Beach replenishment needed in Quintana Roo

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Mar 022015
 

Officials in Quintana Roo claim that beach replenishment in the state requires the investment of at least 500 million pesos (about 35 million dollars) in the next few years, and are asking for federal help.

After Hurricane Wilma in 2005, many beaches in Quintana Roo were badly damaged. Following the hurricane, initial beach restoration efforts were funded by the federal Tourism Secretariat, with maintenance then passed over to local (municipal) authorities and the state government. The restoration program included the planting of more than 8,000 palm trees in an effort to help stabilize the coast. However, storms in late 2014 caused considerable damage to beaches, especially the Gaviota Azul beach in Punta Cancún, prompting tourism representatives to call for renewed investment in restoration.

State officials have singled out five areas where the beaches are of particular concern:

  • Cancún
  • Playa del Carmen
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Cozumel
  • Holbox Island

Quintana Roo has budgeted 5 million pesos in this year’s budget to complete the five Environmental Impact studies needed prior to applying for federal funding.

In related news, four Quintana Roo towns have applied for Magic Town status:

  • Tulum
  • Holbox
  • Isla Mujeres
  • Felipe Carrillo Puerto

Quintana Roo currently has only one Magic Town: Bacalar.

The Tourism Secretariat has previously announced that it plans to add 17 towns to the list this year, bringing the total by year-end to 100. Towns that have applied for Magic Town status will be evaluated in June this year, with decisions expected to be announced in July. Given the number of towns submitting applications, some locations are clearly going to be disappointed in this round of nominations.

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Ground subsidence in Mexico City threatens 10,000 homes

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Feb 052015
 

The local authorities in Iztapalapa, in the eastern section of the Mexico City Metropolitan Area, and one of the most interesting locations in Mexico in which to witness Easter celebrations, calculate that around 10,000 homes are in the area are at “high risk” of serious damage due to ground subsidence. Some parts of the city are falling in elevation as the ground contracts by up to 40 cm/yr.

Low-lying Iztapalapa is one of the most densely populated parts of the city, and is also prone to frequent flooding. Experts say that the severe damage evident in many buildings in the area has been occasioned by ground subsidence, due to the excessive volumes of water being pumped out of the subsoil to satisfy the insatiable demand of Mexico City.

In a short 3-minute news video in Spanish that is linked to in this recent article, Lourdes, a local resident offers us a tour of her home, showing us the damages caused by subsidence. She describes how “the crack that started from outside the house has widened every day and is now almost the width of a hand.” The video shows how the walls of her home are separating; the house is clearly in danger of collapse. Lourdes lives in this house with her four children; some rooms are already far too damaged to be safely used by the family.

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Sep 082014
 

In mid-August 2014, this significant fissure (see image) appeared near the city of Hermosillo in northern Mexico, with some press reports opting for headlines such as “The Earth Splits Open”:

fissure-hermosillo-eyewitness-news

While many press reports, especially those in English, tried to link this fissure to faulting and earthquake movements, others were more cautious, saying it was caused by movement of water underground followed by subsidence. Which version is correct? Probably neither is completely correct, since geography often fails to provide a single, definitive reason for things!

The crack is about 1000 meters (two thirds of a mile) long and up to 7 or 8 meters wide and 10 meters deep. While some press reports erroneously claimed that the crack extended across the main, paved, highway #26 between Hermosillo and the coast, its location was actually some distance away from the main highway. The road shown in the image above is a rural, unpaved road about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Hermosillo, in an area of farmland, some of which is irrigated.

Could the fissure have been formed by faulting associated with earth tremors or an earthquake? If this was the cause, the fence line, and the line taken by the road would have shifted position and no longer be straight. The image clearly shows that the road has been severed, but provides no evidence that the two sides have shifted position. Indeed, a close-up view confirms that even the existing fence remains in place:

fissure-hermosillo-fence-line

The available evidence therefore rules out faulting (or earth tremors or earthquakes) as the cause of the crack.

Could the fissure have been caused by an underground flow of water followed by subsidence (the collapse of overlying rocks)? This certainly looks more likely though it is hard to imagine significant underground flows of water in an area that is as flat as this. On the other hand, this is (a) an area of newly constructed irrigation ditches and ponds, and (b) it received heavy rainfall a few days before the crack was reported.

In all probability, the fissure began as a deep but very narrow “subsidence fissure” where differences in irrigation (or in water extraction) caused some parts to be much wetter than others. The soil and rock particles in wetter areas would tend to expand, while those in drier areas would tend to contract. Such differences could lead to the formation of small initial fissures.

Once the fissure had been started, localized heavy rains and the resulting overland flow could then result in streams flowing (temporarily) in these initial fissures. The moving stream water would rapidly widen and deepen the fissures into the scale of crack shown in the photos. The initial fissure may have been formed several years before this widening process occurred.

For a more detailed look at the evidence for this fissure’s formation (and its true location), see Debunked: The Earth Splitting Open – Giant Crack in Mexico.

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6.9 magnitude earthquake strikes Chiapas and Guatemala (7 July 2014)

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Jul 072014
 

Update (14 July 2014):

Civil Protection groups in Chiapas report that a total of 9,000 homes in that state were damaged by the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that struck the region on 7 July 2014 (see below). Three people lost their lives as a result of the ‘quake: two in Hixtla and the other in Mapastepec.

Minor damages have been reported for various public buildings including the Town Hall in Tapachula, primary schools in Tapachula and Tuxtla Chico, two health care centers in Villacomaltitlán and the municipal market in Escuintla.

While all highways remained open to traffic, minor highway damages were reported on several roads including:

  • the road connecting Unión Juárez to Talquián, Córdova and Chiquihuites
  • the road linking Huixtla to El Jocote

A total of 38 municipalities in Chiapas have now been formally declared “Disaster Areas” which gives them access to funds from the federal Natural Disaster Fund.

The municipalities are Acacoyagua, Acapetahua, Amatenango de la Frontera, Arriaga, Bejucal de Ocampo, Bella Vista, Cacahoatán, Chicomuselo, El Porvenir, Escuintla, Frontera Comalapa, Frontera Hidalgo, Huehuetán, Huixtla, La Grandeza, Mapastepec, Mazapa de Madero, Mazatán, Metapa, Montecristo de Guerrero, Motozintla, Pijijiapan, Siltepec, Suchiate, Tapachula, Tonalá, Tuxtla Chico, Tuzantán, Unión Juárez, Villa Comaltitlán, Altamirano, Ángel Albino Corzo, Comitán de Domínguez, El Parral, La Concordia, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Villa Corzo and Villaflores.

Original post (7 July 2014):

A strong earthquake has rocked Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas and the neighboring San Marcos region of Guatemala. There are two reported fatalities in Chiapas, while in Guatemala casualties were restricted to a new-born baby, tragically killed by falling debris. About 300 homes in 15 municipalities in Chiapas are reported to have been damaged.

The earthquake, at about 6:30 am local (Chiapas) time, registered 6.9 on the Richter scale, though the US Geological Survey had earlier reported it as magnitude 7.1. The epicenter of the earthquake was 2km north-northeast of Puerto Madero, Chiapas, very close to Tapachula.

The airport of Tapachula, close to the Mexico-Guatemala border, is now reported to be operating normally, having sustained minor damages (see below) and having been briefly closed for inspection, with no flights allowed to land or take off.

Credit: @TapachulaCentro

Credit: @TapachulaCentro

A sequence of images posted by Mexico City daily Milenio shows some of the damage and devastation caused by the earthquake.

Damage is also reported to many homes in Tapachula, and the town market in Huixtla (north-west of Tapachula) has been partially closed due to structural damage.

We will update this report as more information becomes available.

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Hurricane names and forecast for 2014

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Apr 172014
 

The 2014 hurricane season in Mexico for Pacific coast storms starts on 15 May and lasts until 30 November. For Atlantic storms, the hurricane season extends from 1 June to 30 November, though most hurricane activity is concentrated in the months from July to September. Hurricanes are also known as typhoons or tropical cyclones.

In 2013 only two hurricanes (Manuel and Ingrid) hit Mexico, but they hit simultaneously in September, leading to more than 100 storm-related deaths and millions of dollars worth of property damage in several states, especially Guerrero.

The table shows the World Meteorological Organization’s official list of 2014 hurricane names. Note that male and female names alternate. Names are often reused in future years, with the exception of the names of any particularly violent storms, which are officially “retired” from the list for a long time.

2014 Hurricane Names for the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean
ArthurGonzaloLauraRene
BerthaHannaMarcoSally
CristobalIsaiasNanaTeddy
DollyJosephineOmarVicky
EduourdKylePauletteWilfred
Fay

2014 Hurricane Names for the Eastern Pacific
AmandaGenevieveMarinaTrudy
BorisHernanNorbertVance
CristinaIselleOdileWinnie
DouglasJulioPoloXavier
ElidaKarinaRachelYolanda
FaustoLowellSimonZeke

For the Atlantic coast, Mexico’s National Meteorological Service (Servicio Metrológico Nacional, SMN) is expecting 10 named storms: 3 tropical storms, 5 moderate hurricanes (1 or 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale), and 2 severe hurricanes (3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale).

In their early season forecast for this year, Philip Klotzbach and William Gray, researchers at Colorado State University,  expect hurricane activity in the Atlantic to be significantly below the 1981-2012 average. They write that, “The tropical Atlantic has… cooled over the past several months, and the chances of a moderate to strong El Niño event this summer and fall appear to be quite high…. Historical data indicate fewer storms form in these conditions.” They predict that in the 2014 season 9 named storms will form in the Atlantic: 6 tropical storms, 2 moderate hurricanes (1 or 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale), and 1 severe hurricanes (3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale). These forecasts will be updated on 2 June and 31 July.

saffir-simpson-scalePacific Ocean hurricanes tend to be more common in El Niño years, so this year may be more active than usual. For the Pacific coast, Mexico’s National Meteorological Service (Servicio Metrológico Nacional, SMN) is expecting 15 named storms: 5 tropical storms, 7 moderate hurricanes (1 or 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale), and 3 severe hurricanes (3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale). The SNM publishes regular updates on hurricane activity (in Spanish) on its webpage and via its Twitter account: @huracanconagua.

How accurate was the 2013 forecast?

The early season (May) prediction for 2013 (last year) was for 18 named storms in the Atlantic: 9 tropical storms, 5 moderate hurricanes and 4 severe hurricanes. This prediction proved to be the least accurate forecast in recent years. In reality, the 2013 Atlantic season had 14 named storms: 1 tropical depression, 11 tropical storms, 2 moderate hurricanes and 0 severe hurricanes. Klotzbach and Gray have since looked at the possible reasons for the poor forecast and concluded that, “It appears that the primary reason was the most significant spring weakening observed since 1950 of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation.” A summary of their findings is available here.

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Road collapse in Baja California in December 2013 increases trucking costs

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Mar 292014
 

The adverse effects of the dramatic collapse in December 2013 of a 300-meter section of the Tijuana-Ensenada coastal highway are likely to be felt for at least six months and probably longer. The extent of the problem is clear from the images in the news reports from the time:

tijuana-ensenada road collapseThe collapse took place about 95 km (60 mi) south of the border, and closed the scenic coastal highway near the San Miguel toll booth. It is still unclear whether or not an attempt will be made to rebuild the coastal highway, or whether a new highway, or new sections of highway, will be built further inland.

In the interim, passenger vehicles and light trucks are using the old two-lane road between Tijuana and Ensenada, while heavy goods vehicles are being rerouted via Tecate, adding at least 30% to their costs, according to Mexican National Confederation of Transporters (MNCT).

The MNCT says that 300 trucks a day travel between Tijuana and Ensenada and that the rerouting adds at least  80 km (50 mi) to each trip, with corresponding expenses in gasoline, driver salaries and vehicle maintenance. It also almost doubles the time required. A spokesperson for the MNCT has called for authorities to allow heavy trucks to use the more direct non-toll route (Highway 1). However, the increased traffic on the old road is already leading to backups and an increase in minor accidents, so it is unlikely that authorities will allow any larger trucks to use that route.

It is too early to say how serious the effects will be on Ensenada’s economy. The city has Mexico’s third busiest cruise ship terminal and is the main gateway for travel further south along the Baja California Peninsula.

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Mexico and US agree to work together to fight trans-border wildfires

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Feb 222014
 

Mexico’s National Forestry Commission (Comisión Nacional Forestal, Conafor) and the US Forest Service have signed an agreement aimed to ensure more efficient fire-fighting when dealing with wildfires on the border of Sonora/Arizona. The agreement, the Bi-national Convention on Forest Fires (Convenio Binacional de Incendios Forestales) is designed to increase public safety on either side of the border, reduce habitat loss, and facilitate the exchange of information about wildfires, leading to improved preventative measures and firefighter training.

The Convention establishes that when a fire is detected in the municipalities of Nogales, Naco, Agua Prieta or Santa Cruz, a united bi-national command can be established to ensure effective collaboration between the two countries’ firefighters. Firefighting brigades, together with supporting vehicles and aircraft, will be authorized to cross the border by up to 16 km (10 miles) in either direction when battling wildfires, provided they give prior notice to the relevant migration, security and customs agencies in the country concerned.

Coahuila wildfire, April 9, 2011 (Earth Observatory, Landsat-5)

Coahuila wildfire, April 9, 2011 (Earth Observatory, Landsat-5)

Mexico’s worst ever year for forest fires was in 1998, when 14,400 were recorded. In the past three years, 2011 was easily the most disastrous in terms of wildfires, with more than 12,000 fires reported:

  • 2011 – 12,113 fires, affecting  956 square km
  • 2012 –  7,170 fires, affecting 347 square km
  • 2013 – 10,406 fires, affecting 413 square km

In 2013, 99% of wildfires were attributed to “human actions”, with 36% of all fires resulting from deliberate agricultural burn-offs getting out of control.

The main wildfire season is from February to May each year. May is the critical month because it marks the end of the dry season in most of Mexico, the time when the natural landscape looks parched. During May, as the landscape waits for the start of the rainy season, precursor electrical storms are relatively common. Electrical storms can easily trigger wildfires if they ignite the tinder-dry vegetation.

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National Hurricane Agency and National Atlas of Risks

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Jan 232014
 

Speaking at an event to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the National Water Commission (Conagua), President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that the government has allocated 170 million dollars towards modernizing the National Meteorological Service (Servicio Meteorológico Nacional, SMN).

The modernization will include establishing a National Hurricane Agency to coordinate hazard prediction, prevention and mitigation actions with state and municipal authorities to reduce the impacts of natural climatic hazard events.

2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Ironically, the 2013 season (shown) was the first Atlantic hurricane season since 1994 to end with no major hurricanes.

In related news, the government has also announced that progress is being made in compiling a National Atlas of Risks. The Atlas is an interactive GIS database containing details of settlements, soils, rivers, dams, highways, rail lines, river basins, oil fields, and many other factors related to the assessment of vulnerability and risk. Due to be completed by 2016, it will help all three levels of government (municipal, state, federal) decide how best to allocate hazard mitigation resources and improve the accuracy of risk assessments utilized in future planning decisions.

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Mexico battered by massive storms from both east and west (September 2013)

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Oct 192013
 

For the first time since 1958 Mexico was bashed virtually simultaneously by two very destructive storms: Ingrid in the east and Manuel in the west. Before discussing their destructive impact, we will describe the tracks of the two storms (photos below) and chart their chronology.

Track of Hurricane Ingrid

Track of Hurricane Ingrid

On September 10, weak weather disturbances were observed in the Caribbean east of the Yucatan Peninsula and in the Pacific south of Chiapas. The disturbance in the Caribbean gained some strength before hitting land which weakened it. It survived its crossing of the peninsula and re-emerged in warm waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico where it quickly gained strength. By the afternoon of September 12th it was upgraded to an official tropical depression.

Track of Hurricane Manuel

Track of Hurricane Manuel

Meanwhile the disturbance in Pacific moved slowly westward and by the morning of 13th was upgraded to a tropical depression. At about noon of the 13th both storms were upgraded to become named tropical storms (Ingrid and Manuel respectively) meaning they had winds of over 40 mph. In other words, the birth of “Ingrid” and “Manuel” were almost simultaneous (light green spots on the tracking maps). After earlier moving westward, both storms started to move north and slightly east picking up moisture, strength and wind speed over the warm ocean water.

Ingrid continued to move north gaining strength and by the next afternoon, the 14th, it was upgraded to a Category I hurricane with winds of 75mph. It started to move west and winds increased to 85mph on the morning of the 15th. Meanwhile Manuel also started to move west again skirting the coast of Guerrero and Michoacán. Early on the 15th Manuel’s winds reached 70mph. Though wind speeds did not quite reach hurricane level at that time and the eye of Manuel never made landfall, it brought enormous amounts of rain to coastal communities. For example, on September 14th Chilpancingo, Guerrero’s capital, got 393mm (15.5”) of rain while Acapulco got 140mm (5.5”) (Wunderground.com). This, added to considerable rain on preceding and following days, led to horrific flooding.

Satellite image of Hurricane Ingrid and Hurricane Manuel, September 2013

Satellite image of Hurricane Ingrid and Hurricane Manuel, 15 September 2013

On September 15th Hurricane Ingrid with winds of 75-85mph drifted toward Taumalipas in northeast Mexico. Meanwhile. Tropical Storm Manuel with winds about 60mph made landfall near Manzanillo, Colima. Once over land, the storm quickly lost power; by that evening winds were down to 35mph and Manuel was downgraded to tropical depression, but heavy rainfall continued. The next morning on the 16th Manuel’s winds were down to 30mph and it was further downgraded to a “remnant” of a tropical storm. But later that day, the remnant of Manuel move back to the Pacific Ocean near Puerto Vallarta and began to regain its strength.

That same morning September 16th Ingrid, which had weaken to a tropical storm with winds of 65mph made landfall just east of Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. By the next morning, the 17th, Ingrid’s winds were down to 25mph and it was downgraded to a “remnant” though heavy rainfall continued.

Later on the 17th, Manuel regained its status as a tropical depression (winds of 35mph). The next morning, the 18th, it regained tropical storm status and by that afternoon it became Hurricane Manuel with winds of 75mph. Early on the 19th it made landfall west of Culiacan, Sinaloa. Moving east over land Manuel quickly lost power and was down to a remnant by the morning of the 20th. However, the remnant of Manuel continued far north and east joining the remnant of Ingrid and bringing torrential rains and flooding to central Texas, including Austin.

While storms are classified by their wind speeds from tropical depressions to tropical storms and then to hurricanes with intensities one up to five; this classification does not capture the extent of damage that can be caused. The amount of rain combined with the terrain can be far more damaging than the wind speeds. Furthermore the storm surge associated with a storm’s low pressure and high tides can be far more devastating than the winds as we saw with Hurricane Rita in New Orleans and Hurricane Sandy in New York.

In the case of Manuel, the amount of rainfall was far more destructive than the winds. The rains of Manuel as a “tropical storm” off the coast of Guerrero did far more damage than Hurricane Manuel did later in the State of Sinaloa or Ingrid did in eastern Mexico. Manual caused a total of about 84 reported deaths. At least 72 people were reported dead in Guerrero and another 68 were reported missing in the town of La Pintada that was partially buried under a massive mudslide. In Acapulco about 18 died. Floods closed the exit highways and the airport, temporarily stranding 40,000 tourists. These photos from the Guardian and USAToday show the extent of flooding in Guerrero, especially around Acapulco.

In contrast fewer than a dozen people reportedly died in Sinaloa which was later directly hit by Hurricane Manual. While Ingrid had considerably stronger winds than Manuel, its death toll of only about 23 was spread across several states from Puebla just east of Mexico City up to Tamualipas on the Texas border. More than half the total, 12 died in Altotonga, Veracruz, when a mudslide smashed into a bus. Of course, deaths are not the only, nor the best, measure of a storm’s destructive impact. Other commonly used measures are the financial cost of the damage and the number of people who evacuated or become homeless. No matter what measure is used, hurricanes are one of the most destructive natural hazards.

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Popocatepetl Volcano puts on an explosive show

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Jul 102013
 

This 30-second video update on the eruption of Popocatepetl Volcano speaks for itself. Webcams have made the life of armchair geologists (even those of us who quite like exploring volcanic craters, provided the volcano in question is extinct or at least dormant) a whole lot easier!

The alert level remains at Yellow Phase 3, the highest stage before the two “Alarm” stages of Red 1 and Red 2.

Travel tips:

Several international flights into and out of Mexico City over the past week have been either diverted to other airports or cancelled. If you are flying into Mexico City in the next few days, check with your airline.

Ash has fallen (in varying amounts) over many parts of the city during this time. To avoid getting any ash into your lungs (not good!), consider wearing a damp face mask wherever/whenever the air is not clear.

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