Natural Hazards & Risks (HazRi)

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The overall vision is to improve the predictability of natural hazards (including torrents and floods, debris flows, rock fall, landslides, snow and rock avalanches). Improvements in the predictability of hazards will concurrently advance our understanding of natural risks since the current state of the art to represent the hazard cycle is considered to be largely inaccurate. We focus on major cross institutional research advances in the general domain of natural hazards that would (and could) not be addressed without the formation of this cooperative team. This ERU interacts closely with the other ERUs and many of our plans (especially the intensive field site and study "Swiss Experiment") lead to broader collaboration in the ETH domain (in particular, other ETH organizations concerned with natural hazards and risks). We develop close interactions with Swiss universities concerned specifically with the social, economic and political aspects in this domain (e.g. Universities of Lausanne, Zurich, and Bern), as well as government agencies (e.g. BAFU), cantons, engineers and consultants, and the Mountain Research Initiative.

The main mission of this ERU is the improved understanding of the formation of hazards (initialization), the transport of water, snow, rocks, and debris (transformation) and ultimately the reduction of the risks associated with natural hazards. We develop community models that can be used by engineers and planners in practice for the study of scenarios and to develop risk response strategies. The ‘formation’ part of natural hazards is an area with massive experimental information and theoretical knowledge gaps and it is considered the aspect of the hazard cycle where we can achieve something truly unique and outstanding in the context of this particular ERU. Given the poor understanding of initiation of natural hazards, rudimentary and incorrect decisions concerning initialization are often made in practice.

To improve the predictability of natural hazards, and hence achieve our overall goal, there are two initial lines of research that are pursued for maximum return for the ETH domain and society at large that would not be achieved in an integrated fashion without the formation and leadership of this ERU. A natural outcome will be the development of community models – the third module. Finally, the improved coordination of Risk research broadly defined in the ETH domain could be coordinated through HazRi, though it is currently not viewed as a primary mission of this ERU. The specific work modules for the first three years are:

  1. design and implementation of an unprecedented intensive field experimental campaign "Swiss Experiment" that can address multi-scale issues in natural resources formation including: avalanches, floods, debris flows, land slides and rock falls;
  2. implementation, development and application of instrumentation, monitoring technology, and wireless observation systems for field observation along with scientific computing and data assimilation systems for real time predictions;
  3. development of Community Models for Alpine Processes and their Application to Climate Change and Natural Hazards Prediction. Coordinate to develop a RiskCH program to assimilate the disparate data sources available to the broad hazard and risk community.

Goals and strategy

HazRi will bring together previously separate and rather independent teams in the ETH domain working on hazards processes, consequences of hazards (e.g. ecosystem scientists) and those persons involved in the quantification of risk and development of warning systems to develop new knowledge and new community based models.

HazRi Projects

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