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.

Iraq Demands Apology After Bahraini FM Calls the Antichrist a “Dog”

The two government accuse each other of intervening in their respective domestic affairs [Karim Kadim/AP file]

Iraq demands apology after Bahraini FM calls al-Sadr a ‘dog’

Foreign minister’s remarks came after Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for immediate departure of Bahraini monarch.

Iraq’s foreign ministry has demanded that Bahrain issue an official apology after the Gulf kingdom’s top diplomat said the Iranian government “controlled” Baghdad and referred to a top Shia cleric in disparaging terms.

“The words of the Bahraini foreign ministry – representing Bahraini diplomacy – are offensive to Muqtada al-Sadr … [and] are totally unacceptable in diplomatic practice,” the Iraqi foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

“They also harm Iraq, its sovereignty and independence, especially when the Bahraini minister speaks of Iraq being under the control of neighbouring Iran.”

Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed called al-Sadr a “dog” in a tweet on Saturday after the latter denounced the wars in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria and demanded their leaders’ immediate departure.

Translation: Muqtada expresses his fear of increased [foreign] intervention in Iraq … and instead of putting his finder on Iraq’s wounds by directing his speech at the Iranian regime that controls his country, he chose the safe route and addressed Bahrain. God save Iraq from his likes.  

In response, Bahrain’s foreign ministry summoned Iraq’s top envoy, Charge d’Affaires Nihad Rajab Askar, to express the kingdom’s dismay.

“The statement is a blatant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Bahrain,” a statement by the Bahrain foreign ministry said.

“It violates the principles of international law and affects the nature of relations between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Republic of Iraq.”

Last year, Manama summoned Askar after former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with a delegation from the February 14 movement, an opposition group the Bahraini government labelled a terrorist organisation.

Babylon the Great Continues Its Hegemony in Iraq

US presence in Iraq will continue as long as needed, says Central Command

General Kenneth McKenzie, Chief of the US Central Command

US presence in Iraq will continue as long as needed, says Central Command

(IraqiNews) Chief of the US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie said that the United States presence in Iraq will be for a long term, while pointed out that Washington is carrying out negotiations in this regard. He also added that Washington is very capable to counter any dangerous actions by Tehran.

McKenzie said in an interview with Sky News Arabia Channel that Iran’s support to terrorism in the region and the world is a long-term threat, while indicated that the US Central Command presence in the area will continue for a long time.

“We’re gonna continue to reach out to our partners and friends in the region to ensure that we make common cause against the threat of Iran,” He added. “I believe we’ll have the resources necessary to deter Iran from taking actions that will be dangerous,” he explained.

It is noteworthy that tensions between Tehran and Washington have risen since the latter withdrew from an international nuclear deal with Iran and began to escalate sanctions. Also the United States blacklisted Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards earlier this month.

Iraq Will Be Caught in US-Iran Conflict

Exclusive – Iraq Fears Getting Caught in US-Iran Conflict

Sunday, 28 April, 2019 – 06:00 –

The chancellery building inside the compound of the US …

Baghdad – Fadhel al-Nashmi

Concerns have been growing in Iraq that it will be dragged into the raging conflict between the United States and Iran that has reached new heights after Washington announced Monday that it will no longer issue exemptions to buyers of Iranian oil.

Earlier this month, the United States blacklisted Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and earlier this week the US embassy in Baghdad further stoked tensions when it accused Iran’s supreme leader of Ali Khamenei of corruption.

“Corruption is rife in all parts of the Iranian regime, starting at the top. The possessions of the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei alone are estimated at $200 billion, while many people languish in poverty because of the dire economic situation in Iran after 40 years of rule by the mullahs,” said a post on the embassy’s Facebook page.

Iraqi factions loyal to Tehran were quick to slam the mission for its statement.

Fateh alliance leader Hadi al-Ameri strongly condemned “the use of diplomatic missions in Iraq to harm any country or religious authorities.” He deemed the statement a violation of diplomatic regulations and norms.

He demanded that the embassy immediately delete the “harmful” post and called on the Foreign Ministry to summon the American charge d’affaires and hand him a formal letter of complaint.

Leader of the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq faction, Qaid al-Khazali deemed the US embassy’s statement as an attempt to stoke strife in Iraq. He denounced the “use of Iraq to meddle in the internal affairs of its neighbors.”

The criticism was not limited to pro-Iran forces, but extended to other figures, reflecting the concerns mounting in Iraq over the escalating conflict between the Washington and Tehran.

Sadrist movement leader, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr expressed his concern over the “interference” in Iraqi affairs by both sides. He also called for shutting the American embassy in Baghdad should Iraq be dragged into the brewing conflict.

Moreover, he called on the pro-Iran Popular Mobilization Forces and other armed groups to withdraw from Syria and return to Iraq. He also demanded that an agreement be signed between Iraq and Iran that calls on each country to respect the sovereignty of the other.

Head of the Reform alliance Ammar al-Hakim warned against exploiting Iraq to launch a “media, trade or political war.” In a brief statement, he underlined Iraq’s “neutrality and non-interference” in regional conflicts out of its keenness on protecting its higher national interest.

Political science professor at the University of Kufa, Eyad al-Anbar, noted that the fiery rhetoric between the US and Iran was becoming even more heated.

It appears that Iraq is an arena for both sides to deliver their messages,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Iraq’s problem lies in its inability to distance itself from Iran. At the same time, it cannot give up American support. The Iraqi government has remained silent over the issue and sufficed with statements that reflect the lack of vision to manage the crisis,” he added.

Head of the Iraq Center for Development of Media, Adnan Sarraj, expressed his concerns that the American-Iranian tensions may boil over into a clash on Iraqi territory.

“Despite the hostile rhetoric, however, the American policy does not lean towards a direct clash with Iran because it believes that its harsh sanctions will eventually bring Tehran to its knees,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said that the US embassy post was primarily a message to Iraq to urge it to counter Iran’s influence in its territory. “This is why the Iraqis responded to the post, not Iran,” he noted.

Bahrain Strongly Objects to Antichrist (Revelation 13)

Manama Strongly Objects to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Statements on Bahrain

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister summoned on Saturday Iraqi deputy chargé d’affaires Nihad Rajab Askar over statements by Sadrist movement leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, reported the Bahrain News Agency (BNA).

Undersecretary of Regional and Gulf Cooperation Council Affairs, Ambassador Waheed Mubarak Sayyar, expressed Bahrain’s strong dismissal and objection of the statement issued Sadr, in which he referred to the Kingdom.

“The statement is a blatant and unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain. It violates the principles of international law and affects the nature of relations” between Manama and Baghdad, he said.

Sayyar stressed that Bahrain will hold the Iraqi government responsible for any deterioration in bilateral relations as it allows such “irresponsible and offensive remarks that spread sedition that threaten the peace and stability of the region.”

He stressed that Manama is committed to its policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, adding that the Kingdom calls upon the Iraqi government to deter such provocative statements.

Bahrain will not accept any form of violation or interference in its affairs from any party, he said, adding that it will take all the necessary measures to preserve its sovereignty, independence, peace and stability.

Sayyar stated that Bahrain demands that the Iraqi government shoulder its responsibility in ensuring the safety of the Bahraini embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Najaf. It also calls on the Iraqi government to immediately intervene to stop such hostile statements against Bahrain.

The ambassador delivered to Askar a letter of protest on this issue.

Antichrist Suggests Closing U.S. Embassy in Baghdad (Revelation 13)

Iraq’s cleric suggests closing U.S. embassy in Baghdad over security concern

BAGHDAD, April 27 (Xinhua) — Iraqi prominent Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday called for stopping dragging Iraq into U.S.-Iran conflict and suggested to close the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

A statement by al-Sadr said that he is concerned about the “increase of interventions” in the Iraqi affairs that aimed at dragging Iraq into the U.S.-Iran conflict, and made 10 proposals including closing the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and withdrawing the Iraqi militias from the neighboring Syria.

“My concerns are increasing day after day, as I see that the interventions from both sides (U.S. and Iran) in the Iraqi affairs took roots and deepened,” al-Sadr said.

He said that the weakness of the Iraqi government, political infighting and widespread corruption made Iraq depend on both sides and unable to give up, according to the statement.

Al-Sadr called for closure of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad if Iraq is dragged in this conflict, warning that the embassy will be under fire of the resistance fighters again, referring to the attacks carried out by militias previously on the Green Zone where the U.S. embassy is located.

Al-Sadr’s proposals also included sending delegations to the United Nations, European Union, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Saudi Arabia to ease the tension in the Middle East region.

He also called for withdrawal of the Iraqi militias, including those affiliated with Hashd Shaabi, from Syria. In addition, he urged the signing of a treaty between Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia to bring some peace to the region, the statement added.

His comments came amid anger among Iraq Shiite parties against the United States after the U.S. embassy in Baghdad accused the Iranian leader Ali Khamenei of corruption.

Al-Sadr’s statement also came a few days after the U.S. President Donald Trump decided not to reissue the sanction waivers allowing major importers to continue buying Iran’s oil when they expire in early May.

Following the exit from the Iran nuclear deal in May last year, the Trump’s administration has kept piling up pressure on Iran through a series of sanctions and designations, which have been strongly opposed and criticized by Tehran.