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Inside Quantum Technology’s “Inside Scoop:” Quantum and Natural Disasters

Natural disasters affect nearly everyone around the globe, but now there may be ways to help predict and mitigate these situations thanks to quantum computing.
By Kenna Hughes-Castleberry posted 28 Apr 2023

Natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis have the potential to cause devastating damage to infrastructure, property, and human lives. Predicting and mitigating these disasters is a challenging task, and scientists and researchers have been exploring various technologies to help with these efforts. Quantum computing is one of these various technologies that could offer some promising results. From measuring gravity waves to weather predictions, these next-generation computers may be the key to creating more effective natural disaster warning and mitigation systems.

Looking at Satellite Data

Because many of these natural disasters, specifically tsunamis or hurricanes, can be seen via satellite, satellite images can be used as a database for quantum computers to analyze. By analyzing vast amounts of data collected from sensors and satellites, quantum computers can predict areas that are more at risk for these natural disasters, as well as possible years where tsunami or hurricane season could be especially bad. For example, data on atmospheric conditions, ocean currents, and seismic activity can all be analyzed to provide more accurate predictions around the globe.

Weather Forecasting

Quantum computing can also be used to help create weather predictions, which in turn could help mitigate more weather-based natural disasters such as tornadoes or flash flooding. With its optimization algorithms, quantum computing could help to create a more efficient warning system for these events or help create maps of where to place sirens and other warning devices so they can be heard by all.

Earthquake Measurements

In a recent article for Discover Magazine, I interviewed Dr. Daniel Boddice, a professor at the University of Birmingham, who is looking at using quantum technology to measure earthquakes and predict where they may strike next. As earthquakes are nearly impossible to predict (most estimates give a year range), having a more sensitive system, one that looks at the earth’s gravity waves, can be helpful for creating a more impactful warning system, saving lives in the process.

Mitigating Natural Disasters

Quantum computing can also help with mitigating the effects of natural disasters. For example, in the case of earthquakes, quantum computers can be used to simulate the behavior of buildings and other structures under different seismic conditions. By running these simulations, engineers can identify weak points in buildings and other structures, and develop strategies to make them more resistant to earthquakes. This can help to minimize damage and save lives in the event of an earthquake. The same process can be repeated with other structures like train tracks, helping to minimize any train derailments.

Similarly, quantum computing can be used to simulate the behavior of coastal areas during hurricanes and other severe weather events. By running these simulations, researchers can identify areas that are at high risk of flooding or other damage, and develop strategies to protect these areas. For example, sea walls and other barriers can be constructed to protect coastal communities from storm surges, and evacuation plans can be developed to help people safely evacuate areas that are at high risk of flooding.

While quantum computing still has a long way to go in helping to advance the warning systems for natural disasters, the many benefits that are predicted to happen can be significant in making our world more robust against these situations, and help to save thousands of lives in the process.

Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a staff writer at Inside Quantum Technology and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). Her writing beats include deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology.

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