NewsNatural Hazards

Thinking the unthinkable

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Science  15 Jul 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6296, pp. 232-237
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6296.232

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What are the greatest threats to humanity and human civilization? Scholars think a self-induced catastrophe such as nuclear war or a bioengineered pandemic is most likely to do us in. But extreme natural hazards—including threats from space and geologic upheavals here on Earth—could also do the job. Although common, moderately severe disasters such as earthquakes attract far more funding and attention than low-probability apocalyptic ones, a handful of researchers persists in thinking the unthinkable. With knowledge and planning, they say, it's possible to prepare for—or in some cases prevent—rare but devastating natural disasters such as blasts of particles from the sun, collisions with near-Earth asteroids like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, and supervolcanoes that dwarf any eruptions in recorded history.

  • * Julia Rosen is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon.

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