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.

Israel Strikes Back Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11:2)

IDF strikes Hamas posts in Gaza after explosive flown into Israel

Attack helicopter targets two observation posts near Khan Younis in southern Strip in response to balloon-borne device, which blew up in carrot field earlier in the day

By Judah Ari Gross Today, 6:04 pm

The Israeli Air Force struck two Hamas positions in the eastern Gaza Strip on Sunday in response to an explosive device that was flown into southern Israel earlier in the day, the army said.

On Sunday morning, a bomb was flown into Israel using a large cluster of balloons and a drone-like glider device, landing in a carrot field in the Sdot Negev region of southern Israel shortly before noon.

In retaliation for the cross-border attack from Gaza, Israeli military helicopters attacked two observation posts east of Khan Younis that are controlled by the coastal enclave’s Hamas rulers, the Israel Defense Forces said.

IDF attack helicopters struck two military positions belonging to the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip in response to the balloon-borne explosive device, which was launched by a model drone,” the army said.

A drone-shaped device from the Gaza Strip, borne by dozens of helium balloons, lands in a carrot field in southern Israel on January 6, 2019. (Israel Police)

In addition to the posts near Khan Younis, Palestinian media reported that the IDF had attacked targets near Jabalia, in northern Gaza, and in the Zeitoun area of Gaza City, in the central Strip. The IDF refused to comment on those reports.

The military did not say who it believed flew the bomb into southern Israel, but said it held Hamas responsible as the rulers of Gaza.

The IDF will continue to act in defense of the citizens of Israel and against terrorism from the Strip,” the army said.

Though similar to a drone in appearance, the balloon-borne device was apparently not capable of flight.

The name of a Gazan engineering college was printed on the side of the model drone.

Police said the device exploded as a bomb disposal robot examined it. The drone lookalike was then carried away.

“No injuries were caused; the investigation continues,” police said.

It was not immediately clear how the device made it across the border without being shot down by the IDF.

The police reiterated calls to Israelis to contact law enforcement if they see suspicious objects.

The discovery came after a week-long lull in airborne arson attempts from  Gaza.

Gaza protesters have launched hundreds of incendiary kites and balloons into Israel over the past nine months, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Thousands of acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have also carried improvised explosive devices.

Antichrist Calls for Withdrawal of US forces

Iraqi lawmakers are seen during a parliamentary session in Baghdad. Reuters 

Iraqi lawmakers call for withdrawal of US forces

Mina AldroubiJanuary 6, 2019

Several Iraqi politicians demanded the withdrawal of American troops from the country on Sunday after a walking tour by a US general in Baghdad caused an uproar among those opposed the presence of foreign troops in Iraq.

General Austin Renforth, deputy commander of US forces, was pictured touring Al Mutanabi Street in the Iraqi capital on Saturday alongside the head of Baghdad military operations General Jalil Al Rubaie.

Since last December, a number of politicians and militia leaders have contested the continued presence of US forces in the country and some have called for a vote in parliament on whether to expel foreign troops from the country.

Populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who won last year’s national elections, has campaigned to curb US and Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs.

“What happened on Saturday is a clear violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and independence, which showcases Washington’s agenda,” Hamdallah Rikabi, a spokesman for Mr Al Sadr’s parliamentary bloc, said in a statement on Sunday.

“We reject these cowardly acts and warn US forces to not to ensure this is not repeated,” Mr Rikabi said, adding that the government must issue an official explanation to the Iraqi public.

“Our position remains the same in rejecting American policies that do not respect the sovereignty of Iraq,” he said.

American forces are stationed in Iraq as part of the international anti-ISIS coalition. Washington withdrew its troops in 2011 after invading in 2003 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of the Iraqi government.

Hadi Al Amiri, a Shiite militia leader and one of the most powerful figures in Iraq, voiced his opposition to US requests to establish additional military bases in the country.

“Today Iraq needs to unite on a national level to achieve full sovereignty,” Mr Al Amiri said.

Last month, US President Donald Trump made an unannounced visit to Iraq to meet US troops stationed in west Anbar.

The move infuriated some lawmakers in Baghdad, who made comparisons to the occupation of Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

Qais Khazali, the head of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl Al Haq militia that fought key battles against ISIS in northern Iraq, said after Mr Trump’s visit that Parliament should vote to expel US forces from Iraq, or the militias would force them out by “other means.”

Mr Khazali was imprisoned by British and US troops between 2007 and 2010 for involvment in a Shiite insurgency against the foreign forces.

The latest development comes as Iraq marked the 98th anniversary of the establishment of the Iraqi army. The army was activated on January 6, 1921 while under British rule.

Iran is Israel’s and the World‘s Most Formidable Enemy

Opinion For the First Time, Israel Faces an Adversary Too Powerful to Be Defeated

Chuck Freilich

Iran is the most sophisticated, dangerous adversary Israel has ever faced. It has adopted a decades-long strategy of attrition until destruction. But Israel, frenetically focused on the here and now, lacks a systematic plan to confront it – and other crucial long-term national objectives

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei recently outlined a draft version of a vision for Iran for the next 50 years.

The vision calls for Iran to become one of the world’s top five countries in science and technology, one of the top seven in “progress and justice,” including eradication of poverty, corruption and discrimination, and one of the ten largest global economies. It further calls for strengthening Iran’s defensive and deterrent capabilities, promoting Muslim unity, jihadism and Islamic liberation movements, and “vindicating” Palestinian rights.

Khamenei’s overall objective is for Iran to gain regional, and even global, supremacy, through technological self-sufficiency, and by resisting Western concepts of the international order, politics and culture. Khamenei asked Iran’s academic and clerical establishments for feedback on the draft vision and directed the various branches of the government to turn its broad recommendations into actionable plans. A final draft is due within two years.

A man holds up a book of quotes from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, outside Friday prayers at the University of Tehran in Tehran, Iran. Aug. 21, 2015 Bloomberg

One can legitimately ask whether a 50 year plan is at all feasible, especially in a world that is changing so rapidly. China has been somewhat more modest, recently announcing a vision for 2050, whereas the Saudis sufficed with a humble 2030. Iran itself failed to achieve an earlier 20 year vision, designed to turn it into a developed country by 2025. It may very well fail to do so again.

Nevertheless, Khamenei’s attempt to craft such an actionable vision is bold and impressive. Under his leadership, Iran is at least trying to think systematically about its national objectives. He has set out bold, if heinous, plans before. In 2014 Khamenei announced a Nine Point Plan for Israel’s destruction.   

What if Israel were to adopt Khamenei’s long-term approach and prepare 50 years out? What should those national objectives include? These are my suggestions.

Preserving the national movement of the Jewish people. Zionism achieved its primary objective, the establishment of the state, rapidly, but has lost its way. The paramount, and even existential decision we face today, is whether Israel’s Jewish character is determined primarily by its borders, or population.

In 2060, the furthest demographic projections available, Israel’s population will be 15.6 million, of whom 12 million will be Jewish – just 76%. This figure does not include the West Bank, in which case the combined population will only be about 60% Jewish, as it already is today.

Israeli border policemen stand by settlers near the Settlement of Ofra, in the west bank, on December 16, 2018, after settlers announced that they had begun to rebuild the Amona outpost. AFP

A state in which 40% of the population is not Jewish cannot be considered a Jewish state, even if we annex all of Judea and Samaria. The future of the Zionist enterprise depends on separation from the Palestinians. There is no need for a 50-year vision.

Determining Israel’s borders, peace with our neighbors and regional acceptance. Israel’s classic defense doctrine held that the conflict with the Arabs was unresolvable. In practice, during our first 70 years, we reached peace with Egypt and Jordan, conducted advance negotiations with the Syrians and Palestinians, now have growing ties with the Saudis and others and have become a regional fixture.

Peace with the Palestinians will transform Israel’s regional and international status. It is not all up to us, but it does require a decision regarding our borders. During the next 50 years we must strive to complete the process of regional acceptance.

Maintaining Israel’s deterrence and security. Iran is the most sophisticated and dangerous adversary Israel has ever faced. A theocracy with a long-term perspective, Iran recognizes that it cannot destroy Israel in the short term and has thus adopted a decades-long strategy of attrition until destruction.

Israel is a frenetic democracy, focused on the here and now. Although we can manage the conflict with Iran and defend ourselves successfully, Iran may simply be our first adversary that is too big and powerful to be defeated.

Israel must thus adopt a national security strategy best suited to this new kind of long-term confrontation, one of “strategic patience,” based on maximal self-restraint, even in the face of significant provocations, and greater emphasis on defense (e.g. Iron Dome) and diplomacy. Offense would be resorted to when the other options have been exhausted, Israel can achieve significant periods of calm (5-10 years), at a price it is willing to pay, and maintain societal resilience.

A member of the Basij, volunteers under the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, holds a flag reading in Persian “Death to Israel.” Azadi (Freedom) stadium in Tehran, Iran. Oct. 4, 2018 enei.ir,AP

A number of regional actors are now acquiring nuclear power reactors, for legitimate energy needs, but a similar project was the technological basis for Iran’s military nuclear program. It is thus increasingly likely that Israel will face the nightmare scenario of a multinuclear Mideast in the coming decades. Should this happen, Israel may be forced to contemplate a change its policy of nuclear ambiguity, seek a defense treaty with the U.S., or even consider regional disarmament, as fanciful as that sounds today.

Promoting regional stability. All of the forces that gave rise to the “Arab Spring” are still very much at work, even more so, including a population explosion, severe poverty and absence of economic opportunity, and political suppression. The Arab states are almost all in crisis, are at risk of becoming failed states, and have already caused a refugee crisis in Europe.

In 2007 an approximately 4 million Arab population lived near Israel’s borders; by 2027, 20 million will live within 50 kms. Israel’s thriving economy may prove a socioeconomic magnet that no border obstacle can withstand. Imagine 50 years from now.

Unlike Iran, Israel does not seek regional supremacy, certainly not global, but it does wish to influence critical regional processes such as these. It has two primary means of doing so: a settlement with the Palestinians, or even a reduction in the level of conflict, which would contribute to regional stability, as would a diplomatic campaign to promote a “Mideast Marshall Plan” designed to channel regional events in more positive directions.

A Palestinian protester carries a national flag during a demonstration near the border between Israel and Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. December 21, 2018 AFP

It will cost the international community billions, but the alternative is for the Mideast to continue exporting its ills to Europe, a change in its fundamental character and even a conflict between the West and Islam.

Preserving the “special relationship” with the U.S., a fundamental pillar of Israel’s national security, despite alarming demographic and political trends. New population groups are on the rise in the U.S. with little affinity towards Israel, especially Hispanics and the religiously nonaffiliated, while the Jewish community, the second-largest in the world, is decreasing in size and influence.

By 2050 the Orthodox will constitute 25% of the U.S. Jewish community, up from 10% today, whereas Reform and Conservative Jews, the vast majority of American Jews and heretofore the pillar of support for Israel, are intermarrying and assimilating themselves out of existence. We are already witnessing a significant decline in support for Israel on the American left, and even among the Jewish community.

Members from the activist group Code Pink march to protest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to a joint meeting of Congress. March 3, 2015 Bloomberg

Israel should seek a formal alliance with the U.S., but also reduce its dependence on it, inter alia, by weaning itself off U.S. military aid, beginning in 2027, when the current ten-year military aid program ends. In 50 years, when we are 120, we must have long become fully independent. Nothing will contribute more to ensuring the long-term vibrancy of the “special relationship” than a settlement with the Palestinians.

Achieving a just and progressive society. Israel’s projected population of 15.6 million in 2060 will include 4.15 million Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and 3.6 million Israeli Arabs. Non-Haredim will comprise just 65% of the Jewish population, or 50% of the national total, income disparities and poverty will grow far worse, and the Haredi and Arab populations will become an untenable economic burden.

Much of the nation will look to various spiritual leaders, rather than the state, as their primary locus of authority, and will have little identification with its values. Maintaining a progressive democratic society, with equality before the law and respect for minority rights, will become very difficult.

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stands at the headquarter of ultra-Orthodox mayoral candidate Yossi Daitch during the municipal elections in Jerusalem. Oct. 30, 2018 Oded Balilty,AP

If, like Khamenei, we wish to eradicate poverty and discrimination, we should be formulating a comprehensive long-term national strategy for a “war on poverty.” The resources needed are great and poverty and discrimination can never be completely eradicated, but Israel has successfully pursued similarly ambitious national objectives in the past. A national strategy such as this would begin with a change in the absurd current policy which encourages population growth primarily among the non-productive sectors of society.

Maintaining Israel’s stature as a world leader in science and technology. Just a few years ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a limited national vision, that Israel become one of the world’s top five cyber powers, an objective already met with great success, and he may now set a similar vision regarding artificial intelligence and big data.

One cannot, however, base a society solely on the high-tech sector. Our universities, and education generally, are at a low. Israel’s qualitative edge generated its military, economic and spiritual strength in the past. We must invest in it again.

The public is focused today on other issues, possibly because the opioid of almost unlimited low-cost flights abroad has clouded our collective senses. If, however, we wish to chart our national course, not just be buffeted by the winds of change, we must prepare today. Iran’s Supreme Leader has already begun doing so.

Chuck Freilich, a former deputy Israeli national security adviser, is a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center and author of “Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change” (Oxford University Press, April 2018). Twitter: @FreilichChuck