Drought, fire and flood: how outer urban areas can manage the emergency while reducing future risks



paintings/Shutterstock

Elisa Palazzo, UNSW; Annette Bardsley, University of Adelaide, and David Sanderson, UNSW

First the drought, then bushfires and then flash floods: a chain of extreme events hit Australia hard in recent months. The coronavirus pandemic has only temporarily shifted our attention towards a new emergency, adding yet another risk.

We knew from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the risk of extreme events was rising. What we perhaps didn’t realise was the high probability of different extreme events hitting one after the other in the same regions. Especially in the fringes of Australian cities, residents are facing new levels of environmental risk, especially from bushfires and floods.




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But this cycle of devastation is not inevitable if we understand the connections between events and do something about them.

Measures to slow climate change are in the hands of policymakers. But, at the adaptation level, we can still do many things to reduce the impacts of extreme events on our cities.

We can start by increasing our capacity to see these phenomena as one problem to be tackled locally, rather than distinct problems to be addressed centrally. Solutions should be holistic, community-centred and focused on people’s practices and shared responsibilities.

Respond to emergency

We can draw lessons from humanitarian responses to large disasters, including both national and international cases. A recent review of disaster responses in urban areas found several factors are critical for more successful recovery.

One is to prioritise the needs of people themselves. This requires genuine, collaborative engagement. People who have been through a bushfire or flood are not “helpless victims”. They are survivors who need to be supported and listened to, not dictated to, in terms of what they may or may not need.

Another lesson is to link recovery efforts, rather than have individual agencies provide services separately. For instance, an organisation focusing on housing recovery needs to work closely with organisations that are providing water or sanitation. A coordinated approach is more efficient, less wearying on those needing help, and better reflects the interconnected reality of everyday life.

In the aid world this is known as an “area-based” approach. It prioritises efforts that are driven by people demand rather than by the supply available.

A third lesson is give people money, not goods. Money allows people to decide what they really need, rather than rely on the assumptions of others.

As the bushfires have shown, donations of secondhand goods and clothes often turn into piles of unwanted goods. Disposal then becomes a problem in its own right.




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Combining local knowledge and engagement

Planning approaches in outer urban areas should be realigned with our current understanding of bushfire and flood risk. This situation is challenging planners to engage with residents in new ways to ensure local needs are met, especially in relation to disaster resilience.

In areas of high bushfire risk, planning needs to connect equally with the full range of locals. Landscape and biodiversity experts, including Indigenous land managers, and emergency managers should work in association with planning processes that welcome input from residents. This approach is highly likely to reduce risks.

Planners have a vital job to create platforms that enable the interplay of ideas, local values and traditional knowledge. Authentic engagement can increase residents’ awareness of environmental hazards. It can also pave the way for specific actions by authorities to reduce risks, such as those undertaken by Country Fire Service community engagement units in South Australia.




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Managing water to build bushfire resilience

Regenerating ecosystems by responding to flood risk can be crucial to increase urban and peri-urban resilience while reducing future drought and bushfire impacts.

Research on flood management suggests rainwater must be always seen as a resource, even in the case of extreme events. Sustainable water management through harvesting, retention and reuse can have long-term positive effects in regenerating micro-climates. It is at the base of any action aimed at comprehensively increasing resilience.




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In this sense, approaches based on decentralised systems are more effective at countering the risks of drought, fire and flood locally. They consist of small-scale nature-based solutions able to absorb and retain water to reduce flooding. Distributed off-grid systems support water harvesting in rainy seasons and prevent fires during drought by maintaining soil moisture.

Decentralisation also creates opportunities for innovation in the management of urban ecosystems, with responsibility shared among many. Mobile technologies can help communities play an active role in minimising flood impacts at the small scale. Information platforms can also help raise awareness of the links between risks and actions and lead to practical solutions that are within everybody’s reach.

Tailor responses to people and ecosystems

Disrupted ecosystems can make the local impacts of drought, fire and flood worse, but can also play a role in global failures, such as the recent pandemic. It is urgent to define and implement mechanisms to reverse this trend.

Lessons from disaster responses point towards the need to tailor solutions to community needs and local environmental conditions. A few key strategies are emerging:

  • foster networks and coordinated approaches that operate across silos

  • support local and traditional landscape knowledge

  • use information platforms to help people work together to manage risks

  • manage water locally with the support of populations to prevent drought and bushfire.

Recent environmental crises are showing us the way to finally change direction. Safe cities and landscapes can be achieved only by regenerating urban ecosystems while responding to increasing environmental risks through integrated, people-centred actions.The Conversation

Elisa Palazzo, Urbanist and landscape planner – Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Built Environment, UNSW; Annette Bardsley, Researcher, Department of Geography, Environment and Population, University of Adelaide, and David Sanderson, Professor and Inaugural Judith Neilson Chair in Architecture, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With costs approaching $100 billion, the fires are Australia’s costliest natural disaster


Paul Read, Monash University and Richard Denniss, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

It’s hard to estimate the eventual economic cost of Australia’s 2019-20 megafires, partly because they are still underway, and partly because it is hard to know the cost to attribute to deaths and the decimation of species and habitats, but it is easy to get an idea of its significance – the cost will be unprecedented.

The deadliest bushfires in the past 200 years took place in 1851, then 1939, then 1983, 2009, now 2019-20. The years between them are shrinking rapidly. Only a remote grassfire in central Australia in 1974-75 rivalled them in terms of size, although not in biomass burnt or loss of life.

The term “megafire” is a new one, defined in the early 2000s to help describe disturbing new wildfires emerging in the United States – massive blazes, usually above 400,000 hectares, often joining up, that create more than usual destruction to life and property.




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Australia’s current fires dwarf the US fires that inspired the term.

They are 25 times the size of Australia’s deadliest bushfires, the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria that directly killed 173 people, and so large and intense that they create their own weather in which winds throw embers 30 kilometres or more ahead of the front and pyro-cumulus clouds produce dry lightning that ignites new fires.

The Black Saturday fires burnt 430,000 hectares. The current fires have killed fewer people but have so far burnt 10.7 million hectares – an area the size of South Korea, or Scotland and Wales combined.

There are easy to measure costs…

The federal government has promised to put at least A$2 billion into a National Bushfire Recovery Fund, which is roughly the size of the first estimate of the cost of the fires calculated by Terry Rawnsley of SGS Economics and Planning.

He put the cost at somewhere between A$1.5 and $2.5 billion, using his firm’s modelling of the cost of the NSW Tathra fires in March 2018 as a base.

It’s the total of the lost income from farm production, tourism and the like.

It is possible to get an idea of wider costs using the findings of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.


Final Report, 2019 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission

It came up with an estimate for tangible costs of A$4.369 billion, which after inflation would be about $5 billion in today’s dollars.

…and harder-to-measure costs

Tangible costs are hose easily measured including the cost of replacing things such as destroyed homes, contents and vehicles.

They also include the human lives lost, which were valued at A$3.7 million per life (2009 dollars) in accordance with a Commonwealth standard.

The measure didn’t include the effect of injuries and shortened lives due to smoke-related stroke and cardiovascular and lung diseases, or damage to species and habitats, the loss of livestock, grain and feed, crops, orchards and national and local parks.

Also excluded were “inangibles”, among them the social costs of mental health problems and unemployment and increases in suicide, substance abuse, relationship breakdowns and domestic violence.




Read more:
Disaster recovery from Australia’s fires will be a marathon, not a sprint


The cost of inangibles can peak years after a disaster and continue to take tolls for decades, if not generations.

One attempt to estimate the cost of intangibles was made by Deloitte Access Economics, in work for the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience & Safer Communities.

Deloitte put the tangible costs of the Black Saturday fires at A$3.1 billion in 2015 dollars and the intangible costs at more than that again: A$3.9 billion, producing a total of A$7 billion, which would be A$7.6 billion in today’s dollars.

Black Saturday is a staring point

2009 Victoria Black Saturday bushfires.
ANDREW BROWNBILL/AAP

This season’s megafires are, so far, less costly than the 2009 Victorian fires in terms of human life, roughly on par in terms of lost homes, and less costly for other structures.

But given that considerably more land has been burnt we can expect other costs to eclipse those of Black Saturday.

As of today, 25 times as much land has been burnt.

Scaling up the royal commission’s Black Saturday figures for the size of the fire and scaling them down for the fewer deaths and other things that shouldn’t be scaled up produces an estimate of tangible costs of A$103 billion in today’s dollars.

The Deloitte Access Economics ratio of intangible to tangible costs suggests a total for both types of costs of A$230 billion.

As it happens the tangible costs estimate is close to an estimate of A$100 billion prepared using methods by University of Queensland economist John Quiggin.




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The reality won’t be clear for some time.

There are several weeks of fire season remaining, and we are yet to reach the usual peak season for Victoria, which is in the first week of February.

What we can safely say, with weeks left to go, is that these fires are by far Australia’s costliest natural disaster.The Conversation

Paul Read, Climate Criminologist & Senior Instructor/Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University and Richard Denniss, Adjunct Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What investigators should be looking for in the Iran plane crash: an expert explains


Geoffrey Dell, CQUniversity Australia

While there is much speculation about the cause of the Ukrainian airliner that crashed after take-off from Tehran’s airport this week, killing all 176 people on board, there is presently very little factual information to go on.

Western intelligence has indicated a surface-to-air missile likely hit the plane in what may have been an “unintentional” act – an assertion Iran quickly dismissed.

As with any other crash, the world aviation community needs to know what caused this one in the interest of ongoing flight safety.

Political tensions between Iran and the US may make the investigation more challenging, but they should not prevent a thorough systematic analysis from occurring and the cause of the crash to ultimately be established.




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Who will have access to the black boxes?

The flight recorders hold the key to establishing what actually happened and why. And here’s where the political tensions are most problematic – Iran initially said it would not hand over the black boxes to the manufacturer of the aircraft, Boeing, or the US.

But new reports say Iran has now invited the US National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing to take part in the investigation.

Under the International Civil Aviation Organisation Annex 13 convention, the US has the right to appoint an adviser to the investigation, as does the aircraft manufacturer. The convention presumes a level of cooperation between all parties involved in crash investigations, which could prove difficult in this case. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a proper investigation won’t or can’t be conducted.

Responsibility for the investigation sits with the Iranians, but under the UN Civil Aviation Conventions, they can request assistance from any other country, if they don’t have the capacity to conduct it themselves.

There are many other countries with the necessary expertise to assist, including recovering flight data from recorders with very significant damage. France, Canada, UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Australia could all help, for example.

Other countries can only step in, however, if invited by Iran or if Iran chooses not to conduct the investigation.

What’s most important is that whoever leads the investigation must have access to all the information – the wreckage itself, flight data, radar data, maintenance records, crew data, flight plans, load sheets, and passenger and cargo manifests. Otherwise, the wrong conclusions can be reached.

Why is a field investigation important?

There also needs to be a parallel field investigation analysing the wreckage.

First, investigators should be ensuring they have accounted for all the wreckage. If some parts separated from the aircraft in-flight, they may be found some distance from the main wreckage site and may hold key clues that could lead to a better understanding of the cause of the crash.

As such, the terrain under the flight path needs to be surveyed carefully to locate all items from the aircraft.

Clearly, it will also be important to examine the wreckage of the engines for any evidence of pre-crash damage.




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For example, if a fire had been burning inside the engine cowling, there may be evidence of scorching. Analysis of the internal engine components should also make clear whether the engines were still delivering power when the plane made impact with the ground or if there was a pre-crash structural or component failure.

Investigators should also look at the wing and fuselage surfaces next to the engines for any pre-impact damage. If an engine failure occurred, there may be evidence of impact damage from engine components after they burst out of the armoured casing.

This was the case with the fatal Air France Concorde crash in 2000, as well as the uncontained engine failure that nearly caused Qantas flight QF32 to crash en route from Singapore to Sydney in 2010.

Can evidence show if a missile hit the plane?

Analysing the aircraft engines, wing and fuselage surfaces may also provide evidence if the aircraft was struck by a missile.

This was the case with Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people aboard. There was clear evidence of the aircraft structures being penetrated from outside the plane by high-speed particles.

Similar forensic analysis can be conducted on the remnants of the Boeing 737 in Iran, even if a high degree of fragmentation occurred in the crash. This should reveal the truth if a missile was responsible.

One of the engines of the crashed Boeing 737 in Iran.
ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/EPA

Would Boeing’s exclusion hurt the investigation?

Of course, it would be usual for the aircraft manufacturer to be involved. After all, it knows more about the technologies involved in building and operating the aircraft than anyone else.

That said, there are many global agencies that also know a lot about the engineering and operation of the B737-800 plane, such as the airworthiness authorities in other countries, who could be called upon to participate.

No doubt, Ukraine will be heavily involved, as will Canada, due to the number of Canadians who lost their lives in the crash. So, if Boeing was excluded from the investigation, it might be a set-back, but not a show-stopper.




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Boeing is, however, responsible for assuring the ongoing safety standards for the global B737 fleet, so whether it is directly involved in the investigation or not, it is imperative the reasons for the crash are shared with global aviation agencies, the manufacturer and all other airlines.

It is worth reflecting in these sad occasions that the purpose of a crash investigation is to prevent future incidents. Unless the actual cause of this crash is understood, any possible problems in the global flight safety system may go unrectified, making the risk of future crashes higher than it otherwise would be.

The impact of the crash on the families of the victims is also immense and immeasurable. This is another reason why a proper, thorough and systematic investigation is so important. It ensures those who have tragically lost their lives, and their families and friends, will not have suffered in vain.The Conversation

Geoffrey Dell, Associate Professor/Discipline Leader Accident Investigation and Forensics, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why were tourists allowed on White Island?



The volcanic alert level on Whakaari/White Island remains at three, one rung higher than it was when the eruption took place.
AAP/GNS Science, CC BY-ND

Michael Lueck, Auckland University of Technology

Emergency crews have retrieved six bodies on Friday and continue to search for two further victims of Monday’s volcanic eruption at Whakaari/White Island.

The people on the island were tourists and tour guides, including visitors from Australia, the UK, China and Malaysia, along with New Zealanders. Several of the tourists were passengers from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

There is a 50% chance the volcano will erupt again in the next 24 hours.
Michael Schade, CC BY-ND

GeoNet, which operates a geological hazard monitoring system, says there is still a 50-60% chance of an eruption occurring that could impact outside of the vent area within the next 24 hours.

But the question being asked now is why tourists were allowed on such a dangerous island. This will probably feature prominently in investigations – both by police and WorkSafe.




Read more:
Why White Island erupted and why there was no warning


Safety guidelines for volcano tours

White Island is privately owned, and only permitted operators are allowed to take tourists on guided tours. White Island Tours is one of the main operators in Whakatane, a township on the east coast of the North Island, and they had people on the island yesterday.

This operator has stringent safety checks and was even named New Zealand’s safest place to work in a workplace safety award last year.

But earlier this month, GeoNet had raised the alert level to two (out of five), due to “moderate and heightened volcanic unrest”. Should that have caused enough concern to discontinue tours to the island?

Hindsight is always 20/20, but any visit to an active volcano, or volcanic field bears a certain amount of risk, and usually it is managed by governmental bodies generally, and the tourism industry in particular.

The management, or lack thereof, varies by country and jurisdiction. Commonly, organisations such as GeoNet provide real time updates on volcanic activities and issue warnings of potential hazards. In the case of White Island, it falls ultimately to the operators to decide whether or not to send tours to the island on any given day.

Leading geo-tourism researcher Patricia Erfurt-Cooper notes there is a “distinct lack of safety guidelines for volcano tours at most sites, which is compounded by language problems”.

Management strategies include multi-lingual signage, such as in Japan, and the closure of active sites, such as in Hawaii.




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Often, volcanic geologists are able to read early signs of activity, and predict eruptions hours, if not days in advance. But this is not always the case, as we saw yesterday and in the 2007 eruption of Mount Ruapehu.

History of accidents in adventure tourism

Volcano tourism is a subset of adventure tourism, and New Zealand has had its fair share of incidents in this sector. Many will remember the collapse of a viewing platform at Cave Creek in 1995, where 14 people died. After the collapse, the Department of Conservation (DOC) inspected more than 500 structures, resulting in the closure of 65.

A commission of inquiry found a number of shortcomings in the building of the platform and DOC took responsibility for the accident. Since then, New Zealand law has changed so government departments can be held responsible and liable for negligence in offences under the Building Act.

Worldwide, there have been several deadly volcanic eruptions, including Japan’s Mount Ontake in 2014. This steam-driven eruption occurred without clear warning and killed 63 people hiking the mountain, in what became the country’s most deadly eruption in nearly 90 years.

In 2013, the eruption of Mayon volcano in the Philippines killed five climbers. Last year, one tourist died in an eruption of Italy’s Stromboli volcano, which has become a resort island.

Assessing risks

New Zealand promotes itself as the adventure capital of the world, and it is a fine balance for an operator to provide the (often advertised) excitement the thrill-seeking tourists are looking for, and the safety of everybody involved.

Research shows the majority of thrill-seekers are looking for risk, but in a controlled way. The adrenaline rush is paramount, but they don’t seriously want to be at risk of injury or loss of life.

The tragic events of White Island reiterate that we must be vigilant, and have excellent risk management strategies in place. Perhaps it is time for the tourism industry, government and volcanic experts to review current rules. We can minimise the risk, but we can never totally rule it out.

Any adventure tourist must be aware of the potential risk they are taking and should check the tour operator’s website for information about the risk they’d be undertaking, and how the tour operator plans to manage it. If the operator doesn’t have this information available – choose another one.The Conversation

Michael Lueck, Professor of Tourism, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why White Island erupted and why there was no warning



The sudden eruption at White Island was short-lived but produced an ash plume that rose several kilometres above the vent.
GNZ Science, CC BY-ND

Shane Cronin, University of Auckland

Five days after a sudden volcanic eruptions on Whakaari/White Island, off the east coast of New Zealand, on Monday, emergency crews have retrieved six bodies and continue to search for two further victims.

The island is a tourist destination and 47 people were on it when it erupted on Monday afternoon.

Volcanologists at GeoNet, which operates a geological hazard monitoring system, described the eruption as impulsive and short-lived, with an ash plume that rose to more than three kilometres above the vent.

This footage was taken by Michael Schade whose family got off Whakaari/White Island 20 minutes before it erupted.

Volcanic hazards

White Island is one of several volcanoes in New Zealand that can produce sudden explosive eruptions at any time. In this case, magma is shallow, and the heat and gases affect surface and ground water to form vigorous hydrothermal systems.

In these, water is trapped in pores of rocks in a super-heated state. Any external process, such as an earthquake, gas input from below, or even a change in the lake water level can tip this delicate balance and release the pressure on the hot and trapped water.

The resulting steam-driven eruption, also called a hydrothermal or phreatic eruption, can happen suddenly and with little to no warning. The expansion of water into steam is supersonic in speed and the liquid can expand to 1,700 times its original volume. This produces catastrophic impacts.

The expansion energy is enough to shatter solid rock, excavate craters and eject rock fragments and ash out to hundreds of metres away from the vent. We know of sites in New Zealand where material has been blasted out over three kilometres from the vent by such eruptions.

The eruption on White Island sent sent huge amounts of steam and ash into the air in the blast.
GeoNet, CC BY-ND

Potential for further eruptions

The hazards expected from steam-driven eruptions are violent ejections of hot blocks and ash, and the formation of “hurricane-like” currents of wet ash and coarse particles that radiate from the explosion vent. These can be deadly in terms of impact trauma, burns and respiratory injuries.

The eruptions are short-lived, but once one happens, there is a high chance for further, generally smaller ones as the system re-equilibrates. White Island is an acute location for such activity, but it is not the only location in New Zealand where this can happen.

Mount Ruapehu (crater lake), Mount Tongariro (Te Maari and Ketetahi) and geothermal areas of the central North Island all have the potential to cause such events. We know there have been more than 60 hydrothermal eruptions in the last 100 years in New Zealand. Some of these have caused loss of life.




Read more:
Each volcano has unique warning signs that eruption is imminent


No warning

Monitoring and warning for hydrothermal eruptions is a huge challenge. We don’t normally see these eruptions coming, no matter how much we would like to. Many systems are already “primed” for such events, but the triggers are poorly understood.

The warning periods, once an event gets underway, are likely in the order of seconds to minutes. Our only hope for anticipating these events is to track potential vapour and liquid pressure in hydrothermal systems and to learn from their long-term behaviour when they are at a super-critical state. Unfortunately there are no simple rules that can be followed and each hydrothermal system is different.

In this age of technology and instrumental monitoring, it seems irrational that there should be little or no warning for such eruptions. The eruption is not caused by magma, but by steam, and this is much harder to track in our current monitoring systems.




Read more:
Why Japan’s deadly Ontake eruption could not be predicted


We have seen several other fatal hydrothermal catastrophies unfold in other parts of the world, such as the 2014 eruption of Mount Ontake in Japan. New Zealand has been luckier than many other parts of the world, until now.The Conversation

Shane Cronin, Professor of Earth Sciences, University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Call for clearer risk information for tourists following Whakaari/White Island tragedy



The Royal New Zealand Navy during a recovery operation on Whakaari/White Island, on December 13. Rescue and recovery efforts have been hampered by hazardous conditions on the island, and the danger of another eruption.
EPA/Royal NZ Navy, CC BY-ND

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia and James Higham, University of Otago

In the aftermath of the tragedy at Whakaari/White Island on December 9, many are analysing the risks of adventure tourism, particularly volcano tourism, and asking pointed questions.

It is a sensitive time, with 15 people now confirmed dead, many hospitalised in critical condition, and two bodies yet to be retrieved from the disaster zone.

We question whether the tourists caught up in the events actually knew the risks they faced, and whether other tourist groups may be unaware of the potential risks that their travel decisions may carry.

Although geologists are monitoring Whakaari/White Island, some volcanic activity cannot be predicted.



Read more:
Why were tourists allowed on White Island?


Risk assessment and visitor safety

The websites for White Island Tours and the promotion pages on the Bay of Plenty website are currently not viewable. But the Trip Advisor site for Whakaari calls it “New Zealand’s most active volcano”. It mentions the need for gas masks and hard hats and describes conditions of a still active volcano, including steam vents and sulphurous fumes.

But it is doubtful that cruise ship passengers, such as those from the Ovation of the Seas, would have done such research. Cruises offer a variety of shore excursions when in port, ranging from passive sightseeing to adventure activities.

Many tourists will assume endorsed excursions have been properly vetted by their cruise company and assume there is negligible risk to personal safety. But this may not be the case.

Major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean visit multiple destinations with very different regulatory environments. The assumption that shore excursions will be safe may be misplaced, both by the cruise line and the visitors they book on such excursions. This is now clear from the events at Whakaari but also in previous incidents, such as last year’s fatal bus crash in Mexico.

Local supporters gather on the quayside as a boat that carried families for a morning blessing at White Island returns during a recovery operation to retrieve the remaining bodies.
AAP/David Rowland, CC BY-ND

Adventure capital

New Zealand is known as an adventure tourism destination, but its regulatory systems have undergone recent change. After 37 deaths over four years, then prime minister John Key ordered an urgent safety audit in 2009.

This resulted in a shift, from 2013, from a voluntary system under Outdoors New Zealand and the regulatory system under Worksafe NZ to the New Zealand adventure activity certification scheme. Some tour operators have found this audit system too onerous. Striking the right balance between risk management while allowing the adventure tourism sector to thrive has proved difficult.

But the case of Whakaari/White Island is unique in many ways. The island is privately owned. GeoNet monitors volcanic activity and rates the threat level. The tour companies then assess the risk and determine if visits can proceed or should be temporarily suspended.

Three companies have operated tours to Whakaari/White Island, including the Māori-owned White Island Tours (owned by Ngāti Awa). The other two are helicopter companies Kahu and Volcanic Air Safaris. White Island Tours was accredited under AdventureMark, which is a Worksafe NZ approved certification body.

We must await the Worksafe investigation to know whether it was reasonable to allow the tours to go ahead when volcanic risk rating had risen from level 1 to level 2. We also still await the full human toll, knowing that recovery for survivors may take years. It is also clear that the impact on Ngāti Awa and the Whakatāne community has been profound.

Inherent risk in active environments

In laying out these complexities in which small private tour companies and large internationally owned cruise ships took thousands of visitors to Whakaari each year, we underscore how difficult an assessment of risk might be for some visitors.

Adventure tourists typically make an assessment weighing up risks against the thrills they seek to achieve. New Zealand’s reputation for adventure tourism is built in part on well developed policy settings and regulatory regimes, and an expectation among visitors of high adventure safety standards.

Risk – both perceived and actual – is carefully managed to ensure that perceived risk is high but actual risk is as low as humanly possible. The reputation of the sector and, indeed, the interests of the wider New Zealand tourism industry hinge on high safety standards. For example, bungy jumping appears to be very high risk, but its commercial viability comes from the highly controlled operation, which means actual risk is in fact very low.

Set against this are longstanding activities that take visitors into spectacular settings to experience firsthand the wonders of nature. Such environments do present inherent risk even if many decades may pass between natural events.

The Pink and White Terraces – the largest silica sinter deposit on earth – were a spectacular visitor attraction in the mid-19th century, and the centrepiece of Māori tourism development. That was until they were completely destroyed by the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886.

New Zealand’s most stunning natural vistas – Aoraki/Mount Cook, the fjords of Te Wahipounamu world heritage area, towering glaciers and raging rivers – are the result of millions of years of seismic activity on the Pacific and Australian tectonic plate boundary. These environments are dynamic and, at times, very destructive.

These settings contrast adventure tourism activities. Risk may be perceived as low or non-existent given that these environments may be largely inactive for years.




Read more:
Why White Island erupted and why there was no warning


Informed consent

In a complex international environment, the ultimate decision to participate in activities in dynamic and potentially destructive environments rests with the visitors.

Ultimately, visitor welfare depends on informed visitor choice. This case highlights the need for consent forms to be signed in many more cases, beyond those already used in adventure tourism and medical tourism.

Such documents should make clear the nature of the possible risks. Elevated risk levels on the day of the visit as well as changing risk levels in the days prior to the scheduled visit should be clearly communicated. Participation should only proceed after informed consent is secured.

Such an approach does not obviate the need for accreditation, audits, regulations and strict oversight by relevant authorities. But it does ensure that tourists play their part in deciding what risks are worth taking on their holidays.

We cannot undo the events that unfolded at Whakaari/ White Island, but we can honour lives lost by making absolutely sure that we learn from this tragedy.The Conversation

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia and James Higham, Professor of Tourism, University of Otago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Just because both sides support drought relief, doesn’t mean it’s right


Lin Crase, University of South Australia

The bipartisan parliamentary vote to transform the A$3.9 billion Building Australia Fund into a pot of cash to drought-proof Australia, the Future Drought Fund, should not be taken as universal endorsement.

Labor opposed the idea before caving in, saying it did not “want to be painted as a party that opposes support for farmers”.

Rather, it simply shows that Australian politicians coalesce on some things: few miss the opportunity to be photographed with an affectionate child, and even fewer are willing to be critical of public funds being handed to drought-stricken farmers.

But support something (or feeling too scared not to oppose something), doesn’t necessarily make it the right policy.




Read more:
Drought is inevitable, Mr Joyce


Australian governments have sought to drought-proof parts of inland Australia through publicly funded irrigation schemes for much of the past century.

Whenever dryland farmers experienced drought, they were viewed as having experienced a natural disaster, even though the variability of dryland rains was well understood.

Then, from the 1960s, things changed.

First there was a growing realisation that public monies spent on irrigation were not the best means of dealing with a variable climate.

We’ve moved away from thinking about drought as disaster

Second, governments started to describe drought differently, culminating in a 1992 National Drought Policy that required farmers to be more self-reliant and absorb the impacts of drought as something to be expected.

The decades that followed continued this trend with all states and the Commonwealth agreeing on national principles in 2013. Concessional loans and a farm management deposit scheme with taxation advantages were available to help farmers, but would only be useful to those that were viable in the long term.

A Farm Household Allowance, set at the level of Newstart and available for up to four years in return for setting out a plan to improve the farmer’s financial circumstances, was also introduced in 2015 and refined in 2018.

Part of the thinking was that climate change is expected to make droughts more common and severe, although there are good reasons for encouraging adaptation to the existing climate in any case.




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Helping farmers in distress doesn’t help them be the best: the drought relief dilemma


However, getting the balance right between “supporting” farm businesses and encouraging them to adapt and be self-reliant isn’t straightforward, especially when the climate and political cycles coincide.

It’s hard to imagine politicians being fiscally prudent when they know they have access to a drought slush fund and are heading into an election during a drying phase.

So, what’s wrong with the new drought fund?

First, there is mounting evidence that farm businesses can actually benefit from drought in the longer term. This seems to occur because businesses that go through a drought develop coping strategies that when invoked in good years produce much greater profits.

That is not to say that droughts are financially a good thing – but it does mean that shielding farm businesses from drought runs the risk that they will not adapt.

Second, an obsession with drought undoes much of the good work done in reclassifying it as something to be expected rather than a natural disaster. Nearly all of the natural disaster payments made in the decade leading up to 2012-13 – one of the driest on record – were spent on rebuilding after floods and storms rather than droughts.

Third, while repurposing the Building Australia Fund as the Future Drought Fund is designed to appeal to rural and regional voters, it is unlikely to help them. Agriculture simply does not generate the jobs that it once did and public pronouncements about drought-proofing will not change the underlying economics of farm businesses and regional communities.




Read more:
Droughts, extreme weather and empowered consumers mean tough choices for farmers


Farming is generally helped by scale, and that means bigger farms with bigger machines displacing smaller farms. The upshot is fewer jobs and the shutdown of small towns, allowing only the larger regional centres to survive. Finding ways to manage this social phenomenon should be the priority rather than shielding farms from drought.

But it’s hard to be optimistic. Politicians love handing cheques to farmers as much as they love photographs with adoring children.The Conversation

Lin Crase, Professor of Economics and Head of School, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

This is why nuking a hurricane will not work, Mr Trump


Liz Ritchie-Tyo, UNSW

President Donald Trump has reportedly suggested on more than one occasion that the US military explode nuclear bombs inside hurricanes to disrupt them before they reach land.

As reported in National Geographic, this is not the first time a suggestion like this has been made – although Trump now denies having said it.

On the surface, it would seem like a simple solution to the devastation that occurs in the US each year during the hurricane season. However, there are several problems with this idea.




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What is a hurricane?

Hurricanes are low-pressure weather systems covering an area of more than 500,000km². They form over warm tropical oceans, which are their primary energy source. The low pressure at the centre of the hurricane – the eye – draws in the surrounding warm, moist air. This air then rises and condenses into deep thunderstorm clouds surrounding the centre – the eyewall – and also in cloud bands spiralling out from the eye called rainbands.

As the air is pulled into the eye, Earth’s rotation causes it to spin cyclonically – anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. The continuous supply of air into the deep thunderstorms surrounding the eye allows the hurricane to intensify until it reaches a steady state of equilibrium with the oceans and the environment.

Would a nuclear bomb put a dent in a hurricane?

The average hurricane can be likened to a very inefficient heat engine. As the warm moist air rises, it releases heat energy through the formation of clouds and rain at a rate of about 5.2 x 10¹⁹ joules per day. Less than 10% of this heat is then converted into the mechanical energy of the wind.

To give some perspective of this energy, the heat released in a hurricane is equivalent to a 10-megatonne nuclear bomb exploding every hour. This energy is also on the order of the global energy consumption in 2016, according to the United States Energy Information Agency.

It seems unlikely that exploding a bomb in the hurricane would make much impact on such a powerful weather system, and it is impossible to run controlled experiments to determine whether it would.

Not to mention that there could be shocking effects from the fallout of radioactive material from such an explosion. These materials would be transported widely via the trade winds through the lower levels of the atmosphere, and potentially around the entire planet in the stratosphere – similar to the effects from the volcanic fallout from Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991.

Have people tried to stop hurricanes before?

There have been previous attempts to modify the impacts of hurricanes. Between 1962 and 1983 the US government funded experimental research on hurricane modification known as Project STORMFURY. The fundamental premise was, because the potential of damage from hurricanes increases rapidly with the hurricane’s wind speed, a reduction in wind speed of as little as 10% could make a large difference in the impacts when hurricanes reach land. By seeding the air outside the eyewall with silver iodide, a chemical used to seed clouds, it was thought a new ring of thunderstorms may develop outside the eyewall – robbing it of energy and weakening the hurricane.




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Modification was attempted in four hurricanes on eight different days. On four of those days, a 10-30% reduction in wind speed was measured. The lack of response on the other fours days was initially interpreted to be the result of faulty execution of the experiment, but was later attributed to an imperfect understanding of the microphysics of clouds in hurricanes.

Successful cloud seeding using silver iodide requires that supercooled water droplets freeze onto the silver iodide seeds.

Recent observations show hurricanes have too many naturally occurring ice crystals and too few supercooled water droplets for cloud seeding to be effective. So any change in hurricane wind speed observed during the STORMFURY experiments was almost certainly due to the natural behaviour of hurricanes rather than human intervention.

Although Project STORMFURY was abandoned, the hurricane observation program is still run under the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The original aircraft used in Project STORMFURY were replaced in the 1970s by WP-3D aircraft, which still reside under NOAA and are operated by its officers.




Read more:
Hurricanes to deliver a bigger punch to coasts


The observations collected by these aircraft continuously over a period of more than 60 years has helped improve hurricane forecasting. Furthermore, these observations have allowed researchers to develop vital insights into the structure, intensity, and physical processes of this most destructive of natural phenomena.The Conversation

Liz Ritchie-Tyo, Associate Professor, School of Physical, Environmental, and Mathematical Sciences, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.