Megadisasters: The Science of Predicting the Next Catastrophe

Princeton University Press
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Can we predict cataclysmic disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or stock market crashes? The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 claimed more than 200,000 lives. Hurricane Katrina killed over 1,800 people and devastated the city of New Orleans. The recent global financial crisis has cost corporations and ordinary people around the world billions of dollars. Megadisasters is a book that asks why catastrophes such as these catch us by surprise, and reveals the history and groundbreaking science behind efforts to forecast major disasters and minimize their destruction.

Each chapter of this exciting and eye-opening book explores a particular type of cataclysmic event and the research surrounding it, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, rapid climate change, collisions with asteroids or comets, pandemics, and financial crashes. Florin Diacu tells the harrowing true stories of people impacted by these terrible events, and of the scientists racing against time to predict when the next big disaster will strike. He describes the mathematical models that are so critical to understanding the laws of nature and foretelling potentially lethal phenomena, the history of modeling and its prospects for success in the future, and the enormous challenges to scientific prediction posed by the chaos phenomenon, which is the high instability that underlies many processes around us.

Yielding new insights into the perils that can touch every one of us, Megadisasters shows how the science of predicting disasters holds the promise of a safer and brighter tomorrow.

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About the author

Florin Diacu is professor of mathematics and former director of the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences at the University of Victoria in Canada. He is the coauthor of Celestial Encounters: The Origins of Chaos and Stability and the coeditor of Classical and Celestial Mechanics: The Recife Lectures (both Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 19, 2009
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9781400833443
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economic History
Mathematics / Applied
Nature / Natural Disasters
Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Florin Diacu
The guiding light of this monograph is a question easy to understand but difficult to answer: {What is the shape of the universe? In other words, how do we measure the shortest distance between two points of the physical space? Should we follow a straight line, as on a flat table, fly along a circle, as between Paris and New York, or take some other path, and if so, what would that path look like? If you accept that the model proposed here, which assumes a gravitational law extended to a universe of constant curvature, is a good approximation of the physical reality (and I will later outline a few arguments in this direction), then we can answer the above question for distances comparable to those of our solar system. More precisely, this monograph provides a mathematical proof that, for distances of the order of 10 AU, space is Euclidean. This result is, of course, not surprising for such small cosmic scales. Physicists take the flatness of space for granted in regions of that size. But it is good to finally have a mathematical confirmation in this sense. Our main goals, however, are mathematical. We will shed some light on the dynamics of N point masses that move in spaces of non-zero constant curvature according to an attraction law that naturally extends classical Newtonian gravitation beyond the flat (Euclidean) space. This extension is given by the cotangent potential, proposed by the German mathematician Ernest Schering in 1870. He was the first to obtain this analytic expression of a law suggested decades earlier for a 2-body problem in hyperbolic space by Janos Bolyai and, independently, by Nikolai Lobachevsky. As Newton's idea of gravitation was to introduce a force inversely proportional to the area of a sphere the same radius as the Euclidean distance between the bodies, Bolyai and Lobachevsky thought of a similar definition using the hyperbolic distance in hyperbolic space. The recent generalization we gave to the cotangent potential to any number N of bodies, led to the discovery of some interesting properties. This new research reveals certain connections among at least five branches of mathematics: classical dynamics, non-Euclidean geometry, geometric topology, Lie groups, and the theory of polytopes.
Charles Perrow
Charles Perrow is famous worldwide for his ideas about normal accidents, the notion that multiple and unexpected failures--catastrophes waiting to happen--are built into our society's complex systems. In The Next Catastrophe, he offers crucial insights into how to make us safer, proposing a bold new way of thinking about disaster preparedness.

Perrow argues that rather than laying exclusive emphasis on protecting targets, we should reduce their size to minimize damage and diminish their attractiveness to terrorists. He focuses on three causes of disaster--natural, organizational, and deliberate--and shows that our best hope lies in the deconcentration of high-risk populations, corporate power, and critical infrastructures such as electric energy, computer systems, and the chemical and food industries. Perrow reveals how the threat of catastrophe is on the rise, whether from terrorism, natural disasters, or industrial accidents. Along the way, he gives us the first comprehensive history of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security and examines why these agencies are so ill equipped to protect us.

The Next Catastrophe is a penetrating reassessment of the very real dangers we face today and what we must do to confront them. Written in a highly accessible style by a renowned systems-behavior expert, this book is essential reading for the twenty-first century. The events of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina--and the devastating human toll they wrought--were only the beginning. When the next big disaster comes, will we be ready? In a new preface to the paperback edition, Perrow examines the recent (and ongoing) catastrophes of the financial crisis, the BP oil spill, and global warming.

Timothy Egan
Florin Diacu
The guiding light of this monograph is a question easy to understand but difficult to answer: {What is the shape of the universe? In other words, how do we measure the shortest distance between two points of the physical space? Should we follow a straight line, as on a flat table, fly along a circle, as between Paris and New York, or take some other path, and if so, what would that path look like? If you accept that the model proposed here, which assumes a gravitational law extended to a universe of constant curvature, is a good approximation of the physical reality (and I will later outline a few arguments in this direction), then we can answer the above question for distances comparable to those of our solar system. More precisely, this monograph provides a mathematical proof that, for distances of the order of 10 AU, space is Euclidean. This result is, of course, not surprising for such small cosmic scales. Physicists take the flatness of space for granted in regions of that size. But it is good to finally have a mathematical confirmation in this sense. Our main goals, however, are mathematical. We will shed some light on the dynamics of N point masses that move in spaces of non-zero constant curvature according to an attraction law that naturally extends classical Newtonian gravitation beyond the flat (Euclidean) space. This extension is given by the cotangent potential, proposed by the German mathematician Ernest Schering in 1870. He was the first to obtain this analytic expression of a law suggested decades earlier for a 2-body problem in hyperbolic space by Janos Bolyai and, independently, by Nikolai Lobachevsky. As Newton's idea of gravitation was to introduce a force inversely proportional to the area of a sphere the same radius as the Euclidean distance between the bodies, Bolyai and Lobachevsky thought of a similar definition using the hyperbolic distance in hyperbolic space. The recent generalization we gave to the cotangent potential to any number N of bodies, led to the discovery of some interesting properties. This new research reveals certain connections among at least five branches of mathematics: classical dynamics, non-Euclidean geometry, geometric topology, Lie groups, and the theory of polytopes.
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