Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Natural Disasters - are we doomed? No

Among the numerous "nerdy" sites I visit on quite a regular basis is a gem named "Swivel", a site where users upload data captured from various databases and share it with Joe public. The more interesting charts tend to generate conversations as to the relevance of the data, and people often point out simple factors which might explain trends which at face value seem astonishing and miraculous. Imagine if we had this sort of analysis going on in mass media... (I wont get started on this right now)

One of the graphs featured on the website yesterday that I found to be very interesting is a bar chart showing the "the number of natural disasters by decade since 1900"... take a look and see what you can make of it.

So on first glance you might come to the conclusion that we are all doomed, and for the next few decades we will be incurring increasingly more natural disasters, after all that is what the trend on the graph is showing.

Now, while this may indeed be true, and there is evidence to show that tropical storms may increase with global warming, it is important to consider if there are any other factors at play.

A very valid, and often ignored, argument to bring up is that technological advancements have allowed us to increase our ability to detect hurricanes, earthquakes etc *to clarify, by detection I do not mean forecasting, or prevention, rather I mean recognition of past or current events* . On the weather website "" one writer put it well when they said: "In 1931, there were only about 350 earthquake detecting seismograph stations in the world. Today, there are 8,000 stations. It only stands to reason that 8,000 stations are going to detect more seismic events. Further, our equipment now is more sensitive. Quakes that were undetectable—either because of intensity or distance—now are recorded"

Examples like this demonstrate aptly the importance of examining charts and data at more than face value, and to delay jumping to conclusions before you have considered all related factors.

It all shows the importance of visiting the site... which you should do now... by clicking here.


Manuel said...

Fair enough, but technology allowing increased levels of detection doesn't really mean much. I could quote numerous natural disasters of the past five years where detection did nothing. Adequate response plans is where it's at. I know a lady called Katrina who thinks the same.

Ed said...

Well I guess the original post, and my opinion on it are mroe about the reported number of incidents per annum, and the accuracy in measurement of that data, rather than advanced forecasting and prevention/ response.

Manuel said...

Upon reading it again, after having spoken to you, I see what you were talking about, but I still don't think that point (there aren't more disasters, just more detection) doesn't come across that well due to the wording. Not slagging or anything, just that's how it feels I think.