INTRO | HIGHLIGHTS | FEATURES | PHOTO STORIES | FOCUS | INTERVIEWS | PERSPECTIVES | BIOS The Dynamics of Disaster with Professor Sue Kieffer Professor Sue Kieffer is from the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign. During her time in the Institute as a Senior Research Fellow, Sue researched highly energetic geological events, particularly comparing and contrasting the behaviour of torrential river floods with that of large landslides. She is one of the world’s leading authorities on geological fluid dynamics that address dynamic surface processes, such as movement of water and wind and the dynamics of volcanic eruptions and meteorite impacts. Her work has made a large impact on the geosciences, especially in understanding the geological processes that lead to different kinds of hazards, such as floods and landslides. Sue’s research spans terrestrial as well as extraterrestrial environments as her geyser theory was applied to the study of volcanoes on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. Her shockwave theory was used to study the historic eruption of Mt St Helens in the US, as well as the massive flood on the Colorado River in 1983. Sue’s forthcoming book The Dynamics of Disaster provides some unique insights into both geohazards and ‘stealth disasters’, such as climate change. What is your new book The Dynamics of Disaster about? I’m a geologist, and I wanted to convey a sense of the science behind disasters and create a sense of unity, because I’ve found that if people are aware of disasters in one region, for example, near their home, they still might not understand, or even be aware of disasters in other regions. I believe that it is important for people, especially policy and decision makers, to understand the full scope of disasters. In the book I try to unify the science of disasters in this word ‘dynamics’. Scientifically, I’m using that word to encapsulate that a disaster occurs when something in nature changes state. In the book, I talk about disasters such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, rogue waves, tsunamis, droughts and floods. In detail the science for each hazard is quite different – what do droughts and volcanic eruptions have in common? For every one of these hazards energy changes from one form to another, what I call a ‘change of state’. So, for example, when the Earth moves in a landslide, energy stored in the form of potential energy gets transformed into kinetic energy of motion. In a volcanic eruption chemical energy stored in dissolved gases, like a soda pop bottle, gets transformed into kinetic energy as the gases nucleate and expand. What would you like people to learn from your book? At the level of individual readers, I would like people to be aware of what the planet does and how it might impact them, their neighbours and communities. A good way to begin (for people in the US) is to contact their state geological surveys or the US Geological Survey. Similar agencies exist in Britain (such as the British Geological Survey) and many other countries. On a bigger level, I would like policy makers to understand enough about the science of these processes to help them in decision-making processes. In the book and in papers that I’ve published, I’ve distinguished between natural disasters that basically result from the physical processes of the Earth, and disasters that I call ‘stealth disasters’. These result from, and can even be caused by, humans and their interaction with the Earth. Compaction and poisoning of the soil, acidification of the oceans, and climate change are examples of stealth disasters.