GEOHAZARDS AND THEIR IMPACT
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 2008 to be the United Nations International Year of Planet Earth. The Year's activities, spanning the three years 2007-2009, are aimed at promoting the contribution to sustainable development of society by using knowledge and information provided by the geosciences. The objective being to demonstrate ways in which Earth sciences can help future generations meet the challenges involved in ensuring a safer and more prosperous world. The International Year of Planet Earth is a joint initiative by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The purpose of the Year has been described in terms of ten related goals or research themes, including the identification of ways to 'reduce risks for society caused by natural and human-induced hazards'. The IUGS describes any Earth process that poses risk to human life as a geohazard, ranging in scope from local events (such as small rockfalls) to global geophysical events that can threaten the existence of the entire species, like major asteroid impacts and supervolcanic eruptions. The term geohazard includes geological hazards, like landslides and volcanoes, meteorological hazards like floods and freak tides, and geophysical hazards like earthquakes.
Geoscience Australia is the Australian Government agency with responsibility for coordinating Australia's involvement in the International Year of Planet Earth. The Australian Bureau of Statistics invited Geoscience Australia and other Government agencies to contribute articles related to the Year's themes for inclusion in this edition of Year Book Australia. Over the years, Australia has experienced a range of meteorological and geological hazards. The following article Understanding natural hazard impacts on Australia was contributed by Miriam Middlemann, Research Scientist, Geoscience Australia. It provides an overview of forms of geohazards that have impacted on Australia and the role of warnings in reducing loss of life. A second article, Natural disasters in Australia, provides a brief description of individual disasters occurring in Australia, many of which involved significant damage and often loss of life. This survey of natural disasters, spanning more than 100 years, was first published in Year Book Australia 2001. It has been expanded and updated in this edition. Other articles relating to the Year's themes are included in relevant chapters of the Year Book.
Hunter River in flood, Morpeth, June 2007 – courtesy NSW SES.