Geoscience Policy Monthly Review
july 2013

The Monthly Review is part of a continuing effort to improve communications about the role of geoscience in policy.
Current and archived monthly reviews are available online.

Subscribe to receive the Monthly Review directly.

natural hazards

House subcommittee holds markup of the Weather Forecasting and Improvement Act of 2013

On July 9, 2013 the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Environment held a markup of the Weather Forecasting and Improvement Act of 2013 (H.R. 2413).

The act would “prioritize and redirect” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) resources to weather forecasting rather than climate research. It would also allow the government to purchase weather data from commercial providers and would permit government weather instruments to fly on private satellites and private-sector instruments to fly on government satellites. For each fiscal year from 2014 through 2017 the bill would authorize $80 million for weather laboratories and cooperative institutes, $20 million for weather and air chemistry research, and $20 million for a joint technology transfer initiative.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Suzanne Bonamici criticized the bill’s focus on weather over climate, stating, “Experts say that it will be difficult to improve weather forecasting without improving our understanding of climatic forces.” She also argued that the bill neglects the important work of NOAA’s National Weather Service in favor of the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and stated that the bill should do a better job of fostering coordination between the two.

Opening statements, amendments considered, and an archived webcast of the markup can be found on the committee’s website.

House committee holds hearing on wildfires

The House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held an oversight hearing on wildfire and forest management on July 11, 2013. The hearing focused on the need for active forest management, which includes both timber sales and prescribed burns, to reduce the fuel available to wildfires.

Two committee members have introduced bills to decrease wildfire risk by reducing the barriers to fuels reduction in federal forests. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) highlighted his proposed legislation, the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act (H.R. 1345), while Scott Tipton (R-CO) touted his Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act (H.R. 818).

Committee members and witnesses also profiled existing successful collaborations. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) described the Four Forest Restoration Initiative in Arizona as an example of a highly effective collaboration between federal, state, and local governments, environmental groups, industry representatives, and other stakeholders. Christopher Topik of The Nature Conservancy described the successes of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and the Fire Adapted Communities Coalition, which work to mitigate communities’ wildfire risk.

Opening statements, witness testimonies, and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found on the committee’s website.

USGS trains volcano scientists from around the world

Scientists and technicians from volcano observatories in nine countries traveled to the United States this month to participate in the International Training Program in Volcano Hazards Monitoring. The goal of the program is to help participating nations become self-sufficient in volcano monitoring, in order to decrease the negative impacts of a volcanic eruption.

This summer’s program included training in Hawai’i at the University of Hawai’i in Hilo, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, and Kīlauea Volcano; and in Washington State at Mount St. Helen’s and the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory. At these locations, U.S. scientists provided training on the use of volcano monitoring instruments, data analysis and interpretation, and volcanic hazard assessment. Participants also learned about rapid response during volcanic crises, including effectively partnering with government officials and the media to improve disaster response.

The International Training Program in Volcano Hazards Monitoring has been in existence for 22 years and is organized by the Center for the Study of Active Volcanoes at the University of Hawai’i, Hilo, with support from the joint USGS-USAID Volcano Disaster Assistance Program. 

DOE report on U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather

The Department of Energy updated a report as part of the Administration’s efforts to support national climate change adaptation planning and to promote energy security. The report examines the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on the U.S. energy sector and identifies activities underway to address these challenges as well as potential opportunities to enhance energy technologies.

The study focused on four major climate trends relevant to the energy sector: Increasing air and water temperature, decreasing water availability, increasing intensity and frequency of storm events, and sea level rise. According to the report, each of these climate trends will affect the U.S.’s ability to produce energy. For example, thawing permafrost in the Arctic could cause damage to oil and gas pipelines; limited water availability could negatively affect global oil and gas production; and changes in precipitation and drought could hamper renewable energy sources.

Distant Quakes Trigger Tremors at U.S. Waste-Injection Sites

A recent study done by Columbia University and the University of Oklahoma published in the 12 July 2013 issue of Science suggests that large (magnitude 7 or above) earthquakes from all over the globe can trigger smaller quakes at waste fluid injection sites where pressure from the fluids has pushed faults close to failure. At some injection locations, a swarm of remotely triggered earthquakes appears to act as a warning sign that large earthquakes related to human activities may be imminent. Several areas in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Texas showed this correlation.

At one of the studied waste injection sites, in Prague, OK, a magnitude-8.8 earthquake off the coast of Chile on February 27, 2010 helped to trigger a notable swarm of earthquakes, which was followed by a human-induced magnitude-5.7 earthquake in Prague on November 6, 2011. Similarly, earthquakes off the coasts of Japan and Sumatra in 2011 and 2012, respectively, set off swarms of earthquakes that were later followed by mid-sized earthquakes at injection sites in western Texas and southern Colorado. Other sites with induced earthquakes did not respond to the passage of seismic waves from remote earthquakes.

The sites that reacted to stresses caused by remote earthquakes all had a decades-long history of injection, are assumed to have been near critically stressed faults, and had low levels of seismicity before the triggered earthquakes.

A separate paper in the same issue of Science, authored by William Ellsworth of the U.S. Geological Survey, provides a wide-ranging review of injection-induced earthquakes.

EIA interactive map showing energy structure potentially impacted by storms

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has released several interactive maps that combine real-time data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hurricane Center with maps showing the nation’s energy infrastructure and resources. These maps, released as peak hurricane season approaches, serve to better illustrate the potential impact of a storm for industry, government decisions makers, and the general public. The new maps are available at any time on the EIA’s Energy Disruptions webpage.

New USGS reports on coastal change help community and emergency planners

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) examined the probability of hurricane-induced coastal change on sandy beaches from Florida to New York in two first-ever studies released at the beginning of the month. Both reports – one examining beaches from Florida to North Carolina, the other beaches from Virginia to New York – can be used by community planners and emergency managers to make better informed decisions about coastline vulnerability and ways to deal with it. The reports include an online mapping tool that will enable users to model predicted coastal change in an area for any storm category.

Modeling data included in the reports indicate that a category 1 hurricane can increase water levels at the shoreline by about 150% above storm surge levels. Data also indicate that dune height and continuity have a strong correlation with coastal vulnerability, with northern beaches with higher average dune heights being less susceptible to overwash (the landward movement of sand and water) than southern beaches, with their long sections of continuous low dunes.