Environment: Climate team has its work cut out

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The Independent Online
The Climate and Natural Hazards Unit was only supposed to last until 1999 - it was set up by the European Commission in 1994 as a four- year experiment. If the past 12 months have been anything to go by, it has a long and busy future ahead of it: 1997 has been one of the most disaster-rich years in recent European memory.

The Unit carries out research on three different hazards - hydrological risk, earthquakes, forest fires and volcanoes. Europe's volcanoes have been relatively quiet, but in every other category there has been a bumper crop, with massive flooding in Germany, a big earthquake in Italy, and forest fires in Spain and the south of France.

The Unit has published research on ways of reducing flood risk, identifying various problems. European seismologists and engineers have exchanged information with their Japanese colleagues since the Assisi earthquake, and a method has been developed for measuring forest fires and predicting their likely direction.