[Editor's note: Will the world end on Friday? Well I don't think so, but my kids, on the other hand, aren't so sure. However, what I do believe is our planet will continue to experience extreme weather. From droughts to wildfires to record temperatures to superstorms, we are in for a ride, especially if we don't quickly reverse the implications of climate change. If we look at the results from the recent UN climate talks in Doha, Qatar, it's clear that we are lacking the leadership worldwide to address our global warming problems. So I encourage you to heed the words below and be prepared, but just as important, join the movement working toward a sustainable world.]
Based on interpretations of the ancient Mayan calendar, some people are predicting the world will end on Dec. 21. Others believe that instead of doomsday and destruction, the day will mark a new era for humanity and will be a time for celebration.
Such beliefs aside, what we know with certainty is that Earth has a tremendous capacity to generate natural disasters on any day of any year. For this reason, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists continue to look for ways to better forecast a wide range of natural hazards and protect our communities.
Let’s take a closer look at the state of the science—what we know and what we don’t know—about our ability to forecast natural disasters.
Can We Predict Earthquakes?
Despite claims to the contrary, no reliable short-term earthquake prediction method has ever been developed. Nor do scientists expect to develop a method in the foreseeable future.
However, based on scientific data, probabilities can be calculated for future earthquakes. For example, comprehensive assessments of long-term earthquake rates in California tell us there is roughly a 2-in-3 chance that a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake will strike in the next 30 years in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Within the state of California as a whole, earthquakes this large are virtually certain (a 99 percent probability) in that same time frame.
USGS scientists are also working with university colleagues to gather objective and quantitative information on which to base shorter-term earthquake forecasts. This work includes developing better methods to quantify changes in probability based on recent earthquake activity. For example, scientists are looking at the probability for a larger earthquake after an initial earthquake. They are also developing approaches to communicate these probabilities that will be most effective at supporting appropriate decision making.
Learn more about USGS earthquake forecasting and hazards research
Signs of Volcanic Unrest
The U.S. is home to 169 active volcanoes, many of which could erupt at any time. Fortunately, volcanoes generally show signs of unrest hours, weeks and months before they erupt. Changes in gas emissions, swelling of a volcano, and swarms of small earthquakes are signs that a volcano is awakening. All of these changes can be detected with proper monitoring equipment.
The USGS National Volcano Early Warning System is designed to detect these signs of unrest at the earliest stages. The USGS issues warnings and alerts of potential volcanic hazards—including imminent or ongoing eruptions, ash fall forecasts and when eruptions have ended—to responsible emergency-management authorities and those potentially affected. These warnings prevent episodes of volcanic unrest from becoming volcanic disasters.
Learn more and see current alerts and status for volcanoes in the U.S. by visiting the USGS Volcano Hazards website.
Landslide Hazard Potential
Landslides occur in all 50 states and pose a significant risk in many areas. Scientists know landslides are likely on the west coast during its rainy season from November to March, during spring and summer thunderstorms in the western mountain states, and during hurricane season along the east coast. People at especially high risk for landslide damage are those living on or below steep hill slopes.
Wildfires can lead to flash flooding and debris flow, as vegetation is removed that would have served as a stabilizing factor and the remaining burned soil is less able to absorb rainwater. Landslides can also occur from earthquakes, volcanic activity, changes in groundwater, or disturbance and change of a slope by man-made construction activities.
USGS scientists produce maps of areas susceptible to landslides and identify what sort of rainfall conditions will lead to such events. The USGS is working with the National Weather Service on a prototype Debris Flow Warning System to help provide forecasts and warnings about what areas are at imminent risk of having a debris flow or mudslide when rainfall thresholds are met.
Wildfires are a great concern when there is a lack of precipitation, particularly during the summer months when the weather becomes hot and dry. When there is no water, wildfires can spread very quickly and can be hard to control. Climate change and the resulting hotter and arid conditions are expected to significantly increase wildfire frequency and severity.
The USGS plays an integral role in preparing for and responding to wildfires. The USGS provides tools and information before, during and after fire disasters to identify wildfire risks and reduce subsequent hazards. By looking at previous wildfires, scientists can learn more about ignition sources, burn severity, patterns, season of burning and fire size. The USGS also provides real-time geospatial support for firefighters during the events. This includes up-to-the minute maps and satellite imagery about current wildfire extent and behavior.
Hurricanes, Storms, Floods and More
Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November, with September as the peak time when they are most likely to strike. But hurricanes and tropical storms can hit at other times as well.
NOAA is responsible for monitoring and issuing warnings for hurricanes and tropical storms. The USGS works with NOAA and provides information on associated coastal vulnerability and change. Before, during and after these events, the USGS assesses the likelihood of beach erosion, overwash or inundation. Scientists also measure storm surge and monitor water levels of inland rivers and streams.
Flooding from storms is another concern, as is drought from lack of rainfall. The USGS conducts real-time monitoring of the nation’s rivers and streams, and you can visit USGS WaterWatch to see whether river levels are higher or lower than normal. You can also use USGS WaterAlert to receive texts or emails when water levels at a specific streamgage exceed certain thresholds. The National Weather Service relies on timely and accurate USGS data to issue flood warnings, and the partnership between the two agencies runs deep. Together, the USGS, the National Weather Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are also developing flood inundation maps that show, street by street, block by block and hour by hour exactly where the flood waters will be.
Monitoring Magnetic Storms
What is a magnetic storm? The sun is always emitting a wind of electrically charged particles that flows outward into space. If these concentrations of solar wind are directed towards the Earth, then the magnetic field of the Earth in space (the magnetosphere) can be disturbed, sometimes for days.
Large magnetic storms can cause loss of radio communication, affect global-positioning systems, damage satellite electronics and cause electrical blackouts. Damaging storms occur about four times a decade, with smaller events occurring more frequently. Magnetic storms can be detected up to two days in advance by monitoring the sun. They come in all sizes, but the largest storms tend to occur when sunspots (concentrations of magnetic energy on the surface of the sun) are most numerous.
The monitoring of “space weather” conditions is a responsibility of several U.S. government agencies, including NOAA, NASA and the U.S. Air Force. The USGS has the unique responsibility of monitoring geomagnetic activity at the Earth’s surface, close to where most of the effects of magnetic storms are actually realized. Learn more and view near-real time conditions of the magnetic field.
Be Prepared, Every Day
The question to consider on Dec. 21, and every day is: Have I done everything I can to ensure that my family and I are prepared, should a disaster strike? This includes preparing and practicing your emergency plan and building a disaster supplies kit with food, water and basic needs. Natural disasters will continue to occur, on any given day, but a more informed scientific understanding can lead to better preparedness and safer communities.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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