Determining the danger: Mathematics can help predict natural disasters
Natalia Yaitskaya
The author and project manager, Deputy Director for Science of the Federal Research Centre “Subtropical Scientific Centre”, the Russian Academy of Sciences” (FRC SSC, RAS) in Sochi; she is a Senior Researcher, Candidate of Geographical Sciences

Determining the danger: Mathematics can help predict natural disasters

The Sochi specialists are working on an unusual project. Within the framework of it, and the scientists study, systematize the data and build mathematical models of dangerous phenomena in the Sea of ​​Azov and the North Caspian Sea for the first time. How mathematic models can help predict disasters and improve environmental monitoring was told by Natalia Yaitskaya, the author and project manager, Deputy Director for Science of the Federal Research Centre “Subtropical Scientific Centre”, the Russian Academy of Sciences” (FRC SSC, RAS) in Sochi; she is a Senior Researcher, Candidate of Geographical Sciences.

- Please tell us what project are you working on now?

- The project is called “Fundamental Patterns of Dangerous Storm and Surges in Shallow Water Bodies on the Example of the Sea of ​​Azov and the North Caspian Sea”. This is an author’s research, an individual project of the Russian Science Foundation, a grant under the special Presidential Programme of Research Projects implemented by leading researchers, including young ones. The Programme was initiated by the President of the Russian Federation to develop the careers of young researchers, write thesis for a doctor’s degree, create new research groups and laboratories.

- What is the goal of the project?

- The project is aimed at studying patterns and reconstructing dangerous hydrometeorological phenomena in the Sea of ​​Azov and the North Caspian Sea. For the first time, historical cases of dangerous hydrometeorological phenomena are under study - how they began, developed and “faded”, what the strength of these phenomena was, what damage they caused. Dangerous hydrometeorological phenomena and their combinations are under consideration that can pose the greatest threat to the life and health of people, as well as to the urban and the tourist and recreational infrastructure: these phenomena include hurricane winds, heavy rains, low air temperatures (below minus 5 degrees Celsius), storms, floods on rivers, and ice events.

The study covers the period from 1979 to 2019. The reconstruction of the events in these years is carried out when two or more dangerous phenomena occurred simultaneously. To do this, the search for hydrometeorological data of all meteorological stations located on the coast and the results of the observations on sea vessels is carried out, as well as quality control, data processing and analysis. The missing information is offset by the Earth remote sensing data obtained from space and the results of calculating the mathematical models. This is a labour- and time-intensive process but in this way, a valuable information about the processes and phenomena that took place in nature can be obtained.

- Please describe in detail how the work is carried out.

- The work is carried out with the help of mathematical models - this is a mathematical representation of our reality. We have statistics and the data on the dangerous phenomena under study received from the International Space Station showing what happened, how and under what conditions - from a qualitative point of view. It is necessary to understand the quantitative values ​​and form an idea that will allow us to track the situation in time at present days and predict it in the future.

The main feature of the mathematical models is that (when the model is compiled correctly) it can be applied not only in a particular region, but to carry out the same work according to the developed algorithms at other areas, too, for example, in the Black Sea.

- Where and how will the results of the project be used?

- Work on the project will be completed in June this year. The main result of the project will be a series of articles in the leading domestic and foreign scientific journals. Thanks to the research, the scientists will be able to identify areas of greatest danger where the likelihood of natural disasters is high. Having all the data and their spatial analysis results, a detailed map of the coasts of the Sea of ​​Azov and the North Caspian Sea will be made showing the areas graded according to the risk magnitude. The risk assessment helps identify dangerous events, determine their consequences and the likelihood of their occurrence, as well as understand what factors affect the decrease/increase in adverse consequences and the likelihood of hazardous situations.

The studies of the climate and landscape changes are of great importance for the regions of the southern seas of Russia. First of all, they are necessary to improve the environmental monitoring of the seas and coastal areas. New knowledge obtained during the project will contribute to the development of methods for predicting natural disasters, the effective management for the stable existence of our society, the development of the economy and the state. The project’s theme is fully consistent with the priorities of the scientific and technological development of the Russian Federation.

Also, the data obtained can be used by the regional authorities in the development of the decision support systems, technologies for the prevention and elimination of natural disasters and man-made emergencies.

- What other projects are you currently working on?

- For the Russian sector of the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus, our research group is currently working on the creation of a regional geoinformation system indicating the infrastructure facilities, recreation areas, specially protected natural areas, landslides, areas with the greatest storm activity. Based on this system, the areas most exposed to the greatest danger caused by hydrometeorological phenomena will also be identified, and the GIS (Geographical Information System) is designed to accumulate the information about the coast. An important direction in the work of our research group is the monitoring of dangerous landslide processes in the city of Sochi. Now, we often go to measure landslides, monitor their dynamics in the residential areas and in the city streets.