global sea-level rise will not be uniform, and will differ for different points of the globe.

What makes an urban neighbourhood more resilient to flood? New assessment tool trialled in Hamburg

A method for assessing urban neighbourhoods’ resilience to flooding has been presented in a recent study. The method identifies features of urban landscapes that contribute to three elements of flood resilience: resistance, absorption and recovery. In a German case study, the tool shows that the features which make a waterfront neighbourhood of Hamburg more flood resilient include high bridges, open public spaces and flood-protected basements.

New tool could help optimise governance of flood risk

As the climate becomes more volatile, managing the risk of flooding has never been more important. This study proposes a new framework for evaluating how flood risk is managed by governments, which is applied to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the system in England. The researchers say their approach can help to improve flood-risk governance and could be applied to other countries as well as other types of hazard.

Flooding had major impacts on business and mental health in Germany 2013

Mental health and supply problems, such as loss of electricity, were perceived by residents as the most serious impacts of 2013 flooding in Germany, according to new research. The most frequent effect of the flooding on companies was interruption to their business. The researchers say that focusing on impacts that can be measured in financial terms does not fully describe the effects of flooding, and make recommendations for improving flood data collection.

Local pressure following Somerset flooding leads to policy change

Researchers have analysed the policy response to the 2013–2014 flooding of the Somerset Levels and Moors in the UK. Analysis of media coverage and interviews with stakeholders revealed how local pressure promoted dredging — a policy that had fallen out of favour with the national Environment Agency (EA). Although dredging was eventually readopted by the EA, there remain uncertainties over its long-term viability due to funding constraints and debates over its effectiveness.

Flood risk management has improved in Germany

After the 2002 floods in Germany — the country’s most economically damaging natural hazard — efforts were made to develop a more integrated system of flood management. A recent study has reviewed how those measures helped Germany to cope with the more recent floods of 2013, highlighting developments in early-warning systems and consideration of hazards in urban planning. The researchers also discuss areas for improvement, including citizen engagement and cross-border collaboration.

Flood risk management as a government–citizen partnership

Throughout Europe and beyond, the delivery of flood risk management (FRM) is increasingly being seen as the shared responsibility of governmental actors and citizens. However, a new study, which explored the viewpoints of stakeholders in a flood-prone part of Belgium, found that citizens see FRM mainly as the government’s responsibility.

Drought management in Europe: researchers present new evaluation method

Droughts can have far-reaching environmental, social and economic impacts. A new study has assessed how drought is managed in six areas of Europe using a new evaluation framework. Their evaluation identified policy gaps and makes recommendations for risk management. A key recommendation is to evaluate responses and management after each drought to identify good practices and strengthen drought management in the future.

Ignoring flood risks leads to increasing losses: assessment should include climate change, land use and economic development

Floods are devastating natural hazards, which can cause loss of life and substantial damage to buildings and other infrastructure. Assessing future flood risk is complicated by the influence of climate change, land-use change and economic development in an area. A study on an Alpine valley suggests that land- use change and urbanisation will affect future flood risk by 2030 more than climate change, but risks can be reduced by adopting low-cost adaptation strategies, such as building restrictions in flood-prone areas and residents taking their own precautions against flooding.

Flood-risk communications should be specific, tailored, and utilise social networks

Effective flood-risk communications should include specific information on how householders can protect themselves and their property against flooding, a recent Dutch study concludes. The researchers’ evaluation of communication strategies also highlights an important role for social media in spreading messages about flood risk and protection.

No Net Land Take by 2050? – April 2016

Land and soil are limited natural resources essential to all human life. One of the major environmental challenges facing Europe is an increasing demand for development, which threatens ecosystem services. This Future Brief focuses on how land and soil could be used efficiently to continue to provide these functions and services for generations to come.

Identifying emerging risks for environmental policies

How can we better anticipate environmental changes? In our rapidly changing world, risks occur from ongoing changes (such as those occurring in the climate), to more sudden-onset risks, such as mutating microbial pathogens. This Future Brief explores some of the tools and approaches that can be used to identify emerging risk, including strategic foresight tools, citizen science and state-of-the-art monitoring technologies.

Implications of extreme floods for river ecosystems

The frequency and severity of flooding is expected to increase in the future. This study explored how these changes will affect rivers, in terms of structure as well as animal and plant life. The authors discuss the management implications of their findings and highlight areas for future research, including developing early warning systems for threats to ecosystems.

Revealing damages from droughts across Europe

Researchers have developed a new tool for assessing and predicting the damage caused by droughts to crop yields and hydroelectric energy production. The tool could provide useful information to policymakers, helping them develop drought management practices to improve food and energy security and adapt to climate change.

Green roofs as flood mitigation measures: how to improve performance

Green roofs have been proposed to mitigate flooding in urban areas. This study combined field experiments and numerical simulations to investigate the ability of green roofs to absorb rainwater. The authors describe how green roofs can be most effective at mitigating flooding, providing findings which will be important for policy on green infrastructure.

Risk of steep glacier collapse in the Alps will considerably increase due to climate warming

Glaciers are sensitive indicators of climate change. This study focused on hanging glaciers in the French Alps, where warming is increasing the risk of glaciers collapsing. The authors applied a state-of-the-art numerical model to a particularly hazardous glacier in Mont Blanc to simulate how it will respond to climate change. The results suggest the glacier may become unstable in the current century, posing a risk to the inhabitants of the valley below.

Review of damage-reducing measures for floods

Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of flooding. This study reviewed damage mitigating measures at local, regional and national scales, and suggests that approaches including both spatial planning and private precautionary measures (such as building adaptations) are important for integrated risk management.

New data on soil erosion by water reveals Mediterranean at highest flood risk

Comprehensive data analysed in a new study show how extensive rainfall can erode soils across the EU and Switzerland, revealing that Mediterranean regions have the highest risk for erosive events and floods. The resulting dataset can also be used for disaster planning and relief.

Soil and Water: a larger perspective - November 2015

Thematic Issue 52

Land use changes over time have altered relations between soils and water cycles throughout the world. Soils have been lost and degraded, and the closely interlinked processes of soils and water have become an urgent issue for European policymakers. This Thematic Issue aims to provide a review of new research into the links between soil and water issues in Europe, including a message that the soil-water links must be considered at their proper spatial scales.

New flood simulation tool improves collaboration on flood management

A new tool for flood simulation and visualisation is accessible for both experts and practitioners, allowing them to collaborate better on flood planning and relief. Among other features, the new system includes 3D simulations, rainfall simulation and water flow data.

Screening soil moisture conditions reveals an increased risk of drought in a Swedish drainage basin

The risk of drought in the Norrström drainage basin, Sweden, increased during the 20th century, a new study has found. As the frequency of the dry periods increased, less water was available in the landscape for agriculture and for the resupply of groundwater — despite an increase in precipitation in the area over the same period. The researchers reached this conclusion after screening soil moisture conditions in the basin over the course of the century.

Cloud-based flood risk learning tool engages multiple stakeholders

A pilot cloud-based learning platform that brings together multiple datasets, models and visualisation tools has been developed with the engagement of numerous stakeholders throughout the design process. This tool could lead to informed decisions about flood risk at the local level. These types of tools and frameworks are effective ways of facilitating better decision making.

EU migration under environmental change: impact depends on current infrastructure

Environmental changes in the future, such as an increase in floods, land degradation and drought could result in changes in migration patterns in Europe, researchers write in a recent analysis. It is difficult to predict these exact migration patterns, however, as they are determined by a complex interplay of economic, political and social factors with environmental change, as well as adaptive capacity.

Environmental migrants need better human rights protection

A human rights ‘protection gap’ exists for people forced to migrate by environmental stress and climate change, according to researchers. The lack of a legal framework and practices to protect ‘environmental refugees’ stems from the historic and political context of migration issues — and land access rights more broadly — the researchers say in a recently published paper.

Extreme environmental events and human migration: no simple link

While extreme environmental events — such as floods and tsunamis — may trigger migrations, the underlying drivers of migration are far more complex and diverse, says new research. The research reviewed the available evidence on population movements associated with extreme weather events and found that people could find themselves ‘trapped’ and vulnerable, whether they stayed at their homes or moved to new locations.

Migration in response to environmental change - September 2015

Links between environmental changes and migration are extremely complex. This Thematic Issue presents key pieces of research examining the causes of environmental migration and identifying policy options for Europe in dealing with forced and voluntary relocations. The sources also examine the current state of human rights for environmental migrants and how much evidence currently exists for action at local and regional levels.

Disease-causing bacteria made more resilient by standard water disinfection practices

Halogenated nitrogenous disinfection by-products (N-DBPs) in water increase bacterial resistance to antibiotics, new research shows. The study found that a strain of bacteria which can cause disease in humans, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, increased its resistance to a range of different antibiotics by an average of 5.5 times after the bacteria were exposed to chemicals which form as by-products of common water treatment procedures. The results highlight the risks to public health which these currently unregulated by-products may cause.

Link found between ‘algal blooms’ and liver disease

Cyanobacteria — often referred to as blue-green algae — are found in water bodies around the world and can produce toxins with potential health risks. This US-wide study found a significant positive association between cyanobacterial bloom coverage and death by non-alcoholic liver disease. The researchers say their study suggests some evidence of a potential health risk and should be used to generate further investigation into the health impact of cyanobacteria.

Large-scale early flood warning systems provide high returns on investment

Continental-scale early flood warning systems in Europe can provide significant monetary benefits by reducing flood damage and associated costs. Specifically, a new study found that the return from the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) and available flood damage data has the potential to be as high as approximately 400 euros for every one euro invested.

Internationally coordinated use of satellites needed for managing floods

Loss of satellites providing rainfall data could have a negative effect on global flood management, according to new research. However, this could be mitigated by improved international co-operation and the use of more modern satellite technology, the authors say. The study examined the consequences for flood management of the loss of four of the existing 10 dedicated rainfall measuring satellites.

The social value of flood alleviation

Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and severity of flooding in coming years. For more effective flood alleviation, this study recommends schemes that consider the social impact of floods as well as the economic damages.

Flooding: what influences householders to protect their homes?

Householders who believe that climate change increases flood risk are up to 12% more likely to protect their homes against flooding than those who do not hold this belief, finds recent research from Germany. The national survey also found that previous experience of flood damage increased the likelihood of households introducing flood protection measures.

Protecting against erosion after wildfire

Soil erosion after wildfire can be substantially reduced by using a combination of sowing grass seeds and protecting the soil with a layer of straw, a Spanish study suggests. The authors of the research found that, although seeding alone made little difference, the combination of straw mulch and seeding reduced soil erosion by 93%.

El Niño Southern Oscillation can be used to predict global flood risk anomalies

Unusually warm or cool Pacific sea surface temperatures, known as El Niño and La Niña, can be used to reliably predict anomalies in flood risk for river basins that cover 44% of the Earth’s land surface, a new study has shown. The researchers also quantified overall flood damage by combining information on flood risk with estimates of damage to economies and numbers of people at risk. This could help improve flood disaster planning, they say.

Radioactive particles from Chernobyl disaster may be re-released by wildfires

Fires in forests contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear accident could lead to areas of Europe and Russia being exposed to further radioactive fallout, new research has found. The study examined the spread of the fallout and the health effects on people and animals under three different scenarios: 10, 50 and 100% of the forests being burnt.

Dry soils exacerbated 2006 heatwave in Northern France

Dry soils and a lack of cloud cover help explain a major heatwave in France, concludes new research. The study indicates that the two drivers were separate, unlinked events that came together at the same time to worsen the 2006 heatwave. Its findings could allow heatwaves to be predicted more accurately to protect public health.

Radioactive iodine in Arctic sea ice may have European origin

Ninety-eight per cent of radioactive iodine in Arctic sea ice may come from Europe, new research suggests. The study concludes that atmospheric transport of Iodine-129 from European nuclear fuel reprocessing plants is the most likely source.

Flood strategies could be improved with help of socio-demographic data

Flood management could be improved by including socio-demographic information in the assessment of flood risk, suggests new research. The research combined traditional flood risk assessment with information on the ‘social vulnerability’ of people living in flood risk areas. The results show that there are almost twice as many people of high social vulnerability (e.g. low-income or elderly) in flood risk areas of Rotterdam as low social vulnerability people.

New beach database could help protect Black Sea shorelines

The damaging effects of sea-level rise on Black Sea beaches have been estimated in a new study. Diminishing river sediment supply caused by river dams is also an erosion threat. These new results suggest that erosion could cause over 90% of these beaches to retreat by at least 20% of their width. A publicly available database created by the researchers could be useful for developing coastal protection schemes.

Public participation in flood risk management: the case of Germany

How can stakeholders best be involved in the implementation of the EU Floods Directive? According to recent research examining Germany as a case study, three types of strategy are being pursued across the country’s 16 federal states: the first draws on Water Framework Directive (WFD) procedures, the second meets only minimum requirements for participation and the third involves stakeholders more intensively.

Protest votes: why will some people not tell how much they are willing to pay for clean air?

What is the value of clean air? Answering such a question may be achieved by asking citizens how much they are willing to pay. However, some individuals give 'protest vote' responses to such questions. Recent research in EU countries found that the main reasons for this were because they felt that the polluters themselves or the government should be responsible for such costs.

Neutral organisations play a positive role in facilitating participatory water management

Public participation is an essential part of integrated water management. In a recent study, researchers following the development of a UK catchment management plan found greater cooperation between land managers and environmental regulatory bodies as a result of a participatory process.

Climate adaptation: Can vulnerable countries cope with the costs of extreme weather?

Following extreme weather events, many countries are unable to afford the costs of providing relief to communities and repairing infrastructure, a new study suggests. The researchers estimate that providing relief on a global scale for events which recur every 10 to 50 years would cost US$3.3 billion (€2.37 billion) annually.

European flooding costs could increase almost five-fold by 2050

Extreme and catastrophic floods in Europe, such as those seen in 2013, currently occur approximately once every 16 years, but this may increase to once every 10 years by 2050, according to new research. The study also suggests that annual average economic losses caused by extreme floods could reach almost five times higher than 2013 values.

Longer droughts and more water shortages in Europe forecast under climate change

Climate change will substantially increase the severity and length of droughts in Europe by the end of the century, according to new research. The study showed that some European countries could experience a reduction in river flow of up to 80% by the 2080s.

Land use change influences European weather systems

The reduction in summer storms in the western Mediterranean could be partly caused by land use change on coasts and mountain slopes, a new study reports. This lack of storms causes water vapour to build up above the region and may lead to heavy rainfall and flooding in central Europe.

Fire patterns in Spain under a changing climate

A recent study has found that fire regimes have changed in Spain over the past 42 years. The pattern of changes has affected the number of fires and burned area, reflecting a changing climate and environmental conditions, such as land use changes caused by a population shift from rural to urban areas, and modern fire suppression activities.

Adaptation is a cost-effective way to protect against river flooding caused by climate change

The socio-economic costs and benefits of adaptation to river flooding caused by climate change have been assessed in a new study. According to the study, adaptation measures could save €53.1 billion every year in flood-related losses across Europe by 2080.