From floods to earthquakes and erupting volcanoes, during March, Horizon focuses on the science helping prepare for natural disasters.
We speak to scientists that have mapped data from over 35 000 earthquakes to identify the regions most at risk from seismic activity. We also hear from the researchers who are developing ways to test power grids, transport networks and dams for vulnerability to natural events.
In the wake of intense flooding in parts of Europe, we find out about projects that are figuring out how to improve Europe’s resilience to flooding, and we talk to the coordinator of a project that is monitoring some of Europe’s largest volcanoes to better plan for future eruptions.
On 27 March, the EU called for research proposals to improve Europe’s disaster resilience, including ways to detect chemical and biological toxins, and methods of preparing for a pandemic outbreak.
Imagine the scenario, an earthquake strikes a small Mediterranean city, forcing people out of their homes and shattering roads. Then, violent aftershocks cause a landslide, burying one of the city suburbs, but rescuers can’t get in because the roads have been damaged.
Scanning the earth’s surface to check for volcanic changes will improve volcano early warning systems when combined with ground-based measurements, according to Dr Giuseppe Puglisi, of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology. Dr Puglisi manages the EU-funded MED-SUV research consortium which brings together monitoring techniques so that it can warn decision-makers when there’s a hightened risk of an eruption.
Tsunamis are not very frequent events, but they can have a terrible impact on human life and on the economy of a country. They occur as a result of earthquakes, usually at the bottom of the sea, but at present such earthquakes cannot be foreseen.
In November, Horizon takes a deep dive into the captivating, diverse world of clouds to understand what they mean for climate change. We speak to atmospheric physicist Prof. Pier Siebesma about why clouds are still one of the biggest sources of uncertainty when it comes to climate change and how new field studies are helping to reduce some of the unknowns. We speak to a researcher about flying through tropical clouds to collect particles at high altitudes to paint a full picture of the role of clouds and aerosols in our planet’s climate. And we also delve into research investigating how global warming is changing clouds and why this could bring about extreme weather and rain, and we look at how aerosols – crucial for cloud formation - are changing due to anthropogenic pollution.
In October, Horizon discovers a futuristic world of transparent e-books, plastic solar cells and electronic skin with a look at some of the applications of organic electronics. We speak to organic chemist Prof. Andreas Hirsch about how using carbon rather than silicon in electronics can make them flexible, lightweight and biocompatible and could lead to a new generation of human-looking robots and ‘chemical’ computing. We take a look at work to create electronic skin – self-healing, stretchable material that can mimic some of the functions of human skin – and its potential uses. We discover how thin, flexible, plastic solar cells could turn surfaces such as cars and fabric into sources of renewable energy, and we uncover some novel approaches to charging wearable electronics.
Live vaccines can give health effects beyond just protecting us from a specific disease and may even help us combat other infections such as Covid-19, according to Christine Stabell Benn, a professor in global health at the University of Southern Denmark.
Using light as an energy source, photosynthetic microalgae can be used to produce products like biofuels and cosmetics. But algae grown in a reactor block out the light on which they feed. New reactor designs could solve this problem and help the industry move forward.
Prof. Christine Stabell Benn is studying the wider effects of common vaccines.
Stephan Borrmann’s detective work required help from a high-altitude former spy plane.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.