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The Science of Predicting the Next Catastrophe
Florin Diacu

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2010

Hardcover | 2009 | $24.95 | ISBN: 9780691133508
240 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 4 halftones. 8 line illus.
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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.


"He is at his best when discussing matters closest to his own field, celestial mathematics; and he makes a compelling case for developing the means, as the Russians appear to be doing, of batting asteroids out of humanity's ballpark."--Trevor Butterworth, Wall Street Journal

"Author and mathematics professor Diacu (Celestial Encounters: The Origins of Chaos and Stability) presents a civilian-friendly guide to methods, like numerical modeling, used to understand, quantify, and possibly predict disasters. Written simply but without being simplistic, Diacu's text is driven by enthusiasm for his field and its potential for solving some of humanity's big problems. In nine chapters, Diacu examines natural disasters--volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes and typhoons, tsunamis and floods--but also takes time to examine human-driven disasters: financial collapse, pandemic disease, and climate change. Diacu chronicles the history of each field of prediction clearly and concisely, illustrating how developments in mathematics drove developments in geology, and vice-versa, as well as the unpredictable variables as dictated by 'the monkey in the machine,' chaos theory. A chapter on climate change is particularly insightful and important. Few non-scientists understand how climate models work, but it would dispel a lot of skepticism if they did; Diacu manages it in just seven pages, in language anyone can understand."--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"The result is an excellent history of natural disasters and of the science behind understanding and mitigating those disasters. For a who's who of volcanic eruptions, major earthquakes, big hurricanes, asteroid near-hits or historic pandemics, this book is the place to go."--Kristina Bartlett Brody, Science News

"Diacu's little histories of predicting eight varieties of disaster are pretty absorbing and informative."--Ray Olson, Booklist

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Table of Contents:

Prologue: Glimpsing the Future xi
Chapter 1: Walls of Water: Tsunamis 1
Chapter 2: Land in Upheaval: Earthquakes 21
Chapter 3: Chimneys of Hell: Volcanic Eruptions 42
Chapter 4: Giant Whirlwinds: Hurricanes, Cyclones, and Typhoons 63
Chapter 5: Mutant Seasons: Rapid Climate Change 86
Chapter 6: Earth in Collision: Cosmic Impacts 109
Chapter 7: Economic Breakdown: Financial Crashes 128
Chapter 8: Tiny Killers: Pandemics 149
Chapter 9: Models and Prediction: How Far Can We Go? 168
Acknowledgments 179
Notes 181
Selected Bibliography 189
Index 193

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