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Environment group

Head: Prof. Eran Feitelson, Hebrew University

The environmental group focusses primarily on natural disasters and their impact on humans, as well as actions by humans that affect their vulnerability to natural disasters.  These include issues such as the ability to identify the potential magnitudes, frequencies, and effects of extreme events based on past geo-morphological and archeological evidence, as well as the identification of impacts caused by more recent events occurring in the last centuries and decades.  Such events include floods, earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as droughts.  Due to climate change, what was once perceived as being an extreme event during the period for which records exist (such as 100 year floods) may no longer be considered out-of-the-norm. Climate change may also introduce new threats, such as those caused by sea-level rise and potential changes in large-scale atmospheric oscillations. As the latest implications of hurricane Harvey in Houston make clear, there is a need to identify the potential for events that exceed those recorded so far.

A second direction for research includes the implications of human actions, such as land cover changes, for the occurrence and impacts of natural disasters.  Israel is a particularly densely populated country.  Hence, the changes in land use and landscape are particularly pronounced.  These have implications both on the severity of extreme events, and on the impacts such events may have.  For example, the compacting of land and the reduction of open spaces impact runoff from precipitation, thereby increasing the risk of floods, and as more residences are built in low-lying areas more populated areas are prone to such flooding.  Moreover, if the infrastructure standards are set according to dated data regarding the extremeness of events, then the impacts on residences, and the threats on life increase.

A third direction focuses on the intersections between emergency preparedness to natural disasters and strengthening the populations' resilience and public health infrastructure in the broad sense. This area of research includes communications, both in terms of the appropriate medium/mechanisms (how?) and content (what?). In addition, we will seek to explore the ways the public can participate in emergency preparedness and mitigation in participatory processes, including the use of digital technologies such as smartphones and social networks for both data collection and dissemination. This is a reoccurring theme in a number of groups.

A fourth stream focuses on the impacts of extreme events on the functioning of social-ecological systems and the responses taken by humans to reduce their vulnerability to such events. Building on the results of the first two research directions, the various measures taken by state institutions to address extreme events of different types and magnitudes will be identified with a focus on recent events such as the Mount Carmel fires. The observed or potential success of these measures in mitigating the impacts caused by consequent and future events will be assessed.  The studies that address these issues will include both modelling studies and field research.