Flooding in Libya a ‘Gray Swan’ Event, but Dam Infrastructure Worldwide Not Ready for Demands of Climate Change

CEE Professor Auroop Ganguly described the extreme flooding in Libya, caused by Storm Daniel, as a “gray swan” event or a rare but predictable event that can reveal deficiencies in infrastructure readiness and resilience.

This article originally appeared on Northeastern Global News. It was published by Tanner Stening. Main photo: A general view of the city of Derna is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 12., 2023. Mediterranean storm Daniel caused devastating floods in Libya that broke dams and swept away entire neighborhoods in multiple coastal towns, the destruction appeared greatest in Derna city. AP Photo/Jamal Alkomaty

Thousands of people have been killed and another 10,000 are missing — and presumed dead — in Libya after flooding from a devastating Mediterranean storm over the weekend swept away homes and inundated roadways, leading to a humanitarian crisis of “catastrophic” proportions.

Headshots of Auroop Ganguly (left) and Daniel Aldrich (right).

Left to right: Auroop Ganguly, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Daniel Aldrich, professor of political science and public policy. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The coastal city of Derna suffered most of the catastrophic flooding from Storm Daniel after two catchment dams burst, unleashing floodwaters that swept away whole neighborhoods, imperiling thousands of residents in a region already steeped in years of conflict.

The unprecedented disaster comes on the heels of another tragedy in the North African nation of Morocco, where an earthquake on Friday killed more than 2,900 people.

Auroop Ganguly, Northeastern’s distinguished professor of civil and environmental engineering, described the floods in Libya as a “gray swan” event — that is, an event that is rare but predictable. Such events include COVID-19 pandemic, Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 financial collapse, for example — and are contrasted with “black swan” events, such as the Sept. 11 attacks.

The gray swan is what experts describe as a “predictive surprise;” they wreak devastation on the affected communities, but point to longstanding deficiencies in “infrastructure readiness and resilience.”

Often, the lessons from these events are not learned, Ganguly says.

“The idea here is that there are some events which are so drastically divergent from our expectations and anticipations that they cannot be predicted by any means,” he says. “But they do have significant and wide-ranging long-term impacts. That’s a black swan.”

On the gray swan, Ganguly adds: “Statistically, we might be able to say these kinds of events are more likely, but the surprise element is that we can’t exactly pinpoint where, when and to what intensity they’ll take place.”

Read full story at Northeastern Global News

Related Faculty: Auroop R. Ganguly

Related Departments:Civil & Environmental Engineering