Mapping The Future
“Picture running down the National Mall and turning to see a tsunami tidal wave overtaking the Lincoln Memorial. Would you be prepared?” Dr. Michael West (Alaska State Seismologist, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks) asked, recreating a similar scene that happened not long ago in Icy Bay, Alaska.
Dr. West was speaking at the Congressional Hazards Caucus briefing, “Watching the World: Saving Lives Through Hazards Mapping and Monitoring.” During the event, panelists delved into the current state of natural disaster hazards mapping and monitoring.
Dr. West’s work is geared towards creating a seismology map that will apply “imperative knowledge derived from earthquake monitoring to natural ocean disasters.” His mapping technology has been applied to coastal hazards, such as shoreline erosion. This knowledge of coastal changes helps communities plan infrastructure, development, and public access, including where to build structures such as septic fields, wells, housing setbacks, and boat ramps. Mr. Richard Ortt (Director, State Geologist; Maryland Geological Survey) shared how he hopes to build infrastructure through improved mapping so that transportation planners can make more informed decisions when choosing locations for development. He compared his work to his time as a Cub Scout leader, explaining that the steps of observing, documenting, and planning are the same, whether you’re lost in the woods or dealing with geological hazards. Mr. Ortt hopes to build community infrastructure to avoid, for example, shutting down a train track for three months (damaging the local economy and causing soil degradation) after a landslide.
Mr. Kevin Gallagher (Associate Director, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Core Systems Sciences) discussed the scientific gaps filled by LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), a remote sensing method used to study the Earth’s surface that has modernized geologic mapping. NOAA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) use LIDAR to improve floodplain monitoring and to effectively communicate flood risks to communities. LIDAR modeling also helps identify areas where the loss of life is possible from Alaskan tsunamis generated by submarine landslides.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) addressed natural hazards her home state has witnessed and highlighted bills such as the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act (S. 53) as ways to “save lives and protect our nation’s infrastructure.” Throughout the briefing, it was clear that the numerous emerging mapping and monitoring technologies available provide the capability to build resiliency to natural hazards. A thriving nation requires resilient communities that help protect citizens from economic, safety, and social disruptions related to natural disasters.