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.
By 2050, the world's population will be an estimated 9.7bn people, up from today’s 7.7bn. To feed this growing population whilst also protecting the climate and biodiversity, our food system needs to change dramatically. In May, we look at what sort of future food system we want and how to get there. We speak to sustainability expert Prof. Peter Jackson about how lockdowns have exposed our reliance on fragile supply chains, and what needs to happen to shape a more sustainable food system. We look at the smart farming solutions that are being explored to support food producers, and urban experiments from tackling food waste to strengthening organic, local production to see how these efforts can be scaled up to make a big difference. And we investigate insects – a protein-rich food and feed source – and the efforts behind mainstreaming what is still a niche science.
With the world in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, in April Horizon takes a step back to look at some of the challenges around sudden outbreaks of emerging diseases. We speak to virologist Prof. Marion Koopmans about the likelihood of future outbreaks of new diseases, what causes them and how to spot them before they appear. We speak to scientists who are helping to develop tests for Covid-19 to understand the challenges in coming up with an accurate and detailed diagnostic test for an entirely new disease. We talk to people working on coronavirus treatments about how to shorten the normally lengthy process of drug development. And we look into why diseases suddenly jump from animals, such as bats, into humans and the particular challenges of spotting and responding to these types of outbreaks.
The iridescence of marble berries and the clever, light-bending perforations of microalgae are some lessons from nature that scientists are drawing upon to create biodegradable glitter and makeup pigments, and bionic algae to use in lasers or to clean pollutants.
Efforts to design a safe vaccine for Covid-19 are moving forward at full throttle, yet experts agree that it’s likely to be a year, at least, before an immunisation is ready. Meanwhile, scientists around Europe are exploring ingenious ways – including with the help of alpacas – to use the latest techniques in molecular manipulation to repair coronavirus-induced lung damage or to block the virus before it wreaks havoc.
Scientists are drawing on nature’s clever ways to build structures and produce iridescence.
Infection-halting therapies being explored include neutralising antibodies.
Metagenomics can help us spot emerging diseases such as coronavirus, says virologist Marion Koopmans.