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Structures against Extreme Weather

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Engineering
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Engineering
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Students design and build a structure that protects toy people from a hurricane.

Climate change can make weather more extreme and intense, damaging infrastructure and putting the lives of more people in danger. Design and build a structure that protects toy people from a hurricane.

What You Need

  • 2 small toy people, about 5 cm or 2” tall (e.g., LEGO® or Playmobil® people)
  • A piece of string 50 cm or about 18” long
  • 6 popsicle sticks or craft sticks
  • Half a piece of letter-size paper 8.5” by 5.5” or 27.9 cm x 10.8 cm
  • 1 piece of sticky tack, about the size of your fingernail
  • 1 piece of cardstock
  • Scissors
  • 1 electric fan
  • Writing utensil (pencil, pen) for design
  • Stopwatch for time-keeping (optional)

Additional materials:

  • Cup
  • Water

Guide: 

Safety Notes

Be careful using electric fans. Keep your fingers away from the blades. If you are performing the Investigate Further activities, try to perform structural testing outdoors or in a place where you can clean up spilled water. If performing earthquake and tsunami simulation, avoid throwing water directly at a person.

What To Do

Hurricane Design Challenge

A small coastal city has been dealing with $10 million of structural damages annually due to increase in extreme weather and hurricane intensity in the region. Your expertise is requested to design an emergency shelter for the community that can house as many people as possible (at least 2 action figures of your choosing) while withstanding major winds (the maximum setting on an electric fan that directly faces the shelter). Start by creating a structure plan and use the materials provided to build a prototype. 

Setup requirements

  • Put the piece of cardstock on a table. It will be your base. You must attach your structure to the cardstock using the stick tack. You cannot use the stick tack for anything else.
  • You are successful if you have created a structure that meets these 2 requirements:
    • Your toy people must be able to sit safely under it.
    • It must not fall apart when exposed to external forces for at least 30 seconds.

Rules

  • You must set up your completed structure 60 cm or about 2’ away from the electric fan. Begin by pointing the fan directly at your structure.
  • Expose the structure to the lowest setting of the electric fan for 30 seconds. If your structure withstands that force, turn the fan up to the next setting for 30 seconds. Continue until the fan is at the highest setting.
  • Can your structure withstand wind from all directions? Use another electric fan pointing at the structure at a different position and repeat the process.

What other extreme weather is affected by climate change? Learn more about earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as how climate change may affect them, and then adapt your structure to withstand as many external forces as possible.

Extra Scenario: Earthquakes

Due to the geographical location of the small coastal city, earthquakes have always contributed to several million dollars of structural damages every year. Make additional changes to your emergency shelter so that it can withstand rigorous horizontal shaking (move the cardboard base side-to-side) along with a 1-meter tall wave travelling at the speed of a major hurricane.

Additional rules

  • Move the cardboard base side-to-side every 10 seconds. Throw a cup of water every 30 seconds, while turning up the setting of the fan every 30 seconds. Continue until the fan is at the highest setting.

Extra Scenario: Tsunamis

Tsunamis were quite infrequent in the small coastal city, but within the last two decades, the frequency of tsunamis has doubled in the region. Extra precautions are required for the safety of the residents. Make additional changes to your emergency shelter so that it can withstand the height of 1-meter tall wave travelling at the speed of a major hurricane (from a height of 1-meters, throw a cup of water in the direction of your shelter while the maximum setting on the electric fan directly faces the shelter).

Additional rules

  • Throw a cup of water every 30 seconds, while turning up the setting of the fan every 30 seconds. Continue until the fan is at the highest setting.

Reflection

  • How many scenarios and external forces was your structure able to withstand, and for how long? What improvements can you make to your structure in future?
  • Is it practical to build a single shelter that can withstand all external forces? Why or why not?
  • Why is it important to develop a specialized structure specific to the needs of the region at the time?

Discovery

Hurricanes

Wind happens when air flows from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. Tropical islands can have very strong winds during hurricanes.

Hurricanes form when warm, moist air over the ocean rises quickly. This creates an area of low pressure. Then, air blows into this area of low pressure. This new air gets warmer and rises as well. This cycle can lead to violent winds that can batter islands and coastal areas.

Hurricanes are classified into 5 categories depending on their intensity as measured by wind speeds.

Earthquakes

Earthquakes can be caused by the tectonic plate boundaries or volcanic activity. Tectonic plates are constantly moving at a slow pace. When tectonic plates lock suddenly together due to friction, the remaining section of the plate continues to move, resulting in increased pressure on the side that is locked. This side can shatter, causing the plates to move rapidly and release energy in the form of an earthquake. Minor earthquakes can also be caused by the collapse of underground mines or large explosions. The Richter scale is a mathematical device that compares the size or magnitudes of different earthquakes.

Tsunamis

Tsunamis are long waves that are the result of a large displacement force, usually due to tectonic plates in the Earth’s crust sliding across each other on the ocean floor, much like an earthquake. However, tsunamis can also be the result of landslides or volcanoes.

Hurricanes and Climate Change

The effects of climate change are not predicted to increase the number of hurricanes that occur, but rather their destructive potential and intensity. For example, about 90 hurricanes occur in a year globally, which has not changed significantly. However, the number of Category 4 and 5 major hurricanes across North America have increased in a 15-year period compared to the previous time period.

Some factors that can increase the destructive potential and intensity of hurricane formation include:

  • There has been an increase of about 1 C of sea surface temperatures per decade since 1970 due to the effects of global warming and climate change. Sea surface temperatures contribute to the warm, moist air required for hurricane activity. Warm air can hold more water vapour, or “fuel” for hurricanes. In contrast, there may be a decrease in cold ocean water available to prevent hurricane formation.
  • Climate change can cause glaciers and ice to melt more rapidly over time due to rising temperatures, which can lead to higher sea levels. “Storm surges” are the result of water rising at a faster rate due to storm conditions, such as hurricanes. These higher sea levels can move onto land due to heavy winds. Storm surges are predicted to occur more often due to the rising of sea levels at a rate of about 7-8 inches per year since the 1900s.
  • An indirect effect that can increase the destructive potential of hurricanes is the increasing population density of coastal regions around the world. For example, an increase in 160 people per square mile was estimated in coastal cities between 1980 - 2017.

Strong winds have a big impact on communities near the ocean. Storms can cause billions of dollars of wind damage to buildings and other structures. Many people get trapped, seriously injured, or even killed as a result. Buildings that withstand high winds can help keep people safe.

Earthquakes and Climate Change

Although the effects of climate change on earthquake activity is still in question, there are some indirect effects that can still occur.

For example:

  • The amount of water weight on land can affect earthquake activity. Lower water weight on land can increase the rate of smaller earthquakes that humans cannot feel.
  • However, large droughts can also cause mountain rocks to lose water, which can decrease the stress levels of faults that result in earthquakes. In some regions, the intensity of droughts may increase due to climate change.
  • Similarly, the rapid movement of glaciers can decrease stress loads as well, increasing volcanic activity and the rate of glacier earthquakes. The melting of ice due to climate change may increase the instability and movement of glaciers.

Tsunamis and Climate Change

The melting of ice and subsequent rising sea levels due to climate change and global warming can increase the frequency of tsunami flooding in coastal regions. As glaciers break, tsunamis can occur due to the large volume displaced in ocean, which can result in long waves. The melting of permafrost can also decrease soil stability, creating landslides that can hit the ocean water on impact too, resulting in local large waves or tsunamis.

  • Refer to the Structures against Extreme Weather Guide for information on the technology behind hurricane-proof, earthquake-proof and tsunami- proof structures. There may be some good ideas for building your structure!
  • Weather: Wind (2020) - This backgrounder from Let’s Talk Science explains what causes wind and how to measure it. 
  • Where Do Hurricanes Come From? (2019) - This article from Let’s Talk Science explains how hurricanes form, where they hit land and the damage they can do.
  • How Do Hurricanes Form? (2019) - This video (2:22 min) from NOAA SciJinks illustrates how hurricanes start and how we know they’re coming.
  • Plate Tectonics (2019) and Continental Drift and Place Tectonics (2020) - These backgrounders from Let’s Talk Science explain how plate tectonics can cause earthquakes.
  • Waves, Tides and Tsunamis (2021) - This backgrounder from Let’s Talk Science explains ocean waves, and how they form tsunamis and tidal waves.

Web

Union of Concerned Scientists. (2019). Hurricanes and Climate Change

Sork, A. (2019). The Science of Hurricane-Proof Buildings

Wilson, A. (2022). Building Survivability. Monolithic Dome Institute.

United States Geological Survey. (n.d.). What is an earthquake?

Michigan Tech. (n.d.). Earthquake Magnitude Scale

NASA Climate (2019). Can Climate Affect Earthquakes?

McFadden, C. (2020). Top 5 Earthquake Resistant Structures. Interesting Engineering.

Newton, E. (2021). 5 Keys to Designing Earthquake-Resistant Buildings. Civil Structural Engineering.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (n.d.). Tsunamis

Cunneen, J. 5 ways climate change increases the threat of tsunamis. The Conversation.

Craven, J. About the Architecture of Tsunami-Resistant Buildings. Thought Co.

Attachments

Structures Against Extreme Weather Guide

What's Happening?

Hurricanes

Wind happens when air flows from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. Tropical islands can have very strong winds during hurricanes.

Hurricanes form when warm, moist air over the ocean rises quickly. This creates an area of low pressure. Then, air blows into this area of low pressure. This new air gets warmer and rises as well. This cycle can lead to violent winds that can batter islands and coastal areas.

Hurricanes are classified into 5 categories depending on their intensity as measured by wind speeds.

Earthquakes

Earthquakes can be caused by the tectonic plate boundaries or volcanic activity. Tectonic plates are constantly moving at a slow pace. When tectonic plates lock suddenly together due to friction, the remaining section of the plate continues to move, resulting in increased pressure on the side that is locked. This side can shatter, causing the plates to move rapidly and release energy in the form of an earthquake. Minor earthquakes can also be caused by the collapse of underground mines or large explosions. The Richter scale is a mathematical device that compares the size or magnitudes of different earthquakes.

Tsunamis

Tsunamis are long waves that are the result of a large displacement force, usually due to tectonic plates in the Earth’s crust sliding across each other on the ocean floor, much like an earthquake. However, tsunamis can also be the result of landslides or volcanoes.

Why Does It Matter?

Hurricanes and Climate Change

The effects of climate change are not predicted to increase the number of hurricanes that occur, but rather their destructive potential and intensity. For example, about 90 hurricanes occur in a year globally, which has not changed significantly. However, the number of Category 4 and 5 major hurricanes across North America have increased in a 15-year period compared to the previous time period.

Some factors that can increase the destructive potential and intensity of hurricane formation include:

  • There has been an increase of about 1 C of sea surface temperatures per decade since 1970 due to the effects of global warming and climate change. Sea surface temperatures contribute to the warm, moist air required for hurricane activity. Warm air can hold more water vapour, or “fuel” for hurricanes. In contrast, there may be a decrease in cold ocean water available to prevent hurricane formation.
  • Climate change can cause glaciers and ice to melt more rapidly over time due to rising temperatures, which can lead to higher sea levels. “Storm surges” are the result of water rising at a faster rate due to storm conditions, such as hurricanes. These higher sea levels can move onto land due to heavy winds. Storm surges are predicted to occur more often due to the rising of sea levels at a rate of about 7-8 inches per year since the 1900s.
  • An indirect effect that can increase the destructive potential of hurricanes is the increasing population density of coastal regions around the world. For example, an increase in 160 people per square mile was estimated in coastal cities between 1980 - 2017.

Strong winds have a big impact on communities near the ocean. Storms can cause billions of dollars of wind damage to buildings and other structures. Many people get trapped, seriously injured, or even killed as a result. Buildings that withstand high winds can help keep people safe.

Earthquakes and Climate Change

Although the effects of climate change on earthquake activity is still in question, there are some indirect effects that can still occur.

For example:

  • The amount of water weight on land can affect earthquake activity. Lower water weight on land can increase the rate of smaller earthquakes that humans cannot feel.
  • However, large droughts can also cause mountain rocks to lose water, which can decrease the stress levels of faults that result in earthquakes. In some regions, the intensity of droughts may increase due to climate change.
  • Similarly, the rapid movement of glaciers can decrease stress loads as well, increasing volcanic activity and the rate of glacier earthquakes. The melting of ice due to climate change may increase the instability and movement of glaciers.

Tsunamis and Climate Change

The melting of ice and subsequent rising sea levels due to climate change and global warming can increase the frequency of tsunami flooding in coastal regions. As glaciers break, tsunamis can occur due to the large volume displaced in ocean, which can result in long waves. The melting of permafrost can also decrease soil stability, creating landslides that can hit the ocean water on impact too, resulting in local large waves or tsunamis.

Investigate Further

  • Refer to the Structures against Extreme Weather Guide for information on the technology behind hurricane-proof, earthquake-proof and tsunami- proof structures. There may be some good ideas for building your structure!
  • Weather: Wind (2020) - This backgrounder from Let’s Talk Science explains what causes wind and how to measure it. 
  • Where Do Hurricanes Come From? (2019) - This article from Let’s Talk Science explains how hurricanes form, where they hit land and the damage they can do.
  • How Do Hurricanes Form? (2019) - This video (2:22 min) from NOAA SciJinks illustrates how hurricanes start and how we know they’re coming.
  • Plate Tectonics (2019) and Continental Drift and Place Tectonics (2020) - These backgrounders from Let’s Talk Science explain how plate tectonics can cause earthquakes.
  • Waves, Tides and Tsunamis (2021) - This backgrounder from Let’s Talk Science explains ocean waves, and how they form tsunamis and tidal waves.

Resources

Web

Union of Concerned Scientists. (2019). Hurricanes and Climate Change

Sork, A. (2019). The Science of Hurricane-Proof Buildings

Wilson, A. (2022). Building Survivability. Monolithic Dome Institute.

United States Geological Survey. (n.d.). What is an earthquake?

Michigan Tech. (n.d.). Earthquake Magnitude Scale

NASA Climate (2019). Can Climate Affect Earthquakes?

McFadden, C. (2020). Top 5 Earthquake Resistant Structures. Interesting Engineering.

Newton, E. (2021). 5 Keys to Designing Earthquake-Resistant Buildings. Civil Structural Engineering.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (n.d.). Tsunamis

Cunneen, J. 5 ways climate change increases the threat of tsunamis. The Conversation.

Craven, J. About the Architecture of Tsunami-Resistant Buildings. Thought Co.

Attachments

Structures Against Extreme Weather Guide