Texas oil and gas agency investigating 5.4 magnitude earthquake in West Texas, the largest in three decades

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

The quake was the third largest in Texas history, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. An increase in seismic activity in Texas has been linked to injecting fracking wastewater underground.

Google expands flood and wildfire tracking

Read the full story at The Verge.

Google announced a big expansion of its flood forecasting and wildfire tracking services today. It launched a tool called Flood Hub globally, which patches together forecasting across 20 countries. Google is also rolling out improved wildfire tracking to a few more countries after piloting the program in the US.

‘It’s like a death:’ What it’s like to leave one flood-prone community

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

In this stretch of the Mid-Atlantic, waters are rising at among the fastest rates in the world — a U.S. government station in Myrtle Beach has recorded nearly 10 inches of sea level rise since the late 1950s, and the trend has accelerated in recent years. Add to thatmore intense hurricanes, torrential rainstorms, feverish development that alters water flow and other factors, and more and more communities like this one find themselves in the path of floodwaters.

Already, according to one seminal study that examined voluntary buyouts between 1989 and 2017, the government has paid for more than 43,000 buyouts of flood-prone properties across 49 states and more than 1,100 counties.

Those numbers are set to grow.

After 2018 ‘Woolsey wildfire,’ Los Angeles’ mountain lions are taking more risks

Read the full story from Cell Press.

Los Angeles is known for its movie stars and beaches. It’s also known for being one of only two megacities in the world that supports a population of big cats. Despite being surrounded by a vast network of busy freeways and over ten million people, mountain lions have somehow managed to eke out a living in the wooded LA-area hills. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on October 20 have found that wildfires, and specifically the 2018 Woolsey fire, are putting the LA mountain lions’ future in more doubt.

WHEN IT RAINS: To stay or to go: Increased flooding forces towns to make hard choice

Read the full story at Investigate Midwest.

Increased rainfall and repetitive flooding have residents along the Mississippi River asking the same question: Do we move?

Other stories in the series

Memories of the end of the last ice age, from those who were there

Read the full story at Hakai Magazine.

It wasn’t long after Henry David Inglis arrived on the island of Jersey, just northwest of France, that he heard the old story. Locals eagerly told the 19th-century Scottish travel writer how, in a bygone age, their island was much more substantial, and that folks used to walk to the French coast. The only hurdle to their journey was a river—one easily crossed using a short bridge.

“Pah!” Inglis presumably scoffed as he looked out across 22 kilometers of shimmering blue sea—because he went on to write in his 1832 book about the region that this was “an assertion too ridiculous to merit examination.” Another writer, Jean Poingdestre, around 150 years earlier, had been similarly unmoved by the tale. No one could have trod from Jersey to Normandy, he withered, “vnlesse it were before the Flood,” referring to the Old Testament cataclysm.

Yet, there had been a flood. A big one. Between roughly 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, massive flooding caused by melting glaciers raised sea levels around Europe. That flooding is what eventually turned Jersey into an island.

Rather than being a ridiculous claim not worthy of examination, perhaps the old story was true—a whisper from ancestors who really did walk through now-vanished lands. A whisper that has echoed across millennia.

That’s exactly what geologist Patrick Nunn and historian Margaret Cook at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia have proposed in a recent paper.

Barrier islands are natural coast guards that absorb impacts from hurricanes and storms

Cumberland Island National Seashore off the coast of Georgia. NPS, CC BY-SA

by Anna Linhoss, Auburn University

When storms like Hurricane Ian make landfall, the first things they hit often are barrier islands – thin ribbons of sand that line the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It’s hard to imagine how these narrow strips can withstand such forces, but in fact, many of them have buffered our shores for centuries.

Barrier islands protect about 10 percent of coastlines worldwide. When hurricanes and storms make landfall, these strands absorb much of their force, reducing wave energy and protecting inland areas.

They also provide a sheltered environment that enables estuaries and marshes to form behind them. These zones serve many valuable ecological functions, such as reducing coastal erosion, purifying water and providing habitat for fish and birds.

Many barrier islands have been developed into popular tourist destinations, including Florida’s Sanibel Island and South Carolina’s Pawleys Island, both of which suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Ian. Islands that have been preserved in their natural state can move with storms, shifting their shapes over time. But many human activities interfere with these natural movements, making the islands more vulnerable.

Ocean City, Maryland is built on Fenwick Island, an Atlantic barrier island. USACE

Islands on the move

Barrier islands are made of sandy, erodible soil and subject to high-energy wave action. They are dynamic systems that constantly form and reform. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the islands are disappearing. Rather, they migrate naturally, building up sand in some areas and eroding in other areas.

New islands can form out in the ocean, either because local sea level drops or tectonics or sediment deposition raises the ocean floor. Or they may shift laterally along the shore as currents carry sediments from one end of the island toward the other. On the East Coast, barrier islands usually move from north to south because longshore currents transport sand in the same direction.

And over time many barrier islands move landward, toward the shore. This typically happens because local sea levels rise, so waves wash over the islands during storms, moving sand from the ocean side to the inland side.

How longshore drift moves sediment along a beach.

1=beach. 2=sea 3=longshore current direction 4=incoming waves 5=swash 6=backwash USGS

Building on shifting sands

Building hard infrastructure such as homes, roads and hotels on barrier islands interrupts their lateral migration. Needless to say, beach communities want their dunes to stay in place, so the response often is to build control structures, such as seawalls and jetties.

This protects buildings and roads, but it also disrupts natural sand transportation. Blocking erosion up-current means that no sediments are transported down-current, leaving those areas starved of sediment and vulnerable to erosion.

Many sandy tourist beach towns along the East Coast also turn to beach nourishment – pumping tons of sand from offshore – to replace sand lost through erosion. This does not interrupt natural sand transportation, but it is a very expensive and temporary fix.

For example, since the 1940s Florida has spent over US$1.3 billion on beach nourishment projects, and North Carolina has spent more than $700 million. This added sand will eventually wash away, quite possibly during the next hurricane to hit the coast, and have to be replaced.

What kind of protection?

In some cases, however, leaving barrier islands to do their own natural thing can cause problems for people. Some cities and towns, such as Miami and Biloxi, are located behind barrier islands and rely on them as a first line of defense against storms.

And many communities depend on natural resources provided by the estuaries and wetlands behind barrier islands. For example, Pamlico Sound – the protected waters behind North Carolina’s Outer Banks – is a rich habitat for blue crabs and popular sport fish such as red drum.

Survey images of barrier islands of Alabama, Mississippi and southeast Louisiana, collected to document changes resulting from Hurricane Isaac in August 2012. USGS

Unmanaged, some of these islands may not move the way we want them to. For example, a storm breach on a barrier island that protects a city would make that city more vulnerable.

Here in Mississippi, a string of uninhabited barrier islands off our coast separates Mississippi Sound from the Gulf of Mexico. Behind the islands is a productive estuary, important wetlands and cities such as Biloxi and Gulfport.

Because the Mississippi River has been dredged and enclosed between levees to keep it from spilling over its banks, this area does not receive the sediment loads that the river once deposited in this part of the Gulf. As a result, the islands are eroding and disappearing.

To slow this process, state and federal agencies have artificially nourished the islands to keep them in place and preserve the cities, livelihoods and ecological habitats behind them. This project filled a major breach cut in one island by Hurricane Camille in 1969, making the island a more effective storm buffer for the state’s coast.

When to retreat?

Geologically, barrier islands are not designed to stay in one place. But development on them is intended to last, although critics argue that climate change and sea level rise will inevitably force a retreat from the shore.

Reconciling humans’ love of the ocean with the hard realities of earth science is not easy. People will always be drawn to the coast, and prohibiting development is politically impractical. However, there are some ways to help conserve barrier islands while maintaining areas for tourism activities.

First, federal, state and local laws can reduce incentives to build on barrier islands by putting the burden of rebuilding after storms on owners, not on the government. Many critics argue that the National Flood Insurance Program has encouraged homeowners to rebuild on barrier islands and other coastal locations, even after suffering repeated losses in many storms.

Aerial view of a causeway with water and sediment flowing through a gap in the center
Hurricane Ian breached the causeway connecting Sanibel Island, Florida to the mainland, forcing residents to leave by boat after the storm passed. Image taken Sept. 30, 2022. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

Second, construction on barrier islands should leave dunes and vegetation undisturbed. This helps to keep their sand transportation systems intact. When roads and homes directly adjacent to beaches are damaged by storms, owners should be required to move back from the shoreline in order to provide a natural buffer between any new construction and the coastline.

Third, designating more conservation areas on barrier islands will maintain some of the natural sediment transportation and barrier island migration processes. And these conservation areas are popular nature-based tourism attractions. Protected barrier islands such as Assateague, Padre and the Cape Cod National Seashore are popular destinations in the U.S. national park system.

Finally, development on barrier islands should be done with change in mind and a preference for temporary or movable infrastructure. The islands themselves are surprisingly adaptable, but whatever is built in these dynamic settings is likely sooner or later to be washed away.

Anna Linhoss, Associate Professor of Engineering, Auburn University

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

This program is blazing a trail for women in wildland firefighting

Read the full story at The 19th.

As wildfires worsen and the state faces a firefighter shortage, a California pilot program aims to recruit women to fight fires. But the field remains full of obstacles.

States look to help tenants pay for air conditioning as climate warms

Read the full story at Stateline.

Some states where air conditioning used to be a luxury that was needed only a few days a year are now looking at ways to help people stay cool in the increasingly hot summers.

This 100% solar community endured Hurricane Ian with no loss of power and minimal damage

Read the full story from CNN.

Anthony Grande moved away from Fort Myers three years ago in large part because of the hurricane risk. He has lived in southwest Florida for nearly 19 years, had experienced Hurricanes Charley in 2004 and Irma in 2017 and saw what stronger storms could do to the coast.

Grande told CNN he wanted to find a new home where developers prioritized climate resiliency in a state that is increasingly vulnerable to record-breaking storm surge, catastrophic wind and historic rainfall.

What he found was Babcock Ranch — only 12 miles northeast of Fort Myers, yet seemingly light years away.

Babcock Ranch calls itself “America’s first solar-powered town.” Its nearby solar array — made up of 700,000 individual panels — generates more electricity than the 2,000-home neighborhood uses, in a state where most electricity is generated by burning natural gas, a planet-warming fossil fuel.