This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


(I apologize if followers have gotten multiple alerts about this post--the tables below have caused a real headache, and Blogger is just not letting me correct things.)

I have a project (and a paper to give in two weeks as well as to prepare for publication) on stealth disasters. I'm going to define "stealth disasters" here, and ask for readers to send me their best translation in other languages. Here are some excerpts from my talk and paper:

Natural processes unleash energy in various ways and at differing rates. Sometimes this results in situations that are harmful or, at best, inconvenient, for humans, and we have historically called such events “natural disasters.” If you look up the term “natural disaster” in Wiki (2013) you get the following examples:
avalanches, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, limnic eruptions, tsunamis, blizzards, cyclonic storms, droughts, hailstorms, droughts, hailstorms, heat waves, tornadoes, wildfires, epidemics, meteorite impacts, solar flares, and gamma-ray bursts. We have historically called such events “natural disasters,” and the insurance industry traditionally has called these “Acts of God.”
Disasters such as these are typically characterized by a relatively sudden onset.  Sometimes there are precursors: seismicity may increase before an earthquake, or the awakening of a volcano may be signaled by small eruptions, often of freshly heated groundwater as hot magma works its way up through the volcano. Landslides may have episodes of creep or small failures prior to a large event.  Typically the precursors of a natural disaster are small compared to the disaster-producing event itself and thus, even though there are precursors, and that is why we can say that this type of disaster has a “sudden onset.” Once the big event occurs, the consequences to humans typically occur within seconds, minutes, hours, or a few days.
     But there are other processes that produce hazards, generally not thought of as “disasters.” These processes involve the natural systems that support us but, rather than being driven primarily by natural non-biological processes, these are driven by human behavior. Examples are climate change, desertification, acidification of the oceans, compaction and erosion of fertile soils, death of coral reefs, and collapse of ocean fisheries and other ecosystems.  These disasters typically have more gradual onsets than natural disasters and, because of this, I refer to these as “stealth disasters.”  

Stealth disasters develop over longer periods of time than natural disasters, often over decades or centuries. Although they do occur at local scales, cumulatively they are at least regional, and often global, in scale simply because our human presence and our human impact on the geosphere is now dense and global. For example, ponds and rivers may be locally polluted, but these ponds and rivers drain into networks that are also polluted and these networks eventually deliver pollution at a regional and global scare. Another way to say this is to say that systems are interconnected on scales ranging from local to regional to even global. Compared to natural disasters, the onset of stealth disasters is gradual and they are for this reason alone, not given prominent attention in the media. 
Unlike natural disasters, the effects of stealth disasters are often not subject to remediation on timescales relevant to us personally or even to our civilizations, that is, their effects are irreversible on any timescale relevant to human survival.  Although we destroy the geosystems that support us at human rates, their recovery will occur at geological rates.
In contrast to natural disasters, press coverage about stealth disasters tends to be sporadic and fails to elicit the attention, sympathy, political will, or economic help that are required to reverse the processes or solve the problems. Although it is possible that by some behavioral changes, some stealth disasters may be minimized or avoided (the ozone hole is the most prominent example of success in this regard), it is now generally acknowledged that, at least for those stealth disasters related to climate change and the current and anticipated human population density, preparation for and behavior during stealth disasters need to be addressed

     In English*, “stealth,” as an adjective, describes an action that is “intended not to attract attention.” Some synonyms listed for “stealth” are “behind-the-scenes,” clandestine, covert, furtive, hush-hush, sneaking, secret, or surreptitious.
            In other languages, Table 1 summarizes the adjective “stealth” or “stealthy”, and the phrase “stealth disaster.” Note: I have this in Hindi, but see note below so do not worry about Hindi. Arabic follows this table.

Readers help in expanding these tables (and in suggesting other examples of stealth disasters) will be much appreciated! Please do not send me samples just taken from Google translator, but only examples for which you personally know. I have found Google Translator can give very misleading results.

“Stealth” or “stealthy” (adj.)
“Stealth disaster”



verstohlen Katastrophe
desastre furtivo
 छुपा  or छल
चुपके आपदा or गुढआपदा
disastro furitivo
catastrophe furtive
ascuns dezastru
скрытая катастрофа
אסון חשאי‬
ukradkowy ??
potajemny katastrof ??
Прихований ?

прихований  лиха   


“Stealth disaster(s)”
 “disguised disasters”
‫الكوارث المتخفية‬
“invisible disasters”
الكوارث اللامرئية
“stealth disasters”
‫الكوارث المتسللة‬
“ghostly disasters”
‫الكوارث الشبحية‬
“hidden disasters”
‫الكوارث الخفية‬


Guillaume said...


Small mistake for the french :
stealth = furtif
stealth disaster = catastrophe furtive



Susan W. Kieffer said...

Thanks very much, Guillaume!

Anonymous said...


First of all: Russian and Ukranian translations of "stealth disaster" are swapped.
Second: Russian translation is slightly incorrect (should be "невидимая катастрофа", since "disaster" is feminine in russian).

Generally, word "невидим(ый/ая)" in russian stands for, say, magically driven invisibility ;) ("invisible" is a plain english translation).
As for "stealth", usually it is translated as "smth with reduced visibility" as stealth technology is a concealment. Such translation is used in technical/official texts (mostly dedicated to military equipment). In case of "stealth disaster" it makes more sense to use "hidden" (скрытая). So I vote for "скрытая катастрофа", but I'm not a geologist and I even don't know is there an accepted term for "stealth disaster" in russian.

Cheers, Sergey.

Aldo Piombino said...

the word "furitivo" does not exist in Italian. It can be "furtivo", literally, but this is not a good word for a disaster... this word is referred to someone which does not want other people seeing him because he wants to do something which is not honest or right. .
the definition,of a disaster can be "invisibile" (invisible)
"nascosto" (hidden)
"fantasma" (ghostly)

nelly said...

Great post.The importance of a Russian translation being accurate and efficient can indeed not be overstated. Especially in the ever faster moving world of globalized business, successful information and technology transfer within multinational businesses can make the difference between win or lose.

olive said...

I can't see machines taking over the jobs of human translators in the near future, as they have done with so many other professions (remember telephone operators?)
These machine translators are ok when all u need is a quick understanding of a some rather simple text, but if you are running a business, or otherwise depend on accuracy of a translation, using professional translation services is the only way to go.