PASADENA, Calif.—In an effort to find ways to minimize the damage caused by natural hazards, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has established the Terrestrial Hazard Observation and Reporting Center (THOR), funded by $6.7 million from Foster and Coco Stanback of Irvine, California, and $3.35 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore matching program.
THOR will have the unique mandate of bringing together—under one program—innovative efforts to reduce the risks and costs associated with natural hazards. The center will span two divisions at Caltech, Geological and Planetary Sciences (GPS) and Engineering and Applied Science (EAS).
The study of natural hazards and solutions is ordinarily undertaken in separate academic disciplines with little intellectual interaction. THOR will provide a new focal point that will unify these efforts and allow investigators to focus on critical societal issues.
"From the current flooding in Pakistan, to the recent earthquake in Haiti, to the constant threat of wildfires in our own backyard, we are consistently reminded of the devastating impact natural hazards can have on society," says Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau. "Now, with the generous support of Foster and Coco Stanback, Caltech scientists and engineers will be able to study these critical issues in a unique interdisciplinary environment. THOR will help communities around the world determine how to best prepare for, anticipate, and respond to various natural hazards, hopefully saving lives in the process."
Natural hazards that will fall under THOR's purview include global climate change, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, wildfires, and extreme weather events such as droughts, among others.
By providing support for the development of techniques and physical inventions, THOR will focus on practical societal aspects of natural hazards and their public policy implications.
For instance, THOR may help guide the distribution of limited resources following a major hazard such as an earthquake or tsunami, or lead to early-warning systems.
"The interdisciplinary and interactive nature of engineering at Caltech allows us to translate scientific knowledge and discovery into applications with direct societal impact," says Ares Rosakis, the von Kármán Professor of Aeronautics, professor of mechanical engineering, and chair of the division of Engineering and Applied Science. "One of the areas of pioneering research and innovation made possible by THOR is seismo-engineering. The boundaries of seismo-engineering are fuzzy ones and lie exactly in the interface between seismology and earthquake engineering. We are delighted to have the opportunity to explore these boundaries."
Caltech has a number of highly visible areas of expertise that already touch on natural-hazard issues, including the Seismological Laboratory, the Linde Center for Global Environmental Science, missions of the Caltech-managed Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that provide critical high-precision data on Earth's climate and environment, multiple studies supported by the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) focused on future Earth-observing missions, and the Resnick Institute for Science, Energy, and Sustainability.
"The THOR center will provide a unique platform for collaboration among scientists, students, and policymakers, empowering them with the extensive resources of Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory," says THOR donor Foster Stanback. "By linking our eyes in the sky with the many eyes on the ground, we will be far better prepared to anticipate, mitigate, and eliminate many environmental hazards."
THOR's attention and resources will be applied in several ways, including the dissemination of the results of work supported by THOR; supporting efforts to transfer ideas and technologies that show promise of practical implementation; and prioritizing, seeding, and nurturing ideas encompassing research activities, along with the invention of technologies.
"THOR will give faculty in GPS and EAS the opportunity to develop innovative new ways to help mitigate the consequences and costs of the natural hazards society faces, from climate change to earthquakes to water scarcity," says Ken Farley, the W.M. Keck Foundation Professor of Geochemistry and chair of the division of Geological and Planetary Sciences. "This very applied research is difficult to support from federal sources, so my hope is that the gift will catalyze entirely new endeavors. THOR will also allow us to bring to our educational program a new focus on the societal and policy implications and relevance of our work."
The center will be housed within the newly renovated Linde + Robinson Laboratory on the Caltech campus.
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