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International Asteroid Day – a sneak preview of the Hazard Information Profiles

The ISC and its partners, the UNDRR and Public Health England, will soon release Hazard Information Profiles to standardize a set of hazard names and definitions. We explore the Near-Earth Object hazard on International Asteroid Day.

Picture an asteroid, and you might picture a blockbuster Hollywood disaster movie or the mass extinction event of 65 million years ago. The United Nations sanctioned International Asteroid Day is a good reminder to celebrate international scientific cooperation and the unique place that scientists and the disaster risk and resilience community have in supporting the warning systems and framework agreements in operation to prevent such a disaster.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 was one such framework. It is one of three landmark agreements adopted by the United Nations in 2015 – the other two being the Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The UNDRR-ISC Hazard Definition and Classification Review – Technical report supports all three by providing a common set of hazard definitions for monitoring and reviewing implementation which calls for “a data revolution, rigorous accountability mechanisms and renewed global partnerships”.

This technical report will soon be boosted and supported by updated Hazard Information Profiles, to be realised in September 2021.

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Hazard Information Profiles (HIPs) provide the basis for the international community to leverage the expertise of scientists and disaster risk managers to develop a clear, usable, and standardized set of hazard names and definitions. They are intended for disaster managers and laypeople and provide valuable links to further scientific information from authoritative sources. They will provide a basis for hazard identification and comparability internationally and across cultures.

International Asteroid Day provides an opportunity to remind us to leverage the expertise of scientists and the international cooperative efforts that keep us safe. The ISC is also taking this opportunity to introduce one of the HIPs: Near-Earth Object

See the Near-Earth Object Hazard Information Profile

illustration of a globe with interconnected networks

Hazard Cluster: Extraterrestrial
Specific Hazard: Near-Earth Object

A near-Earth object (NEO) is an asteroid or comet whose trajectory brings it to within 1.3 astronomical units of the Sun and hence within 0.3 astronomical units, or approximately 45 million kilometres, of the Earth’s orbit

The HIP also includes important information such as:

  • Additional scientific description
  • Metrics and numeric limits
  • Key relevant UN convention / multilateral treaty and
  • Examples of drivers, outcomes and risk management

For example, the relevant UN convention or multilateral treaty for an extraterrestrial Near-Earth-Object is The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), set up by the United Nations General Assembly in 1959 to govern the exploration and use of space for the benefit of all humanity. The Committee is tasked with reviewing international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space, studying space-related activities that could be undertaken by the United Nations, encouraging space research programmes, and studying legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space.

“Today, scientists can see further into space and provide advisories and warnings of near-earth objects that may present a danger. It is important that disaster managers and the public understand and quantify the risk that asteroids may have on their countries and communities”.

James Douris, Project Officer, World Meteorological Organization

The broad range of hazards and the incrementally interconnected, cascading, and complex nature of natural and human-induced hazards, including their potential impact on health, social, economic, financial, political and other systems, calls for a standardized fully-fledged characterization of hazards that serves as a basis for countries to assess and accordingly enhance their risk reduction policies and operational risk management practices.

The HIPs, along with Extraterrestrial hazards, will include other hazards such as Biological, Chemical, Environmental, Geohazards, Meteorological and Hydrological hazards, Societal and Technological hazards.

This has been a long process over a number of years, involving hundreds of experts from International Science Council member unions and associations, intergovernmental bodies and the disaster risk and resilience community. It highlights the importance of international collaboration and the need to provide relevant information to policy makers and first responders so they can act with certainty both in preventing disasters and in times of crisis.

Anne-Sophie Stevance, Senior Science Officer, International Science Council

The Hazard Information Profiles will be published in September 2021. For further reading, see the UNDRR-ISC Hazard Definition and Classification Review – Technical report.

For more information on International Asteroid Day see

Image courtesy NASA/JPL-California Institute of Technology via 2di7 & titanio44 on Flickr

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