A Look Back At The Year In Disasters

It's been a busy year for our plane — far busier than you would know even if you followed the news daily. NPR's Joe Palca talks about this year's major hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, explaining why the biggest ones went unreported.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Planet Earth had its share of natural disasters in 2010. So did Saturn, but let's stick to this part of the solar system. Curiously, some of the biggest natural disasters here on Earth went practically unnoticed.

Here's NPR's Joe Palca to explain why.

JOE PALCA: If you listen to the news media, you might think that the only volcano that erupted in 2010 was that Icelandic volcano that only people in Iceland can say the name of. Eyjafjallaj�kull. In fact, according to the Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program, 64 volcanoes were actively erupting this year.

Or take earthquakes. News of the devastating Haitian earthquake was everywhere. But the U.S. Geological Surveys Earthquake Hazards Program reports there were 13 earthquakes around the world that were more powerful than the one in Haiti, including one off the coast of Chile that was nearly 100 times more powerful.

Or hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tells us this was one of the busiest years on record. Really?

The point here is that natural disasters are occurring all the time. It's where they occur that makes all the difference. The ash from Eyjafjallaj�kull happened to clog up a busy travel route over Europe. The Haitian earthquake occurred where there were many vulnerable people and buildings. And the hurricanes this year were kind enough not to pound the United States.

Violent natural events typically only become news when they affect people.

And speaking of affecting people, we couldn't talk about the disasters in 2010 without mentioning the Gulf oil spill. Not a natural disaster, but creating one along the Gulf Coast and on the seabed near the well. If you want to put a positive spin on that event, don't think of it as a natural disaster, but a unique opportunity to study the ability of an ecosystem to cope with four million barrels of oil being dumped into it. It's information that unfortunately may be useful in the future.

Joe Palca, NPR New, Washington

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