natural hazards

Focused Study of Interweaving Hazards Across the Caribbean

Braun J.J, Mattioli G.S., Calais E. Focused Study of Interweaving Hazards Across the Caribbean. EOS Vol. 93, No 9, 28 Feb 2012.

The Caribbean is a region of lush vegetation, beaches, active volcanoes, and significant mountain ranges, all of which create a natural aesthetic that is recognized globally. Yet these very same features, molded through geological, oceanic, and atmospheric processes, also pose natural hazards for the developing countries in the Caribbean. The rise in population density, migration to coastal areas, and substandard building practices, combined with the threat of natural hazards, put the region’s human population at risk for particularly devastating disasters. These demographic and social characteristics exist against a backdrop of the threat of an evolving climate, which produces a more vigorous hurricane environment and a rising average sea level. The 12 January 2010 earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Ike (2008) both caused widespread destruction and loss of life, illustrating the need for a scientific focus on the underlying natural hazards of the Caribbean. Prompted by these and other events, a new National Science Foundation (NSF)– funded initiative known as the Continuously Operating Caribbean Observation Network (COCONet), which commits roughly $7 million over 5 years to a collaborative natural hazard research team, was formed in 2010. This team includes researchers from UNAVCO, Purdue University, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)


Larsen, M.C., Wieczorek, G. F., Eaton, L.S., and Torres-Sierra, H., 2001, Natural hazards on alluvial fans: the debris flow and flash flood disaster of December 1999, Vargas state, Venezuela: in W.F. Sylva (ed.), Proceedings of the Sixth Caribbean Islands Water Resources Congress, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, February 22 and 23, 2001, unpaginated CD

Large populations live on or near alluvial fans in locations such as Los Angeles, California, Salt Lake City, Utah, Denver, Colorado, and lesser known areas such as Sarno, Italy, and Vargas, Venezuela. Debris flows and flash floods occur episodically in these alluvial fan environments, and place many communities at high risk during intense and prolonged rainfall. In December 1999, rainstorms induced thousands of landslides along the Cordillera de la Costa, Vargas, Venezuela. Rainfall accumulation of 293 mm during the first 2 weeks of December was followed by an additional 911 mm of rainfall on December 14 through 16. Debris flows and floods inundated coastal communities resulting in a catastrophic death toll of as many as 30,000 people. Flash floods and debris flows caused severe property destruction on alluvial fans at the mouths of the coastal mountain drainage network. In time scales spanning thousands of years, the alluvial fans along this Caribbean coastline are dynamic zones of high geomorphic activity. Because most of the coastal zone in Vargas consists of steep mountain fronts that rise abruptly from the Caribbean Sea, the alluvial fans provide practically the only flat areas upon which to build. Rebuilding and reoccupation of these areas requires careful determination of hazard zones to avoid future loss of life and property.
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