Introduction to special issue

Nature's Fury

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Science  15 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6296, pp. 230-231
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6296.230

A coiling tornado looms over the central plains of Kansas —a stark symbol of the many natural dangers that remain beyond human control.

CREDIT: (C) A. T. WILLETT/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Tornadoes sweep through central Kansas. Mudslides bury a neighborhood in Guatemala. A tsunami triggers a nuclear meltdown at a power station in Japan. Every day, the news brings fresh reminders of the great dangers our planet can unleash with little warning. The dangers remain, even as researchers slowly unpack the secrets behind volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tropical storms, and other natural hazards. That knowledge can reveal new threats, such as the planet-changing possibility of volcanic supereruptions or collisions with mountain-sized bodies from space. But it also leads to better tools for studying natural hazards and estimating where, how often, and how fiercely they are likely to strike.

Our increasingly sophisticated toolbox is helping us understand the physical processes driving hazards such as large and damaging earthquakes; track tropical cyclones to project how increasing temperatures might change these powerful storms; provide much-needed warnings of volcanoes and tsunamis; and recover from catastrophic events when they occur.

This collection of Reviews, News features, and special online material at http://scim.ag/29qQGyL explores some of the ways people are learning to assess risks, lessen dangers, and repair the damage from disasters that elude or breach our defenses. Natural hazards will never go away, but we can always become better prepared for the inevitable.

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