More Skirmishes Before the First Nuclear War (Revelation 8)

Five dead as Pakistan, India exchange fire in Kashmir: officials

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan: Five people died in firing along the de facto border in disputed Kashmir Thursday, the Pakistani military and local officials said, as tensions between nuclear-armed rivals Islamabad and New Delhi soar over the Himalayan region.

Skirmishes are frequent across the so-called Line of Control (LoC), but the latest deaths in two separate incidents come after Pakistan warned it was ready to meet any Indian aggression over Kashmir.

“In efforts to divert attention from precarious situation in IOJ&K (Indian-held Kashmir),Indian Army increases firing along LOC. 3 Pakistani soldiers embraced shahadat (martyrdom). Pakistan Army responded effectively,” the Pakistani military said in a statement.

It also claimed that “5 Indian soldiers (were) killed, many injured, bunkers damaged. Intermittent exchange of fire continues,” without specifying further where the incident took place.

An Indian army spokesman told the Press Trust of India late Thursday that the Pakistan claims were “fictitious“, adding that the army was on high alert to deal with any “misadventure” by Pakistan.

Separately, two civilians were killed and one injured by the Indian troops along the LoC in Rawalakot district in Pakistani-held Kashmir, a senior local official there told AFP.

The official, Mirza Arshad Jarral, said intermittent exchanges of fire between the two militaries had been going on since morning.

The former princely state of Kashmir was divided between Pakistan and India on their independence from Britain in 1947.

They have fought two of their three wars over the territory – though none since both countries acquired nuclear weapons.

Tensions skyrocketed following India’s shock move to revoke the autonomy of its portion of the disputed Himalayan territory last week.

On Wednesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the local legislative assembly of the Pakistani-administered Kashmir in Muzaffarabad.

He vowed the time had come to teach Delhi a lesson and promised to “fight until the end” against any Indian aggression.

Khan has likened India’s moves in Kashmir to Nazi Germany, accused them of ethnic cleansing, and appealed to the international community to take action.

Islamabad has also expelled the Indian ambassador, halted bilateral trade and suspended cross-border transport services.

However, analysts said the actions were unlikely to move Delhi.

Earlier this year Pakistan and India came close to all-out conflict yet again, after a militant attack in Indian-held Kashmir in February was claimed by a group based in Pakistan, igniting tit-for-tat air strikes. — AFP

Building Up the Nuclear Horns of Prophecy (Daniel)

Trump is laying the ground for a nuclear arms race in the Gulf

Trump’s mismanagement of the nuclear issue in the Middle East is damaging the international nonproliferation regime.

by Luciano Zaccara

Over the past three months since the Trump administration imposed severe sanctions on Iran, which have significantly curbed its oil exports and exacerbated its economic crisis, tensions in the Gulf have escalated. Commercial vessels have been attacked, oil tankers seized and drones shot down. Despite these escalations, both sides are holding back and at least in the short-term, an open conflict so far seems unlikely.

In the long-term, however, the highly-problematic approach that the United States has adopted towards the nuclear issue could have devastating consequences. Two recent developments point in that direction.

First, the Trump administration has given a green light to US companies to work on nuclear projects in Saudi Arabia. According to a report recently released by the US Congress Oversight Committee, “with regard to Saudi Arabia, the Trump Administration has virtually obliterated the lines normally separating government policymaking from corporate and foreign interests.”

The report also stated that the evidence collected and analyzed “raise serious questions about whether the White House is willing to place the potential profits of the President’s friends above the national security of the American people and the universal objective of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.”

The White House seems committed to allowing the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology without demanding that Riyadh abide by US legal requirements not to engage in activities that can lead to nuclear proliferation.

Second, in response to mounting pressure from the US, Iran has announced that it is going to backtrack on a number of commitments made under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if the international community does not take measures to ameliorate the effects of US sanctions on its economy.

Iran has already stopped complying with limits on the production of enriched uranium and heavy water, invoking articles 26 and 36 of the agreement, which entitle it to do so if the other parties reintroduce nuclear-related sanctions.

Thus, Washington’s incapacity to deal with the Iranian file in a coherent manner, and its erratic policies on nuclear proliferation, are pushing the Middle East towards a dangerous nuclear competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Nuclear ambitions

The nuclear aspirations of both countries are not new. Iran’s nuclear programme began during the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, with the 1967 opening of the Center for Nuclear Research in Tehran along with an experimental 5 MW reactor built using US technology.

One year later, Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and, in 1973, created the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, which drew the first nuclear programme and planned the first nuclear power plant in Bushehr with German technology. A broad nuclear cooperation memorandum between Iran and the US was signed in 1975.

Saudi Arabia’s interest in developing nuclear-related research also started in the 1960s but had modest potential until the late 1970s, when the King Abd Al-Aziz Center for Science and Technology (KAACST) was established in Riyadh and the kingdom started studying the possibility of opening nuclear plants. Saudi Arabia eventually signed the NPT in 1988.

In 2017, under the leadership of King Salman and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Riyadh became serious about building a nuclear reactor and started contemplating a tender, which the Americans are now hoping to win.

In the past, there have been allegations that both Iran and Saudi Arabia tried to illicitly acquire nuclear technology from the same provider – Pakistan. In 2007, Iran admitted it purchased blueprints from Pakistani scientist AQ Khan in the 1990s, Saudi Arabia continues to deny the accusation.

Because of these suspicions, both countries have been subjected to inspections by the IAEA. In the case of Saudi Arabia, however, due to the modest size of its nuclear programme, it has had to comply only with the Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) during inspections.

By contrast, Iranian facilities have been under heavy scrutiny since the 1990s mainly by the US. This despite the fact that, at times, Iran voluntarily implemented the safeguard agreements reached during nuclear negotiations with the EU-3 between 2003 and 2005, as a confidence-building measure.

Under Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nuclear research began again, which caused the United Nations Security Council to sanction Iran with several resolutions from 2006 to 2012. When President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013, Iran’s approach to the nuclear issue changed drastically and it went back to serious negotiations with the US and the European Union.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration considered the possible transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia but ultimately decided not to sign the 123 agreement with Riyadh, after it failed to agree to non-proliferation guarantees.

The success and failure of the Iran nuclear deal

The 2015 JCPOA was meant to dampen Iranian (and indirectly Saudi) nuclear ambitions and bring a peaceful solution to a long-term nuclear controversy through multilateral diplomacy. It, however, failed to reassure Saudi Arabia that the Iranian threat has been subdued.

Many officials, including high ranking members of the Saudi royal family such as the Prince Turki al Faisal, openly criticised the deal and warned that it could trigger a nuclear race in the region.

This narrative was reinforced by the new direction Trump imposed on US foreign policy, legitimising Saudi aspirations for a full nuclear programme and opening the doors for the transfer of sensitive technology that could be used to produce a nuclear device.

It is important to note that, while Iran always denied its interest in having nuclear weapons, despite any real external threat from neighbouring countries or the US, Saudi Arabia’s MBS and other high officials admitted that they would pursue a nuclear weapon if Tehran acquired one.

Iran has been careful about the declared goals of its nuclear programme and, as both the IAEA and US intelligence agencies have confirmed, it has not directed any part of its nuclear research to achieving military goals. However, it is possible that “maximum pressure” from the US and the possibility of a US nuclear technology transfer to Saudi Arabia could motivate some sectors of the political establishment to consider having a military nuclear capacity as a deterrent against any future foreign aggression.

A collapsing nonproliferation regime

With its ill-advised policies in the Gulf, the Trump administration is not only encouraging a nuclear race in the region by allowing Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear technology, but it is also undermining the international non-proliferation regime.

Since nuclear powers agreed in the 1960s to curb the spread of nuclear weapons, there have been a number of cases in which countries – including Israel, India, and Pakistan – have broken international rules in pursuit of nuclearisation and not faced serious consequences.

The double standards applied by the Trump administration have been particularly damaging to international nonproliferation agreements. Trump has pursued normalisation of relations with North Korea – a state that openly tested and detonated nuclear devices – while withdrawing from a nuclear deal with Iran, which was strictly abided by all provisions and was not working on developing a nuclear bomb.

Effectively, the US government destroyed a well-functioning agreement that enjoyed wide international support in order to satisfy the commercial interests of a few individuals close to the White House and give an advantage to one side in the growing regional rivalry in the Middle East.

These actions have thrown the international community into disarray, as now there appears to be no clear consensus on what nuclear activities can be considered a threat, what evidence state actors must present to be regarded as truly committed to nonproliferation and what instruments – legal, economic, or military – should be used to enforce the nonproliferation regulations.

Washington’s unilateral (mis)management of the nuclear issue is endangering the whole nonproliferation regime, weakening any multilateral agreement or negotiation, and leaving solely the White House to decide on how to deal with these abovementioned questions.

In the current volatile situation in the Middle East – with intensifying confrontation along religious, ethnic, territorial and ideological cleavages – the lack of a robust non-proliferation agreement will encourage a nuclear race in the region and increase the chances of pre-emptive military attacks that could lead to large-scale war

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Luciano Zaccara

Luciano Zaccara is professor of Gulf Politics at the Qatar University Gulf Studies Center.

The China Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

Here Is China’s Plan for a Nuclear War Against America

The major thrust of the article in that issue on the impact of the DF-26 on nuclear strategy seems to be to try to debunk the argument that China’s deployment of this new type of missile is “destabilizing.” Like their American counterparts, Chinese strategists seem to be increasingly practiced (at least in a domestic context) at selling the argument that more and new types of weapons enhance deterrence and thus strategic stability.

When one reads enough Chinese naval literature, diagrams of multi-axial cruise missile saturation attacks against aircraft carrier groups may begin to seem normal. However, one particular graphic from the October 2015 issue (p. 32) of the naval journal Naval & Merchant Ships [舰船知识] stands out as both unusual and singularly disturbing. It purports to map the impact of a Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) strike by twenty nuclear-armed rockets against the United States.

Targets include the biggest cities on the East and West Coasts, as well as in the Midwest, as one would expect. Giant radiation plumes cover much of the country and the estimate in the caption holds that the strike “would yield perhaps 50 million people killed” [可能造成5000 万死亡]. The map below that graphic on the same page illustrates the optimal aim point for a hit on New York City with a “blast wave” [火风量] that vaporizes all of Manhattan and well beyond.

That makes the North Korean “threat” look fairly insignificant by comparison, doesn’t it? But what’s really disturbing is that the scenario described above envisions a strike by China’s largely antiquated DF-5 first generation ICBM. In other words, the illustration is perhaps a decade or more out of date. As China has deployed first the road-mobile DF-31, then DF-31A and now JL-2 (a submarine-launched nuclear weapon), China’s nuclear strategy has moved from “assured retaliation” to what one may term “completely assured retaliation.”

Indeed, the actual theme of the article featuring those graphics concerns recent reports regarding testing of the DF-41 mobile ICBM. The author of that article, who is careful to note that his views do not represent those of the publication, observes that when a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson was queried about the test on August 6, 2015, the spokesperson “did not deny that the DF-41 exists” [并没有否认‘东风’41 的存在]. The author also cites U.S. intelligence reports, concluding that four tests have now been conducted, including one that demonstrates multiple-reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology. The author estimates that DF-41 will finally provide China with the capability to launch missiles from north central China and hit all targets in the U.S. (except Florida). With the goal of better understanding the rapidly evolving strategic nuclear balance between China and the U.S. and its significance, this Dragon Eye surveys some recent Mandarin-language writings on the subject of Chinese nuclear forces.

To be sure, a flurry of Chinese writings on the nuclear balance did follow after the September parade in Beijing that highlighted Chinese missile forces. Perhaps the most remarkable revelation from the parade was the unveiling of the DF-26, a new, longer-range anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), based on the revolutionary shorter-ranged cousin, the DF-21D ASBM. In fact, the November 2015 issue of the aforementioned journal ran a series of articles on the DF-26. In those articles, the weapon is described multiple times as a “nuclear conventional dual-purpose” [核常兼备] weapon. The major thrust of the article in that issue on the impact of the DF-26 on nuclear strategy seems to be to try to debunk the argument that China’s deployment of this new type of missile is “destabilizing.” Like their American counterparts, Chinese strategists seem to be increasingly practiced (at least in a domestic context) at selling the argument that more and new types of weapons enhance deterrence and thus strategic stability.

Despite the developments related above, the balance of opinion in Beijing seems impressively moderate on the prospects for a major nuclear buildup by China. In the allegedly nationalist forum of Global Times [环球时报], one commentator from the China Institute for International Studies (associated with the Foreign Ministry), for example, offered a few illuminating comments about a year ago in an expert forum entitled “How Many Nuclear Warheads Are Enough for China?” He is evidently concerned that “We have heard some new voices calling to ‘build a nuclear force appropriate for a great power.’” Instead, he argues that China must continue to focus on building a “small, elite and effective nuclear forces” [精干有效的核力量]. Likewise, a former vice-director of the Chinese Navy Nuclear Security Bureau offers that China is a medium-sized nuclear power, which should learn from the experience of Britain and France and deploy no fewer than four submarines carrying nuclear weapons (SSBNs)—far fewer than operated by either Russia or the United States.

Yet one can still find in that same analysis ample concern among Chinese specialists regarding new directions in U.S. military capabilities that could threaten China’s deterrent. Another concern amply evident in Chinese writings concerns tactical nuclear weaponry. Most of this reporting of late concerns a recent upgrade to the American B-61 nuclear bomb. A full-page graphic in the same issue that discusses the DF-41 missile tests offers many specifics on the B-61, including its “dial-a-yield” [威力可调技术] feature that enables the operator to choose destruction on a scale ranging from fifty to 0.3 kilotons. That same month, in the magazine Aerospace Knowledge [航空知识], a “centerfold” featured the SS-26 Iskander, a Russian short-range tactical nuclear weapon. Elsewhere, I have, moreover, documented Chinese discussions of tactical nuclear weapons for anti-submarine warfare, as well as the importance of nuclear-tipped submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCMs) for strategy in the late Cold War. Let’s hope that these are just academic discussions in the Chinese context and do not reflect actual weapons under development.

As one can see from this discussion, there is ample reason for anxiety with many new Chinese nuclear systems now coming online, as well as substantial reason for optimism. As an author who frequently rides China’s high-speed rail [高铁], I am acutely aware that astronomical sums of money spent on that system could just as easily have been spent building an enormous arsenal of nuclear weaponry. That was not done and it’s certainly good that Chinese leaders have their priorities straight. American strategists need to keep this Chinese restraint in mind, especially as they weigh both new, expensive weapons systems (missile defense augmentation, the new strategic bomber, SSBN-X and also prompt global strike) and a set of measures to counter Beijing within the maritime disputes on its flanks.

This first appeared several years ago and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

Why Tactical Nukes Are a Really Bad Idea

Nuclear-Powered Cruise Missiles Are a Terrible Idea. Russia’s Test Explosion Shows Why

When President Donald Trump heard that Russia’s experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile had exploded, killing seven scientists and causing a major radiological incident less than 300 miles from the Finnish border, he fired off a boastful tweet. “We have similar, though more advanced, technology,” he said.

This is…not accurate. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the United States pursued a less advanced version of a similar technology but abandoned the effort before ever launching an actual test vehicle. Nuclear-powered cruise missiles, the Pentagon concluded, are a bad idea. 

But the concept still appeals to Vladimir Putin, who last year revealed his pursuit of an “unlimited-range” missile that Russia calls the 9M730 Burevestnik (Storm Petrel) and which NATO has dubbed the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. A missile powered by a small nuclear reactor could cruise about its target for days, giving it a wide range of potential targets it could strike upon command.

In 1957, the U.S. Air Force and the Atomic Energy Commission launched Project Pluto to build the Supersonic Low-Altitude Missile. The work proceeded at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (today, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), in Berkeley, California, under the supervision of Charles “Ted” Merkle, a hard-driving physicist. In 1959, Merkle reported to the Air Force on the feasibility of the project, noting a number of enormous technical challenges but also “some interesting and exciting possibilities to discuss.”

Like the makers of Skyfall, Merkle decided on a ramjet design. Powered into the sky atop a conventional rocket booster, the ramjet would compress incoming air in a uniquely shaped chamber, superheat it with a small nuclear reactor, and expel it as exhaust, propelling the missile almost three times faster than sound.

The biggest challenge: nuclear reactors are fragile things. Putting one in a cruise missile would require a design that could withstand three types of stress that no previous reactor had needed to endure.

“There are the stresses associated with the pressure drop through the ‘reactor’ and, as indicated earlier, this stress is of the order of hundreds of psi [pounds per square inch] when spread over the entire reactor,” Merkle wrote. “When concentrated at various support points, it contributes loads like thousands of psi. Next in order: to transfer heat from the fuel to the air stream, there must be a temperature drop in the fuel-bearing materials and, for typical ceramics and power densities that would be of interest for possible missile applications, stresses of many thousand psi result as a consequence of these temperature differences.”

Then there were the inertial stresses of flight. “Since in principle such ramjet power plants can operate from sea level to quite high altitudes, rather large ‘gust loadings’ must be anticipated,” he wrote.

Undaunted, the lab went to work creating a 500-megawatt reactor that could operate at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Four years later, after much experimentation with different materials and the careful assembly of 500,000 small fuel rods, they had an engine called Tory-IIA.

On May 14, 1961, they tested it at an 8-square-mile facility in a desolate area of Nevada called Jackass Flats. But they wouldn’t be able to fly it, not yet, since it was potentially a nuclear bomb. Instead they used a flatbed rail car.

In a 1990 article for Air and Space Magazine, Gregg Herken writes that “the Tory-IIA ran for only a few seconds, and at merely a fraction of its rated power. But the test was deemed a complete success. Most importantly, the reactor did not catch fire, as some nervous Atomic Energy Commission officials had worried it would.”

But as Herken tells it, Washington was already beginning to cool to the idea of a nuclear-powered cruise missile. The biggest reason: the missile’s unshielded nuclear reactor would spew radiation along its flight path, potentially irradiating its own ground crew and everyone else between the launch pad and the target. 

Anticipating this, Merkle downplayed the danger in his initial 1959 report, using language that sounds ripped directly from Dr. Strangelove. “One problem that bothers the design of reactors to be used near people is the necessity of confining all the fission products to the reactor fuel element,” he wrote. “A typical mission might produce some-what less than 100 grams of fission product. Of these it might be expected that some large percentage would naturally remain in fuel elements…Consequently the fission activity introduced locally into the atmosphere is minute compared with even the most minute atomic weapon.”

Phew.

Edwin Lyman, senior scientist and acting director of the nuclear safety project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, offers some perspective. “I suppose that at a time when the nuclear weapon states were still engaged in atmospheric testing, there wasn’t a whole lot of concerns about releasing additional radioactivity into the environment. Merkle’s cavalier attitude seems in tune with the era. But such a system should be considered completely unacceptable today,” Lyman told Defense One in an email.

“One thing is that to characterize radiation releases in terms of ‘grams’ is misleading. Chernobyl released only a few hundred grams of iodine-131 yet it resulted in thousands of thyroid cancers among children.” He noted that the Pluto tests ejected not only radioactive gases but far more dangerous radioactive particle matter as well.

The team tested a modified version of the engine once more in 1964 and the project was canceled.

The high fallout, both politically and literally, mean that nuclear-powered cruise missiles remain a terrible idea, says Kingston Reif, the director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association. “If you think the current excessive U.S. plans to replace the U.S. nuclear arsenal are controversial, imagine the negative domestic and international reaction to a U.S. effort to renew R&D on nuclear cruise missile powered by an unshielded nuclear reactor,” said Reif. “Russia should abandon development of this grotesque, unnecessary and almost certainly unworkable weapon immediately.”

Added Lyman, “if the missile was shot down, the fuel would overheat and you’d have a 500-thermal-megawatt reactor meltdown — about one-sixth the size of a large power reactor — but without any containment. Also, the lack of radiation shielding would make it difficult, if not impossible, for emergency responders to approach it.”

That’s similar to the problem Russia is grappling with right now.

The Missile Showers From Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a rally marking the 31st anniversary of Hamas’ founding, in Gaza City December 16, 2018. . (photo credit:” REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)

HAMAS TO ‘SHOWER’ ISRAELI CITIES WITH MISSILES
By ANNA AHRONHEIM
Group’s leader Yayha Sinwar vows to defeat IDF troops in the event of another war.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar vowed to defeat the IDF and “shower” Israeli cities with missile barrages if Israel launches another military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

“We will break the defeated occupation army if it crosses into the Gaza Strip. We know what we say and mean what we say,” Sinwar said in a speech celebrating the Eid al-Adha holiday in his hometown of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

“If Israel launches a campaign in Gaza, we will shower their cities with hundreds of missiles in one go,” he added. “If a war occurs, we will strike on the occupation army and break its power once and forever. We are not joking.”

Sinwar then praised the August 1 attack by Hani Abu Salah, a member of Hamas’s border patrol, who wounded an IDF officer and two soldiers as he tried to infiltrate into southern Israel in the area of Kissufim.

The attack, Sinwar said, was a “heroic commando one.”

Abu Salah was wearing a uniform and was armed with grenades and a Kalashnikov assault rifle when he infiltrated into Israeli territory from the southern edge of the Hamas-run enclave.

During his short speech, Sinwar also stated that the series of weekly protests along the border fence “will go on until it achieves its goals.”

The “March of Return” border protests began on March 30 and have seen over half a million people violently demonstrating along the security fence, demanding an end to the 12-year blockade, with several thousand to 45,000 congregating at points along the border every Friday.

Demonstrators have been burning tires and hurling stones and marbles, as well as carrying out other types of aggression, which include the throwing of grenades and bombs (including military-grade explosives) toward troops. Ball bearings and other projectiles have been launched by high-velocity slingshots toward forces along the border.

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said that close to 300 Palestinians have been killed and over 22,000 injured since the “March of Return” began.

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of March, there have been a total of 29,187 Palestinians injured since the protests began, with 7,246 wounded by live ammunition and 773 by rubber bullets.

Another 12,442 Palestinians have been injured by gas inhalation and 8,449 by other means. OCHA documentation also found that the large majority of those injured were men (21,433), followed by 5,333 male youths, as well as 1,699 women and 445 girls.

The killing of the first Israeli soldier along the Gaza front since Operation Protective Edge in 2014 also occurred during one of the weekly protest, after an IDF force responded to a violent protest by 20 Palestinian youth some 400 meters from the border fence. St.-Sgt. Aviv Levi was killed after he was shot in the chest by sniper fire.

Over the past year there have been 10 rounds of violent conflict with terrorist groups in the Strip, with the last round in early May seeing over 700 rockets fired toward southern Israel and killing five civilians.

The Ramapo Fault and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

 Living on the Fault Line

Posted June 15, 2010 by Wayne J. Guglielmo

This chart shows the location of the Ramapo Fault System, the longest and one of the oldest systems of cracks in the earth’s crust in the Northeast. It also shows the location of all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater in New Jersey during the last 50 years. The circle in blue indicates the largest known Jersey quake.

The couple checked with Burns’s parents, who live in nearby Basking Ridge, and they, too, had heard and felt something, which they thought might have been an earthquake. A call by Burns some 20 minutes later to the Bernardsville Police Department—one of many curious and occasionally panicky inquiries that Sunday morning, according to the officer in charge, Sergeant John Remian—confirmed their suspicion: A magnitude 2.6 earthquake, its epicenter in Peapack/Gladstone, about seven miles from Bernardsville, had hit the area. A smaller aftershock followed about two and a half hours later.

After this year’s epic earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, and China, the 2.6 quake and aftershock that shook parts of New Jersey in February may seem minor league, even to the Somerset County residents who experienced them. On the exponential Richter Scale, a magnitude 7.0 quake like the one that hit Haiti in January is almost 4 million times stronger than a quake of 2.6 magnitude. But comparisons of magnitude don’t tell the whole story.

Northern New Jersey straddles the Ramapo Fault, a significant ancient crack in the earth’s crust. The longest fault in the Northeast, it begins in Pennsylvania and moves into New Jersey, trending northeast through Hunterdon, Somerset, Morris, Passaic, and Bergen counties before terminating in New York’s Westchester County, not far from the Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant. And though scientists dispute how active this roughly 200 million-year-old fault really is, many earthquakes in the state’s surprisingly varied seismic history are believed to have occurred on or near it. The fault line is visible at ground level and likely extends as deep as nine miles below the surface.

During the past 230 years or so, New Jersey has been at the epicenter of nearly 170 earthquakes, according to data compiled by the New Jersey Geological Survey, part of the United States Department of Environmental Protection. The largest known quake struck in 1783, somewhere west of New York City, perhaps in Sussex County. It’s typically listed as 5.3 in magnitude, though that’s an estimate by seismologists who are quick to point out that the concept of magnitude—measuring the relative size of an earthquake—was not introduced until 1935 by Charles Richter and Beno Gutenberg. Still, for quakes prior to that, scientists are not just guessing.

“We can figure out the damage at the time by going back to old records and newspaper accounts,” says Won-Young Kim, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, directly across the New Jersey border. “Once the amount and extent of contemporary damage has been established,” Kim says, “we’re then able to gauge the pattern of ground shaking or intensity of the event—and from there extrapolate its probable magnitude.”

Other earthquakes of magnitude 5 or higher have been felt in New Jersey, although their epicenters laying near New York City. One—which took place in 1737 and was said to have been felt as far north as Boston and as far south as northern Delaware—was probably in the 5 to 5.5 range. In 1884, an earthquake of similar magnitude occurred off New York’s Rockaway Beach. This well-documented event pulled houses off their foundations and caused steeples to topple as far west as Rahway. The shock wave, scientists believe, was felt over 70,000 square miles, from Vermont to Maryland.

Among the largest sub-5 magnitude earthquakes with epicenters in New Jersey, two (a 3.8 and a 4.0) took place on the same day in 1938 in the Lakehurst area in Ocean County. On August 26, 2003, a 3.5 magnitude quake shook the Frenchtown/Milford area in Hunterdon County. On February 3 of last year, a 3.0 magnitude quake occurred in the Morris County town of Mendham. “A lot of people felt this one because of the intense shaking, although the area of intensity wasn’t very wide,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim, who visited the site after the event.

After examining the known historical and geological record, Kim and other seismologists have found no clear evidence that an earthquake of greater than 5.3 to 5.5 magnitude has taken place in this area going back to 1737. This doesn’t mean, of course, that one did not take place in the more remote past or that one will not occur in the future; it simply means that a very large quake is less likely to occur here than in other places in the east where the seismic hazard is greater, including areas in South Carolina and northeastern New York State.

But no area on the East Coast is as densely populated or as heavily built-up as parts of New Jersey and its neighbors. For this reason, scientists refer to the Greater New York City-Philadelphia area, which includes New Jersey’s biggest cities, as one of “low earthquake hazard but high vulnerability.” Put simply, the Big One isn’t likely here—but if it comes, especially in certain locations, watch out.

Given this low-hazard, high-vulnerability scenario, how far along are scientists in their efforts to predict larger magnitude earthquakes in the New Jersey area? The answer is complex, complicated by the state’s geographical position, its unique geological history, the state of seismology itself, and the continuing debate over the exact nature and activity of the Ramapo Fault.

Over millions of years, New Jersey developed four distinct physiographic provinces or regions, which divide the state into a series of diagonal slices, each with its own terrain, rock type, and geological landforms.

The northernmost slice is the Valley and Ridge, comprising major portions of Sussex and Warren counties. The southernmost slice is the Coastal Plain, a huge expanse that covers some three-fifths of the state, including all of the Shore counties. Dividing the rest of the state are the Highlands, an area for the most part of solid but brittle rock right below the Valley and Ridge, and the lower lands of the Piedmont, which occupy all of Essex, Hudson, and Union counties, most of Bergen, Hunterdon, and Somerset, and parts of Middlesex, Morris, and Passaic.

For earthquake monitors and scientists, the formation of these last two provinces—the Highlands and the Piedmont—are of special interest. To understand why, consider that prior to the appearance of the Atlantic Ocean, today’s Africa was snuggled cozily up against North America and surrounded by a single enormous ocean. “At that point, you could have had exits off the New Jersey Turnpike for Morocco,” says Alexander Gates, professor of geology and chair of the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Rutgers-Newark.

Under the pressure of circulating material within the Earth’s super-hot middle layer, or mantle, what was once a single continent—one that is thought to have included today’s other continents as well—began to stretch and eventually break, producing numerous cracks or faults and ultimately separating to form what became the Atlantic Ocean. In our area, the longest and most active of these many cracks was the Ramapo Fault, which, through a process known as normal faulting, caused one side of the earth’s crust to slip lower—the Piedmont—relative to the other side—the Highlands. “All this occurred about 225 million years ago,” says Gates. “Back then, you were talking about thousands of feet between the Highlands and the Piedmont and a very active Ramapo Fault.”

The Earth’s crust, which is 20 to 25 miles thick, is not a single, solid shell, but is broken into seven vast tectonic plates, which drift atop the soft, underlying mantle. Although the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault neatly divides two of New Jersey’s four physiographic provinces, it does not form a so-called plate boundary, as does California’s infamous San Andreas Fault. As many Californians know all too well, this giant fault forms the boundary between two plates—to the west, the Pacific Plate, and to the east, the North American Plate; these rub up against each other, producing huge stresses and a regularly repeating pattern of larger earthquakes.

The Ramapo Fault sits on the North American Plate, which extends past the East Coast to the middle of the Atlantic, where it meets the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range in constant flux. The consequences of this intraplate setting are huge: First, as Gates points out, “The predictability of bigger earthquakes on…[such] settings is exceedingly poor, because they don’t occur very often.” Second, the intraplate setting makes it more difficult to link our earthquakes to a major cause or fault, as monitors in California can often do.

This second bit of uncertainty is especially troubling for some people, including some in the media who want a neat story. To get around it, they ignore the differences between plate settings and link all of New Jersey’s earthquakes, either directly or implicitly, to the Ramapo Fault. In effect, such people want the Ramapo Fault “to look like the San Andreas Fault,” says Gates. “They want to be able to point to one big fault that’s causing all of our earthquakes.”

Gates does not think that’s the case, and he has been working with colleagues for a number of years to prove it. “What we have found is that there are smaller faults that generally cut from east to west across the northeast-trending Ramapo Fault,” he explains. “These much smaller faults are all over the place, and they’re actually the ones that are the active faults in the area.”

But what mechanisms are responsible for the formation of these apparently active auxiliary faults? One such mechanism, say scientists, is the westward pressure the Atlantic Ocean exerts on the North American Plate, which for the most part resists any movement. “I think we are in an equilibrium state most of the time,” says Lamont-Doherty’s Kim.

Still, that continuous pressure on the plate we sit on causes stress, and when that stress builds up sufficiently, the earth’s crust has a tendency to break around any weak zones. In our area, the major weak zone is the Ramapo Fault—“an ancient zone of weakness,” as Kim calls it. That zone of weakness exacerbates the formation of auxiliary faults, and thereby the series of minor earthquakes the state has experienced over the years.

All this presupposes, of course, that any intraplate stress in this area will continue to be released gradually, in a series of relatively minor earthquakes or releases of energy. But what if that were not the case? What if the stress continued to build up, and the release of large amounts of energy came all at once? In crude terms, that’s part of the story behind the giant earthquakes that rocked what is now New Madrid, Missouri, between 1811 and 1812. Although estimates of their magnitude have been revised downward in recent years to less than magnitude 8, these earthquakes are generally regarded as among the largest intraplate events to have occurred in the continental United States.

For a number of reasons—including the relatively low odds that the kind of stored energy that unleashed the New Madrid events could ever build up here—earthquakes of plus-6 magnitude are probably not in our future. Still, says Kim, even a magnitude 6 earthquake in certain areas of the state could do considerable damage, especially if its intensity or ground shaking was of sufficient strength. In a state as geologically diverse and densely populated as New Jersey, this is a crucial wild card.

Part of the job of the experts at the New Jersey Geological Survey is to assess the seismic hazards in different parts of the state. To do this, they use a computer-simulation model developed under the direction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as HAZUS, for Hazards US. To assess the amount of ground shaking likely to occur in a given county during events ranging in magnitude from 5 to 7 on the Richter Scale, NJGS scientists enter three features of a county’s surface geology into their computer model. Two of these features relate to the tendency of soil in a given area to lose strength, liquefy, or slide downhill when shaken. The third and most crucial feature has to do with the depth and density of the soil itself and the type of bedrock lying below it; this is a key component in determining a region’s susceptibility to ground shaking and, therefore, in estimating the amount of building and structural damage that’s likely to occur in that region. Estimates for the various counties—nine to date have been studied—are sent to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, which provided partial funding for the project.

To appreciate why this element of ground geology is so crucial to earthquake modelers, consider the following: An earthquake’s intensity—which is measured on something called the Modified Mercalli Scale—is related to a number of factors. The amount of energy released or the magnitude of an event is clearly a big factor. But two earthquakes of the same magnitude can have very different levels of intensity; in fact, it’s quite possible for a lower magnitude event to generate more ground shaking than a higher magnitude one.

In addition to magnitude, other factors that affect intensity are the distance of the observer or structure from the epicenter, where intensity is the greatest; the depth beneath the surface of the initial rupture, with shallower ruptures producing more ground shaking than deeper ones; and, most significantly, the ground geology or material that the shock wave generated by the earthquake must pass through.

As a rule, softer materials like sand and gravel shake much more intensely than harder materials, because the softer materials are comparatively inefficient energy conductors, so whatever energy is released by the quake tends to be trapped, dispersing much more slowly. (Think of a bowl of Jell-O on a table that’s shaking.)

In contrast, harder materials, like the solid rock found widely in the Highlands, are brittle and break under pressure, but conduct energy well, so that even big shock waves disperse much more rapidly through them, thereby weakening the amount of ground shaking. “If you’ve read any stories about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, you know the most intense damage was in those flat, low areas by the Bay, where the soil is soft, and not in the hilly, rocky areas above,” says Karl Muessig, state geologist and NJGS head.

The map that accompanies the online version of the NJGS’s Earthquake Loss Estimation Study divides the state’s surface geology into five seismic soil classes, ranging from Class A, or hard rock, to Class E, or soft soil (state.nj.us/dep/njgs/enviroed/hazus.htm).

Although the weakest soils are scattered throughout the state, including the Highlands, which besides harder rock also contains areas of glacial lakes, clays, and wetlands, they are most evident in the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. “The largest expanses of them are in coastal areas where you have salt marshes or large glacial lakes, as in parts of the Passaic River basin,” says Scott Stanford, a research scientist with NJGS and lead author of the estimate. Some of the very weakest soils, Stanford adds, are in areas of filled marshland, including places along the Hudson waterfront, around Newark Bay and the Meadowlands, and along the Arthur Kill.

Faults in these areas—and in the coastal plain generally—are far below the ground, perhaps several hundred to a thousand feet down, making identification difficult. “There are numerous faults upon which you might get earthquake movement that we can’t see, because they’re covered by younger sediments,” Stanford says.

This combination of hidden faults and weak soils worries scientists, who are all too aware that parts of the coastal plain and Piedmont are among the most densely populated and developed areas in the state. (The HAZUS computer model also has a “built environment” component, which summarizes, among other things, types of buildings in a given area.) For this reason, such areas would be in the most jeopardy in the event of a large earthquake.

“Any vulnerable structure on these weak soils would have a higher failure hazard,” Stanford says. And the scary truth is that many structures in New Jersey’s largest cities, not to mention New York City, would be vulnerable, since they’re older and built before anyone gave much thought to earthquake-related engineering and construction codes.

For example, in the study’s loss estimate for Essex County, which includes Newark, the state’s largest city, a magnitude 6 event would result in damage to 81,600 buildings, including almost 10,000 extensively or completely; 36,000 people either displaced from their homes or forced to seek short-term shelter; almost $9 million in economic losses from property damage and business interruption; and close to 3,300 injuries and 50 fatalities. (The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation has conducted a similar assessment for New York City, at nycem.org.)

All of this suggests the central irony of New Jersey geology: The upland areas that are most prone to earthquakes—the counties in or around the Ramapo Fault, which has spawned a network of splays, or auxiliary faults—are much less densely populated and sit, for the most part, on good bedrock. These areas are not invulnerable, certainly, but, by almost all measures, they would not sustain very severe damage, even in the event of a higher magnitude earthquake. The same can’t be said for other parts of the state, where the earthquake hazard is lower but the vulnerability far greater. Here, the best we can do is to prepare—both in terms of better building codes and a constantly improving emergency response.

Meanwhile, scientists like Rutgers’s Gates struggle to understand the Earth’s quirky seismic timetable: “The big thing with earthquakes is that you can commonly predict where they are going to occur,” Gates says. “When they’re going to come, well, we’re nowhere near being able to figure that out.”

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Planning for the Big One

For the men and women of the state police who manage and support the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the response to some events, like hurricanes, can be marshalled in advance. But an earthquake is what responders call a no-notice event.

In New Jersey, even minor earthquakes—like the one that shook parts of Somerset County in February—attract the notice of local, county, and OEM officials, who continuously monitor events around the state from their Regional Operations and Intelligence Center (The ROIC) in West Trenton, a multimillion dollar command-and-control facility that has been built to withstand 125 mph winds and a 5.5 magnitude earthquake. In the event of a very large earthquake, during which local and county resources are apt to become quickly overwhelmed, command and control authority would almost instantly pass to West Trenton.

Here, officials from the state police, representatives of a galaxy of other state agencies, and a variety of communications and other experts would assemble in the cavernous and ultra-high tech Emergency Operations Center to oversee the state’s response. “A high-level earthquake would definitely cause the governor to declare a state of emergency,” says OEM public information officer Nicholas J. Morici. “And once that takes place, our emergency operations plan would be put in motion.”

Emergency officials have modeled that plan—one that can be adapted to any no-notice event, including a terrorist attack—on response methodologies developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At its core is a series of seventeen emergency support functions, ranging from transportation to firefighting, debris removal, search and rescue, public health, and medical services. A high-magnitude event would likely activate all of these functions, says Morici, along with the human and physical resources needed to carry them out—cranes and heavy trucks for debris removal, fire trucks and teams for firefighting, doctors and EMTs for medical services, buses and personnel carriers for transportation, and so on.

This is where an expert like Tom Rafferty comes in. Rafferty is a Geographic Information Systems Specialist attached to the OEM. His job during an emergency is to keep track electronically of which resources are where in the state, so they can be deployed quickly to where they are needed. “We have a massive database called the Resource Directory Database in which we have geolocated municipal, county, and state assets to a very detailed map of New Jersey,” Rafferty says. “That way, if there is an emergency like an earthquake going on in one area, the emergency managers can quickly say to me, for instance, ‘We have major debris and damage on this spot of the map. Show us the location of the nearest heavy hauler. Show us the next closest location,’ and so on.”

A very large quake, Rafferty says, “could overwhelm resources that we have as a state.” In that event, OEM has the authority to reach out to FEMA for additional resources and assistance. It can also call upon the private sector—the Resource Directory has been expanded to include non-government assets—and to a network of volunteers. “No one has ever said, ‘We don’t want to help,’” Rafferty says. New Jersey officials can also request assistance through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), an agreement among the states to help each other in times of extreme crisis.

“You always plan for the worst,” Rafferty says, “and that way when the worst doesn’t happen, you feel you can handle it if and when it does.”

Contributing editor Wayne J. Guglielmo lives in Mahwah, near the Ramapo Fault.

Russia Prepares for Nuclear War

Russia Flies Nuclear-Capable Bombers to Region Nearest To Alaska

qBy Hayley Prokos On 8/14/19 at 9:21 PM EDT

Russia said on Wednesday it had flown two nuclear-capable TU-160 bombers to a far eastern Russian region opposite Alaska. State media called the operation a training exercise that demonstrated the country’s ability to position nuclear arms close to the United States, according to Reuters.

The operation comes amid increased tensions over arms control between Moscow and Washington. Earlier this month, the United States withdrew from the Reagan-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a landmark nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Trump administration said Moscow had violated that treaty.

“Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on August 2. He accused Russia of failing to destroy its SSC-8 or 9M729 ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise missile systems, which the United States says are noncompliant.

The Kremlin denied the United States’ accusation.

The U.S. ambassador to Moscow reportedly said earlier on Wednesday that the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the last major nuclear pact between Russia and the United States, was outdated and flawed. The ambassador suggested the treaty could be scrapped upon its expiration in 2021 and replaced with something else.

If it is neither extended nor replaced, “there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest strategic arsenals for the first time since 1972,” according to The Arms Control Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

And it seems like Wednesday’s events could foreshadow such an eventuality.

Russia tests its 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered nuclear cruise missile in this clip released July 19, 2018 by the Russian Defense Ministry. Trials of the unique, experimental weapon have reportedly had mixed results. Russian Ministry of Defense

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that it was winning the race to develop modernized nuclear weapons, Reuters reported. But it was just last week that a mysterious rocket accident in northern Russia killed at least five people and caused a brief spike in radiation levels.

Neither Russia’s defense ministry nor its state nuclear agency, Rosatom, clarified the type of rocket that exploded August 8. The agency did say the explosion happened while testing “isotope power sources within a liquid propulsion system.”

Experts believed it was probably a nuclear-powered cruise missile known in Russia as Burevestnik and by NATO as Skyfall.

Last week, Russia’s military reportedly took another step in its effort to field armed drones for front-line missions.

Footage released by Russia’s defense ministry showed a combat drone dubbed “The Hunter,” known in Russian as Okhotnik, circling an unnamed airfield several times and landing after 20 minutes.

State-run news agency Tass said the Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-B possessed the “most advanced reconnaissance equipment.”