Japan Earthquake: Prize laureate calls for better understanding of catastrophe risk

TOKYO, Japan, Mar. 28, 2011 -- There needs to be a better technical understanding in natural science of how catastrophic event risk is changing in a highly connected world, a leading scientist has said following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan...

Mar 28th, 2011

TOKYO, Japan, Mar. 28, 2011 -- There needs to be a better technical understanding in natural science of how catastrophic event risk is changing in a highly connected world, a leading scientist has said following the magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan.

Professor Stephen Carpenter from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, winner of this year's 2011 Stockholm Water Prize (see Water & Wastewater International story), called for international institutions to be more proactive when it comes to anticipating and dealing with natural disasters.

Speaking to WWi, Professor Stephen Carpenter, said: "We handle catastrophes in a completely reactive way - we just mop up after they happen. But in fact there are ways of designing landscapes and seascapes so that they are more resilient to catastrophes."

He added: "There are ways of designing institutions that are better able to bounce back when catastrophe hits. I believe it's an interdisciplinary science challenge, so it involves institutions, human psychology, teaching and natural science research."

Seventeen days after the earthquake and subsequent devastating tsunami struck the north east coast of Japan and Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, media reports continue to speculate over radiation levels in drinking water supplies.

Last week radioactive iodine levels in Japan's water were classified suitable for consumption days after reports suggested levels were unsafe for babies under one year old (see WWi story).

Professor Carpenter added: "We need better technical understanding from the natural science side, of how catastrophic event risk is changing in a highly connected world. The human population is continuing to grow - our economies, our information systems, our movement of goods and services are more connected than ever. That creates new vulnerabilities to things like diseases, or the knock-on economic consequences of catastrophes like the recent earthquake."

In a wide-ranging interview with WWidiscussing trophic cascades, eutrophication and algae blooms in China, Professor Carpenter said he is currently working on developing early warning systems for catastrophic change in environmental systems.

He said large scale experiments are being conducted where catastrophic change is gradually introduced into food webs to see if indicators can be detected before catastrophes occur. Currently in their infancy, the experiments are expected to be field-tested shortly.

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- The full interview with Professor Carpenter will appear in the April-May issue of Water & Wastewater International magazine. To sign up for your free copy, please click here.

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