Scientists Meet to Discuss Disaster Warnings

April 15, 2005

WHETHER it’s floods, earthquakesor hurricanes, international scientists aremaking ground in the effort to ensureCosta Rica and other nations are informedin advance of impending natural disasters.They are also taking new efforts to stopnatural disasters before they start, by combatingglobal climate change, which couldhave an “apocalyptic” affect on weather,according to Paulo Manso, director ofCosta Rica’s National MeteorologicalInstitute.The discussion of global warming andthe creation of a new Regional ClimateCenter were two of the central issues at aneight-day conference in San José thatended Wednesday. Twenty-six regionaland international leaders from the WorldMeteorological Organization (WMO), abody of the United Nations, attended theevent.“WITH global warming, the frequencyof national disasters could increase inthis country. That is the primary issue theglobal community must face in this century,”Manso said.Manso stressed the need to not onlyproduce a better response to the effects ofglobal warming (more storms), but alsoprevent global warming from worsening.This big-picture approach to climate isone of the fundamentals of the WMO, andof the recent conference, according toArthur Dania, president of WMO’s Northand Central American region.The organization focuses on not onlynatural disaster notification, but also naturaldisaster prevention and water qualityand availability, particularly in terms ofsocial and economic development, Daniasaid.“There doesn’t exist one area in ourdaily lives that is not affected by weather,climate or water, from agriculture tohealth,” he said.Conference attendees also focused onthe effects climate change and increasedstorms will have on agriculture, accordingto the news wire service EFE.ONE of the more concrete results ofthe conference was the creation of aRegional Climate Center. The center willbetter anticipate future tsunamis, tropicalstorms and other natural disasters, leaderssaid at the start of the conference.“At this point there is not a country inthe region that needs to be surprised by aclimatic event,” Dania said.He said the region has developed oneof the best hurricane-alert systems in theworld.This system, which emerged fromregional cooperation between academicsand government officials after hurricaneMitch, will serve as the basis of the newRegional Climate Center.THE center will be virtual and basedprimarily on Internet communication,rather than a “large concrete buildingstaffed by hundreds of people,” explainedJohn Kelly, deputy undersecretary of commercefor oceans and atmosphere at theU.S. National Oceanic and AtmosphericAdministration (NOAA).U.S. involvement will be focused ontraining meteorologists on atmosphereevaluationtechniques, he said.The conference also produced a newradar project in the Caribbean to generateinformation about hurricanes, humidity,wind and rain, EFE reported.Attendees also discussed developmentof a tsunami-warning system for theCaribbean, although the threat of a tsunamiin the Caribbean is much less than it is inthe Pacific, Kelly said.AN identification and warning systemis already in place for tsunamis in thePacific. However, pending funding fromthe United States, if provided, would makesignificant improvements, includingincreasing the number of seismic sensorsin the ocean and extending the operationhours of the two tsunami observation centers(in Hawaii and Alaska) from eighthours a day to 24 hours a day.Costa Rica receives real-time digitalinformation from these and other meteorologicalcenters in the United States, Mansoexplained.Institute officials make weather forecastsand emergency alerts based on thisinformation and that collected by meteorologicalobservers within Costa Rica.THE development of an effectivewarning system can help in any kind ofemergency situation that is forecasted,including earthquakes and volcanic eruptions,explained Kelly.Debate still looms large on the predictabilityof earthquakes, although thepossibility of doing so received a boostrecently with the findings of a study publishedin Nature magazine.The study of a series of faults in theeast Pacific Ocean found that smalltremors occur before earthquakes along thesea-based faults and could be used to predictcoming earthquakes of magnitude 5.4or greater.The predictions come less than a fewhours beforehand.While some scientists are wary of thecapability of predicting earthquakes, projectresearcher Thomas Jordan explainedthat the study proves that in this part ofthe ocean at least, detection is possible,the daily La Nación reported.REGIONAL disaster prevention alsoreceived a boost earlier this month whenPresident Abel Pacheco and PanamaPresident Martín Torrijos reached anagreement for both countries to worktogether in designing an alert systemregarding flooding of the Sixaola River(TT, April 8).Flooding on this river in Januarycaused significant damage to homes,schools and farms on both sides of the border(TT, Jan. 14).

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