Quakeland: New York and the Sixth Seal

Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake

Roger Bilham

Given recent seismic activity — political as well as geological — it’s perhaps unsurprising that two books on earthquakes have arrived this season. One is as elegant as the score of a Beethoven symphony; the other resembles a diary of conversations overheard during a rock concert. Both are interesting, and both relate recent history to a shaky future.

Journalist Kathryn Miles’s Quakeland is a litany of bad things that happen when you provoke Earth to release its invisible but ubiquitous store of seismic-strain energy, either by removing fluids (oil, water, gas) or by adding them in copious quantities (when extracting shale gas in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or when injecting contaminated water or building reservoirs). To complete the picture, she describes at length the bad things that happen during unprovoked natural earthquakes. As its subtitle hints, the book takes the form of a road trip to visit seismic disasters both past and potential, and seismologists and earthquake engineers who have first-hand knowledge of them. Their colourful personalities, opinions and prejudices tell a story of scientific discovery and engineering remedy.

Miles poses some important societal questions. Aside from human intervention potentially triggering a really damaging earthquake, what is it actually like to live in neighbourhoods jolted daily by magnitude 1–3 earthquakes, or the occasional magnitude 5? Are these bumps in the night acceptable? And how can industries that perturb the highly stressed rocks beneath our feet deny obvious cause and effect? In 2015, the Oklahoma Geological Survey conceded that a quadrupling of the rate of magnitude-3 or more earthquakes in recent years, coinciding with a rise in fracking, was unlikely to represent a natural process. Miles does not take sides, but it’s difficult for the reader not to.

She visits New York City, marvelling at subway tunnels and unreinforced masonry almost certainly scheduled for destruction by the next moderate earthquake in the vicinity. She considers the perils of nuclear-waste storage in Nevada and Texas, and ponders the risks to Idaho miners of rock bursts — spontaneous fracture of the working face when the restraints of many million years of confinement are mined away. She contemplates the ups and downs of the Yellowstone Caldera — North America’s very own mid-continent supervolcano — and its magnificently uncertain future. Miles also touches on geothermal power plants in southern California’s Salton Sea and elsewhere; the vast US network of crumbling bridges, dams and oil-storage farms; and the magnitude 7–9 earthquakes that could hit California and the Cascadia coastline of Oregon and Washington state this century. Amid all this doom, a new elementary school on the coast near Westport, Washington, vulnerable to inbound tsunamis, is offered as a note of optimism. With foresight and much persuasion from its head teacher, it was engineered to become an elevated safe haven.

Miles briefly discusses earthquake prediction and the perils of getting it wrong (embarrassment in New Madrid, Missouri, where a quake was predicted but never materialized; prison in L’Aquila, Italy, where scientists failed to foresee a devastating seismic event) and the successes of early-warning systems, with which electronic alerts can be issued ahead of damaging seismic waves. Yes, it’s a lot to digest, but most of the book obeys the laws of physics, and it is a engaging read. One just can’t help wishing that Miles’s road trips had taken her somewhere that wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen.

Catastrophic damage in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1964, caused by the second-largest earthquake in the global instrumental record.

In The Great Quake, journalist Henry Fountain provides us with a forthright and timely reminder of the startling historical consequences of North America’s largest known earthquake, which more than half a century ago devastated southern Alaska. With its epicentre in Prince William Sound, the 1964 quake reached magnitude 9.2, the second largest in the global instrumental record. It released more energy than either the 2004 Sumatra–Andaman earthquake or the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off Japan; and it generated almost as many pages of scientific commentary and description as aftershocks. Yet it has been forgotten by many.

The quake was scientifically important because it occurred at a time when plate tectonics was in transition from hypothesis to theory. Fountain expertly traces the theory’s historical development, and how the Alaska earthquake was pivotal in nailing down one of the most important predictions. The earthquake caused a fjordland region larger than England to subside, and a similarly huge region of islands offshore to rise by many metres; but its scientific implications were not obvious at the time. Eminent seismologists thought that a vertical fault had slipped, drowning forests and coastlines to its north and raising beaches and islands to its south. But this kind of fault should have reached the surface, and extended deep into Earth’s mantle. There was no geological evidence of a monster surface fault separating these two regions, nor any evidence for excessively deep aftershocks. The landslides and liquefied soils that collapsed houses, and the tsunami that severely damaged ports and infrastructure, offered no clues to the cause.

“Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about present-day vulnerability.” The hero of The Great Quake is the geologist George Plafker, who painstakingly mapped the height reached by barnacles lifted out of the intertidal zone along shorelines raised by the earthquake, and documented the depths of drowned forests. He deduced that the region of subsidence was the surface manifestation of previously compressed rocks springing apart, driving parts of Alaska up and southwards over the Pacific Plate. His finding confirmed a prediction of plate tectonics, that the leading edge of the Pacific Plate plunged beneath the southern edge of Alaska along a gently dipping thrust fault. That observation, once fully appreciated, was applauded by the geophysics community.

Fountain tells this story through the testimony of survivors, engineers and scientists, interweaving it with the fascinating history of Alaska, from early discovery by Europeans to purchase from Russia by the United States in 1867, and its recent development. Were the quake to occur now, it is not difficult to envisage that with increased infrastructure and larger populations, the death toll and price tag would be two orders of magnitude larger than the 139 fatalities and US$300-million economic cost recorded in 1964.

What is clear from these two books is that seismicity on the North American continent is guaranteed to deliver surprises, along with unprecedented economic and human losses. Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about the present-day vulnerability of US infrastructure and populations. Engineers and seismologists know how to mitigate the effects of future earthquakes (and, in mid-continent, would advise against the reckless injection of waste fluids known to trigger earthquakes). It is merely a matter of persuading city planners and politicians that if they are tempted to ignore the certainty of the continent’s seismic past, they should err on the side of caution when considering its seismic future.

U.S. nuclear arsenal to cost $1.2 trillion over next 30 years: CBO

(Reuters) – Modernizing and maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years will cost more than $1.2 trillion, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Congressional Budget Office.

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, United States during an operational test at 12:03 a.m., PDT, in this April 26, 2017 handout photo. Michael Peterson/USAF/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY – RC1B459823A0
The report said current plans for the modernization of the aging planes, ships and missile silos that make up the U.S. nuclear arsenal would cost 50 percent more than if the U.S. only operated and maintained its current equipment in the field.

The CBO study reviewed the Obama’s Administration’s plans for modernization of the nuclear arsenal. President Donald Trump in January directed Secretary of Defense James Mattis to conduct his own review the U.S. nuclear forces. The results could be published in the coming months.

U.S. House Armed Services Committee member Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington, said of the Obama-era plan: “Congress still doesn’t seem to have any answers as to how we will pay for this effort, or what the trade-offs with other national security efforts will be.”

The report said costs would rise from $29 billion in 2017 to $47 billion in 2027, before peaking at around $50 billion a year through the early 2030s.

Trump has said he wants to ensure the U.S. nuclear arsenal is at the “top of the pack,” saying the United States has fallen behind in its weapons capacity.

U.S. officials have noted that America’s nuclear modernization is lagging behind Russia’s upgrade of its own nuclear triad.

General Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress in August he believed Moscow was already two-thirds of the way through its nuclear modernization process.

In August, the U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing Co and Northrop Grumman Corp separate contracts to continue development work on the replacement of the aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system one leg of the nuclear triad.

Days later the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Co separate $900 million contracts to continue work on a replacement for the AGM-86B air-launched nuclear cruise missile. That detailed development contract allows the companies to continue work on the long range standoff weapon yet another leg of the triad.

Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington, additional reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Chris Sanders

The Saudis Join the American Horn (Daniel 7)

By Rufiz Hafizoglu – Trend:

Radical Islamic currents in the Arab world mainly appeared after the Islamic revolution in Iran as a defense mechanism against the spread of the revolution.

In late October, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman stressed that an end will be put to all radical currents soon and Saudi Arabia will return to moderate Islam.

Following the Saudi prince’s statement, a number of Arab media outlets wrote that women will be allowed not to wear a headdress in the new city of Neom, envisaged in the Saudi Vision 2030. However, the Saudi authorities neither confirmed nor denied this information.

Turkey perceived the Saudi prince’s statement about “moderate Islam” ambiguously. For example, Ravza Kan, member of the foreign policy commission of the Turkish parliament and the ruling Justice and Development Party, said that Islam does not need moderation.

“For the first time the term “moderate Islam” was used by leader of the Gulen movement (FETO), Fethullah Gulen,” she said.

The “moderate Islam” project is mainly directed against Iran and no matter how the Saudi prince tried to introduce the concept, there are many obstacles to its implementation.

First, the use of the term “moderate Islam” testifies to Saudi Arabia’s recognition of the fact that it was an adherent of “radical Islam”.

Secondly, Islamic currents and teachings which are beyond Salafism are considered in Saudi Arabia beyond Islam.

Thirdly, how will the relations between Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran develop after “moderate Islam” as according to Salafi teachings, Shia Islam is considered to be beyond Islam?

Moreover, if Saudi Arabia with “moderate Islam” is open to all religions of the world, then what will be the further status of Mecca and Medina cities, to which only Muslims are allowed?

“Moderate Islam” in Saudi Arabia also means the beginning of a revival of Arab nationalism.

Meanwhile, in August 2017, Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr visited Saudi Arabia. During the visit, al-Sadr met with the Saudi prince. Although al-Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia was not greatly covered by media, the visit was important, given a number of anti-Iranian statements made by al-Sadr.

For example, al-Sadr always urged the Iranian authorities not to interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs.

Despite Iran is also an ideological center for Shia Arabs, there is a number of disagreements between Arab Shia Muslims and Iranian Shia Muslims. These differences are mainly related to ethnicity.

Undoubtedly, if Saudi Arabia returns to “moderate Islam”, this will lead to an ideological split among the Salafis and will give an impetus to new growth of radicalism.

Rufiz Hafizoglu is the head of Trend Agency’s Arabic news service, follow him on Twitter: @rhafizoglu

Russia and the US Prepare for Nuclear War

President Donald Trump sent a nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri on a long-range mission to the Pacific this weekend.

And the Russian Defence Ministry today announced that US and Japanese jets escorted Russia’s missile-carrying Tupolev-95MS strategic bombers during flights over the Sea of Japan and the Pacific.

  • A spokesman said: “Two strategic bombers Tupolev-95MS of Russia’s Aerospace Force have carried out routine flights over international waters of the Sea of Japan and the western part of the Pacific “At certain sections of the route the Tupolev-95MS crews were accompanied by a pair of F-18 fighters (of the US Air Force), and a pair of F-15, F-4 and F-2A fighters (of the Japanese Air Force).”

The threat of nuclear missile attack by North Korea is accelerating, US defence secretary Jim Mattis warned at the weekend.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis says he cannot see America accepting North Korea as a new nuclear superpower

Mattis made his remarks as he accused the North’s leader Kim Jong-un of “illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear programmes”.

Speaking in Seoul alongside South Korean defence minister Song Young-moo, he warned: “North Korea has accelerated the threat that it poses to its neighbours and the world.”

Because of this, he said, military collaboration between the US and South Korea had taken on “a new urgency”.

Mattis added: “Any use of nuclear weapons by the North will be met with a massive military response.”

The news came shortly before reports emerged of a tunnel collapse at an underground nuclear test site, prompting fears of a radioactive leak.

The North says it needs nuclear weapons to counter US efforts to strangle its economy and overthrow the Kim government.

US bombers and fighter jets sent ​close to North Korea​n borders​ in show of force

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg called North Korea a “global threat” today and said he backed tighter sanctions against it during a visit to Japan, which has been targeted by Pyongyang’s provocations.

Stoltenberg is in Tokyo to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other senior officials including defence minister Itsunori Onodera later in the day.