Cover Image

Not for Sale



View/Hide Left Panel

systems that measure the height of the Earth have important ramifications for understanding earthquakes and predictions. Near-term priorities for Earth observations include data management, global land and ocean observing systems, an integrated national drought information system, and an air quality assessment and forecast system.


Olsen noted that disasters are going to happen and no amount of science and technology will stop them, but better science and technology will provide a high level of predictability and preparedness to minimize their effects. Although much needs to be done, the United States has made progress in hazard forecasting and preparedness, particularly in comparison to some other societies when it comes to reducing casualties and loss of life. For example, during the 2004 hurricane season, Hurricane Jean caused less than 100 deaths in Florida, but was responsible for over 2,000 deaths in neighboring Haiti. Olsen suggested that there is a real need for the United States to transfer its disaster-related scientific knowledge worldwide to help other countries, especially developing ones, reduce deaths and other losses from disasters of all types.

FIGURE 1. The Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline, built in the 1970’s, crosses the Denali Fault in Alaska. During the 2002 Denali Fault quake, magnitude 7.9, the ground was offset beneath the pipeline, and violent shaking damaged a few of the pipeline’s supports near the fault, but the pipeline did not break. (Source: Kathy Olsen, OSTP).

Olsen indicated that sometimes success should be measured by what doesn’t happen, a disaster averted, as a result of the application of extant science and technology, but this is difficult to explain to taxpayers. For example, the November 2002 Denali Fault earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale occurred in Alaska in the location of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline (Figure 1). When the pipeline was designed, seismic risks were considered and it was built to withstand large earthquakes, so even the 7.9 earthquake did not rupture the pipeline. This was a disaster averted. If the pipeline had ruptured, a major environmental disaster would



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement