Geography in the News

Superstorm Sandy October 2012

Sandy devastated parts of the Caribbean, Northeastern USA and Eastern Canada during the last week of October. It was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record as measured by diameter with winds spanning 1,800km. It is also the second costliest Atlantic hurricane in history behind Hurricane Katrina.

Satellite Image of Hurricane Sandy - the largest Atlantic hurricane on record

Islands in the Caribbean that were severely hit include Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, The Bahamas and Puerto Rico. Residents were left without electricity, buildings destroyed, fields flooded causing food shortages and thousands were left homeless.

Streets in Cuba, littred with debris after Hurricane Sandy hit Santiago de Cuba, on October 26, 2012.

In the US, Sandy affected 24 states particularly New Jersey and New York. The storm sturge that hit New York City on October 29, flooded streets and the underground and thousands were left homeless. Sandy is responsible for more than 80 people to date.

Manhattan Bridge - Streets are flooded in Brooklyn, New York causing shutdown of mass transit and schools.
Rising water by Hurricane Sandy, rushes into an underground parking garage.


Homes devastated by the effects of Hurricane Sandy


A boat rests on the tracks of a railway line in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York
Geography in the News

Thunderstorms leave a path of destruction

Three thunderstorms swept through Malta between 2nd and 3rd September 2012, dropping more rain on the Maltese Islands in two hours than its normal monthly average for September.

The storms drove traffic to a standstill for hours on end and wreaked havoc on the roads. The torrential rainfall triggered floods that swept and overturned cars, uprooted trees, flooded houses and collapsed walls. Besides all this a man died when he was fatally struck by lightning while taking shelter in a field in Marsascala.

In a statement, the MIA Met Office reported that in 24 hours, 42.4mm of rainfall was measured at Malta Airport Met Office in Luqa, while the peek wind gust reached 48 knots.

The thunderstorm was the result of cold air penetrating into the western Mediterranean which led to the formation of a very slow moving cold pool. The cold pool system extended southwards on creating warm and moist south-westerly air streams close to the central Mediterranean. In the meantime a depression developed over Libya and continued to extend northwards merging with a wide low pressure system over northern Italy. This long area of low pressure across the central Mediterranean triggered the development of thunder clouds which, finding a very warm Mediterranean Sea with a lot of available moisture grew rapidly into large thunderstorms with copious rainfall and strong wind gusts.

Streets were flooded in several localities particularly in Birkirkara, Msida and Qormi, but also in other areas such as Bir Id-Deheb, Bulebel and Burmarrad.


A man died when he was fatally struck by lightning while taking shelter in a field in Marsascala.


Rain came down in bucketfuls


Watch these videos on the devastation caused by flash floods (1) (2)

Geography in the News

Crises in the Sahel

A severe drought is again affecting the Sahel region of West and Central Africa threatening millions of people with hunger. This is resulting into a potentially catastrophic food crisis in eight countries namely, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, Cameroon, Nigeria and Senegal. Millions of children are at risk of severe malnutrition. This year rain was sparse and came late and this will have a devastating effect on most people who live on what they grow. When the rains don’t come on time, harvests fail, animals die and people start going hungry. Sahel is one of the poorest regions in the world where children already face daunting odds of survival. The current crisis makes their survival even more tenuous.

Tchyllah, a desert village in the Sahel belt of Chad – a donkey is used to pull up water from deep below the ground. Even so the water is not clean and unsuitable to drink.

Visit this interactive map  of the Sahel for a quick overview of the situation in each country.

Preparing for the Crises in the Sahel region in Africa.  Watch this video produced by UNICEF on food crisis in Sahel.

Geography in the News

Hundreds die as strong quake rocks eastern Turkey

 A powerful earthquake, 7.2 on the Richter scale struck eastern Turkey on Sunday, 23 October 2011 at 13:41 local time. It was so powerful that it managed to reduce multi-storey buildings into twisted rubble. Extensive areas sustained heavy damage to their structures, and as many as 250 people are already confirmed dead but as many as a thousand are feared dead. Multiple news reports suggest that up to 1300 are injured as a result of the earthquake with many still stuck under rubble.  

 Around 98 percent of Turkey is prone to earthquakes, while about a third of the country is at high risk, including the areas around the major cities of Istanbul and Izmir and the region of East Anatolia.

Three major fault lines, where geological plates meet, cross Turkey and small tremors are a daily occurrence. Two of these fault lines are located right below Van and Ercis, some 100 km to the north of the provincial capital.

In 1939 almost 40,000 people died in a massive quake in eastern Turkey, while the last major earthquake occurred only 12 years ago, when a 7.4 magnitude quake killed up to 20,000 people in north-western Turkey.




People rescue two women trapped under debris in Van eastsern Turkey


Watch this video showing victims being pulled alive from rubble.

Geography in the News

Worst Floods in Thailand

Thailand is currently facing its worst flooding in 50 years. Heavy monsoon rains since the end of July have flooded swathes of the country and left more than 350 people dead. Flood waters have swamped more than two-thirds of the country, submerging rice fields and shutting down hundreds of factories while over 900,000 families and businesses have been impacted and hundreds of lives have been tragically lost. National relief efforts are now focused on providing essential food, clean water and shelter to displaced people and restoring damaged infrastructure.

Widespread flooding in Thailand after heavy monsoon rains.
Residents read newspapers in their flooded homes
Watch short video clips on the devastating impacts of these floods (1), (2), (3), (4)
Geography in the News

New Zealand oil spill: grounded ship threatens environmental disaster

A 47,000 tonne container vessel “Rena” hit Astrolabe Reef off New Zealand’s North Island about 22 kilometres off the coast of Tauranga leaking oil into the sea.  The  oil leak from the Liberian-flagged freighter has spread over an area of four kilometers and if the ship breaks up, it could release 1,700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the Bay of Plenty, home to whales, dolphins, seals, penguins and a variety of other birds.

The Astrolabe Reef is covered with colourful sponges and anemones, according to the Department of Conservation, with seals and gamefish such as marlin common in surrounding waters. Maritime authorities have said they are treating birds including little blue penguins brought in covered with oil. Animal welfare workers said the disaster had struck in the middle of breeding season for native birds on the bay.

New Zealand navy and salvage ships are working to pump off the ship’s fuel oil and move it to safety before attempting to free the ship. Dispersants sprayed from the air on to the slick have not worked and bad weather is expected to hamper the containment effort.

An oil slick is seen coming from the grounded vessel Rena, on October 9, 2011 in Tauranga, New Zealand. The Rena, a Liberan container vessel, struck a reef on Wednesday causing an oil leak that has spread over five kilometers.

The 47,000 tonne Rena is stranded on Astrolabe Reef, off one of New Zealand's most spectacular coastlines. Oil leaking from the ship has created a 5km (3 mile) slick.
A penguin found on the beach coated in oil gets washed at the Oiled Wildlife Response unit set up in a makeshift camp. The belly of the penguin is normally coloured white.

Geography in the News

Millions of homes destroyed by Pakistan floods

Torrential monsoon rains have pounded southern Pakistan, triggering serious flooding affecting more than five million people, among them communities still recovering from last year’s extraordinary floods. 


Thousands left homeless after the heavy rains causing extensive floods


 The southern Sindh province has been the worst affected by monsoon rains with the regional capital, Karachi, brought to a standstill by heavy downpours. The disaster has reportedly claimed the lives of 266 people, destroyed or damaged nearly one million houses, and flooded 4.5 million acres of land, prompting the Government of Pakistan to call for support from the United Nations.  Thousands of people are in urgent need of assistance due to lack of food and safe drinking water, as well as the loss of livelihoods and homes. The UN’s refugee agency says that the flooding is so bad that some areas will remain submerged for six months. 


With three times the normal amount of rain an extensive area of Pakistan is under water

 The impacts include:

  •       1.8 million people have left their homes and 750,000 are living in temporary sites
  •       Nearly 60,000 cattle had either died or disappeared
  •      400,000 homes have been completely destroyed
  •      4.5 million acres of land had been affected by the rain
  •      More than two million people in Pakistan are suffering from flood-related diseases including malaria and diarrhoea     
  •      More than 7,000 people are being treated for snake bites. 

Pakistan’s flood hit areas

 See video of the devastation

Geography in the News

Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene caused extensive damage across the Caribbean before making landfall in North Carolina, on the East Coast of the United States. It passed through New York City with relatively limited damage, but caused devastating flooding damage further inland in parts of New York State and Vermont.

Over 65 million people living on the East Coast of the United States from the Carolinas to Cape Cod were at risk. Due to the threat, state officials, as well as ports, industries, oil refineries and nuclear plants, promptly prepared to activate emergency plans; residents in the areas stocked up on food supplies and worked to secure homes, vehicles and boats. States of emergency and hurricane warnings were declared for much of the upper East Coast. Hundreds of shelters were prepared.


Hurricane Irene over the Southern Bahamas on August 24


Gales from Irene affected much of the Eastern Seaboard, extending from Florida to New England and as far inland as Pennsylvania. The winds, combined with soil saturation due to the extreme amounts of precipitation, uprooted countless trees and power lines along the storm’s path, leaving roughly 5 million power customers in the dark nationwide, some for extended periods of time. Coastal areas suffered extensive flood damage followings its potent storm surge, with additional freshwater flooding reported in many areas. The storm spawned scattered tornadoes, causing significant property damage as evidenced by destroyed homes. Throughout its path in the US, Irene is estimated to have caused up to $7 billion in damage (2011 USD) and at least 21 deaths, with the death toll still reportedly rising.


The Path of Hurricane Irene

  Hurricane Irene in pictures.


Geography in the News

Rare Earthquake hits Eastern Coast of USA

Rare earthquake measuring 5.8 strikes US east coast

A 5.8-magnitude earthquake centred in Virginia has shaken much of Washington DC and was felt at New York City and as far away as Toronto in Canada

The US Geological Survey said the earthquake was 800 metres deep. Tremors were felt at the White House and all over the east coast as far south as Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Parts of the Pentagon, White House and Capitol were evacuated. But there were no reports of major damage or injuries.

Two nuclear reactors at the North Anna power plant in Virginia shut down after the plant lost power, but the company that runs them said there was no major damage. The reactors will remain shut until they can be safely restarted. At Reagan National airport, outside Washington, ceiling tiles fell during a few seconds of shaking. All flights were put on hold.

The east coast gets earthquakes, but they are usually smaller and the area is less prepared than California or Alaska.

Watch earthquake from CCTV camera

What caused the earthquake in Virginia 

Latest details from USGS

Geography in the News

Worst Oil Spill in UK waters

Shell has finally stopped the leak from its faulty oil pipeline at the Gannet Alpha platform east of Aberdeen in the North Sea, ending the flow of oil undersea after 10 days of the worst oil spill in UK waters for a decade. Conservation groups have warned that marine and bird life in the area could be harmed, and fishermen have been told to stay clear of the Gannet Alpha platform– 112 miles east of Aberdeen– and the surrounding area. 

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: “We know oil of any amount, if in the wrong place, at the wrong time, can have a devastating impact on marine life. Currently thousands of young auks – razorbills, puffins and guillemots – are flightless and dispersing widely in the North Sea during late summer. So they could be at serious risk if contaminated by this spill.”

Greenpeace criticised Shell for not being sufficiently open about the progress of the spill, which was first discovered on Wednesday but not announced publicly by the company until Friday.

More than 1,300 barrels of oil have been spilled in the North Sea over this week.  Green campaigners said the incident raised questions over the safety of oil companies’ plans to drill in deep water in the Arctic, as the North Sea is generally supposed to be the safest in the world in terms of spills. Ben Ayliffe of Greenpeace, which has been campaigning to stop further oil-drilling exploration in delicate environments such as the Arctic, said: “The North Sea is supposed to be ultra-safe – we are told spills can’t happen there. Shell is looking to move into the Arctic where an oil spill would all but impossible to clean up. Events in the North Sea should give the company pause for thought.”

Shell made use of remotely operated vehicles to stop the  leak and to monitor the effects.required. 

                                                 The Gannet Alpha platform in the North Sea

You can find more on this North Sea oil spill here.