Quakeland: New York and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

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.

Trump Risks World War 3

Mr Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, has denounced the US decision to leave an arms control treaty that helped end the Cold War.

US President Donald Trump, last week, said Washington plans to quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

Mr Gorbachev and then-US President Ronald Reagan signed the pact, to eliminate all short and intermediate-range land-based nuclear and conventional missiles held by both countries in Europe, in 1987.

But Mr Trump’s announcement to scrap the treaty has been branded a “dire threat to peace” by Mr Gorbachev.

Writing in a column for the New York Times, Mr Gorbachev wrote: “I am being asked whether I feel bitter watching the demise of what I worked so hard to achieve.

“But this is not a personal matter. Much more is at stake.

“A new arms race has been announced.”

The US stationed land-based nuclear missiles in western Europe in the 1980s – triggering mass protests.

Now some US allies fear Washington might deploy a new generation of missiles in Europe, with Russia doing the same in its exclave of Kaliningrad, once again turning the continent into a potential nuclear battlefield.

Washington has blamed Russia’s alleged violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (Image: GETTY)

There will be no winner in a ‘war of all against all’ – particularly if it ends in a nuclear war

If the US made good on its pledge to leave the treaty, Mr Gorbachev said he hoped US allies would refuse to be launchpads for American missiles which Mr Trump has spoken of developing.

Russian President said Russia would be forced to target any European countries that agreed to host US missiles.

Mr Gorbachev, 87, said that any disputes about compliance could be solved if there were sufficient political will.

It was clear, however, that Mr Trump’s aim was to release the US from global constraints, he said, accusing Washington of destroying the “system of international treaties and accords” that underpinned peace and security after World War Two.

Mr Gorbachev wrote: “Yet I am convinced that those who hope to benefit from a global free-for-all are deeply mistaken.

“There will be no winner in a ‘war of all against all’ – particularly if it ends in a nuclear war.

And that is a possibility that cannot be ruled out. An unrelenting arms race, international tensions, hostility and universal mistrust will only increase the risk.”

Washington has blamed Russia’s alleged violation of the pact as a reason to leave the treaty – an allegation denies.

Moscow has now accused the US of breaking the pact.

The True Iranian Nuclear Horn (Daniel 8)

Nuclear Experts: Documents Show Iran’s Weapons Work Was More Advanced than Previously Known

by TheTower.org Staff | 10.24.18 5:19 pm

The documents recovered by Israeli intelligence from Iran’s hidden nuclear archive show “that Iran conducted far more high explosive tests at the site than previously understood,” according to a paper published on Tuesday by the Institute for Science and International Security.

Among the authors of the paper are Ollie Heinonen, Former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Frank Pabian, a former United Nations Nuclear Chief Inspector in Iraq for the IAEA; and David Albright, the President of the institute and a former weapons inspector.

With the new knowledge provided by the Iranian documents that were captured by Israel, the paper argued that the Parchin site “was a key part of” Iran’s “nuclear weapons research and development effort.” The new information “necessitates calling for more action by the IAEA and the Joint Commission, which administers the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).”

The Iranian nuclear archives, the paper explained, confirm that Iran was testing “a specialized, difficult to develop, neutron initiator,” which is used “to start the chain reaction in a nuclear explosion.” This showed, the paper continued, “that Iran conducted far more high explosive tests at the site than previously understood.” This also means that Iran may have stored this equipment for later use, instead of surrendering it prior to implementation of the deal.

The authors of the paper also question why the IAEA, which was informed about the archives by Israel, did not demand further clarifications from Iran about the scope of its nuclear weapons work on the basis of the new information. They noted that in 2002 — when the opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, alleged that Iran had a secret nuclear site at Natanz — the IAEA “quickly” followed up with Iran.

They explained further that “maintaining such documents, material, and equipment” seen in the archives, “is not compatible with the spirit and obligations of Iran under the NPT, its safeguards agreement, including the Additional Protocol, and the JCPOA.” It was, furthermore, up to the Joint Commission to ensure that Iran complied with all aspects of the JCPOA, and the information in the archives “raises profound questions about whether Iran is complying with the fundamental goal of the JCPOA, namely that ‘under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.’”

The advanced work revealed in the archive shows that Iran “appears to have involved more than what the IAEA called feasibility and scientific studies,” as the IAEA concluded in its December 2015 assessment of Iran’s nuclear weapons development.

In its concluding section, the paper observed: “there is no proof that Iran has abandoned its goal of building nuclear weapons, only that it has accepted that its projects and plans are put on the shelf.” Regarding Parchin, it held the IAEA’s Board of Governors responsible for “lack of adequate inspection of this site and the failure to fold new information into the IAEA’s broader challenge of ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is actually peaceful.”

Practically, the paper suggests that the United States and EU3 (United Kingdom, France and Germany) should “urge the IAEA to substantially enhance its inspections in Iran.” This would involve actual inspections of Parchin, as well as using “the information in the seized archives to expand inspections and monitoring in Iran and build a stronger public characterization of Iran’s past nuclear weapons work.”

In an op-ed published earlier this month in The Hill, Josh Block, the President and CEO of The Israel Project, noted that the IAEA had failed to follow through on the recent Israeli revelations and the implications of those failures on the agency’s overall knowledge of Iran’s nuclear weapons work.

“The gaps in the IAEA’s knowledge — of Iran’s past nuclear work, of its military sites, of items mentioned in Section T of the nuclear deal, and of the nuclear sites discovered by Israeli intelligence — raise questions about the full extent of Iran’s nuclear program,” Block argued.

[Photo: IsraeliPM / YouTube ]

The Coming Nuclear War (Revelation 15)

image-1204Nuclear Weapons

Oct 23 2018, 10:35 PM

(Bloomberg) — Half a century after world powers agreed to thwart the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce their own arsenals, both those projects are under strain. Under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, only five nations — China, France, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. — can possess nuclear arms, and all have promised to reduce their stockpiles eventually to zero. But Israel, India and Pakistan all developed the bomb after the treaty emerged. More recently, the goal of curbing atomic arms has been challenged by North Korea’s entry into the nuclear club, by the U.S. withdrawal from an international deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program, and by threats by the leaders of the U.S. and Russia to augment their arsenals rather than continue to pare them down.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in October that he planned to pull the U.S. out of a landmark 1987 treaty with Russia that rolled back ground-launched intermediate-range missiles in and aimed at Western Europe. The U.S. says Russia’s recently developed 9M729 missile falls within the range covered by the pact, which NATO agrees has been violated, a charge Russia denies. Termination of the agreement could revive the nuclear arms race in Europe. It could also spur one in Asia, as it would free the U.S. to deploy mid-range nuclear weapons to counter China’s deployment of such arms, which is not bound by the 1987 treaty. Trump has said that in general the U.S. “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has boasted of his country’s work on next-generation nuclear-weapons systems. Under Trump, the U.S. has already withdrawn from a 2015 accord setting limits on Iran’s nuclear program and has begun re-imposing sanctions that were lifted under the deal. Iran’s government has said it would continue to abide by the pact. The risk, though, is that as U.S. sanctions bite, hardliners in Iran will insist on re-accelerating the nuclear program. Before the deal, Iran possessed enough enriched uranium for multiple bombs and was thought to be capable of refining it to the level needed for weapons in just a few months. North Korea declared its nuclear force “complete” in late 2017. Dictator Kim Jong Un said this year that he’s open to giving up his nuclear weapons. It’s not clear what his conditions are. And many analysts are skeptical he’d ever relinquish the arms, for fear of losing his means of deterring a military intervention meant to topple him.

The U.S. was the first to develop nuclear weapons and is the only country to have used them. It dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, hastening an end to World War II but at the cost of an estimated 300,000 lives. Within two decades, the Soviet Union, the U.K., France and China had their own arsenals. In the Nonproliferation Treaty, those powers and the U.S. promised to share nuclear technology for civilian purposes – energy generation and medical applications – with countries that foreswore nuclear arms. Today, 191 countries are treaty members. The International Atomic Energy Agency monitors the arrangement and accounts for global inventories of nuclear material that could be diverted for bombs. The nuclear-armed countries outside of these agreements — India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea — are subject to trade restrictions and in some cases, sanctions. The U.S., Soviet Union and then Russia, U.K. and France have all reduced their nuclear arsenals, decreasing the total number of warheads from a Cold War peak of 70,000 to about 15,000 today.

Arms-control advocates worry that any growth in the arsenals of the U.S. or Russia will make it blatantly clear that nuclear-armed states have no intention of giving up their weapons, undermining non-proliferation efforts. Other analysts say those efforts are largely futile anyway. They note that creating the bomb isn’t the technological feat it once was; many nations now possess the fissile materials and cadre of engineers to pull it off. And the penalties used to dissuade countries from going nuclear have lost much of their potency because of inconsistent application. While Pakistan and North Korea remain stigmatized, India and Israel have won waivers of restrictions on trade and military sales. At the same time, nuclear weapons may be declining in appeal as more countries look to emerging technologies for defense. Systems using artificial intelligence, robotics and bioengineering are on the sharp edge of a new generation of weapons, which may eventually require their own non-proliferation rules.

• The Arms Control Association details nuclear weapons arsenals worldwide and analyses the U.S. Defense Department’s nuclear strategy.

• The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded by the people who made the first bomb to help prevent their invention from spreading.

• The Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons seeks to halt proliferation by making nuclear weapons illegal.

• The International Atomic Energy Agency maintains inventories of nuclear stockpiles used for peaceful purposes and helps countries get access to technologies.

• The Nuclear Suppliers Group keeps lists of controlled nuclear materials and technologies that are subject to export restrictions.