Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating EarthquakeRoger BilhamGiven 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.
Two American bomber aircraft have flown over a swath of the Middle East, sending what U.S. officials call a message of deterrence to Iran
By LOLITA C. BALDOR Associated Press
December 10, 2020, 11:12 AM
WASHINGTON — In a new show of military might, two American bomber aircraft flew from the United States to the Middle East on Thursday, in a round-trip mission that U.S. officials said covered a wide swath of the region and was a direct message of deterrence to Iran.
The flight of the two massive B-52H Stratofortress bombers, the second such mission in less than a month, was designed to underscore America’s continuing commitment to the Middle East even as President Donald Trump’s administration withdraws thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The long-range heavy bombers, which are capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons, are a formidable sight and are flown less frequently in the Middle East than smaller combat aircraft, such as American fighter jets. Adversaries often complain about bomber flights in their region, deeming them a provocative show of force.
“The ability to fly strategic bombers halfway across the world in a non-stop mission and to rapidly integrate them with multiple regional partners demonstrates our close working relationships and our shared commitment to regional security and stability,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, said in a statement.
The troop cuts coupled with the impending departure of the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier strike group in the Gulf have fueled allies’ concerns that the U.S. is abandoning the region. Those worries are compounded by fears that Iran may strike out at the U.S. or allies in retaliation for the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Iran has blamed the death on Israel, which has been suspected in previous killings of Iranian nuclear scientists.
U.S. officials are also worried about a possible Iranian retaliatory strike on the anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, and senior Iraqi militia leaders near Baghdad’s airport in early January.
Iranian-backed militias routinely launch rockets near installations in Iraq where U.S. and Iraqi troops are based, and officials worry about a larger, more deadly assault.
“We do not seek conflict,” McKenzie said, “but we must remain postured and committed to respond to any contingency or in opposition to any aggression.”
A senior military official, who spoke to a small group of reporters on the condition of anonymity to provide details of the mission, said the administration believes that the risk of an Iranian attack on U.S. or allied interests in the region is a bit higher than normal now, and the Pentagon wants to ensure that Tehran thinks twice before doing anything. Adding to the concerns is the presidential transition in the U.S. following Joe Biden’s November victory over Trump. The official said Iran or other adversaries often believe the U.S. may be weaker or slower to respond during a political transition, which American officials flatly deny.
Bomber deployments and short-term flights to the Middle East and Europe have been used in the past to message Iran, a few times in the last two years.
According to officials, the bombers flew out of Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana on Wednesday and conducted the flight into Thursday. Officially nicknamed the Stratofortress and informally known as the Big Ugly Fat Fellow, the B-52 gained lasting fame in Vietnam as an aerial terror.
The two bombers left the U.S. Wednesday evening, arrived in the Middle East early Thursday morning, and then began the return trip home. They flew a roughly 36-hour mission, traveling across the Atlantic Ocean and Europe, then over the Arabian Peninsula and down the Persian Gulf, making a wide loop near Qatar and staying a safe distance from Iran’s coastline, said the military official.
The flight was coordinated with U.S. allies in the region, and aircraft from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar flew with the bombers as they traveled through the airspace, according to the official.
A senior defense official said the bombers did not drop any munitions of any type during the flight. On some training missions, U.S. aircraft may deploy live, inert or simulated conventional weapons in order to ensure forces stay proficient.
U.S. bombers from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota flew a similar mission in late November.
The USS Nimitz, and as many as three other warships in its strike group, had been scheduled to head home by the end of the year, but they have been held in the region and no new timeline on the departure has been given. Officials, however, have made it clear that the ships’ return hasn’t been decided and the additional time in the Gulf area is open-ended.
The Pentagon announced last month that the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January, asserting that the decision fulfills Trump’s pledge to bring forces home from America’s long wars. Under the accelerated pullout, the U.S. will cut the number of troops in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500 and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500.
Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.
WASHINGTON: In a clear appeal to the incoming Biden administration, the commander of the Air Force’s strategic bombers and ICBMs says America’s allies are counting on us to stay the course and completely modernize our nuclear triad — not cut it back.
Gen. Timothy Ray’s remarks to today’s online Triad Symposium were pre-recorded. It’s not clear if he knew, when he made his arguments, that Biden had decided to nominate retired Army four-star Lloyd Austin for Secretary of Defense, a military insider unlikely to challenge established priorities. But even under Austin, there’ll be tremendous pressure to cut the Pentagon budget post-COVID, and some Democrats have long advocated saving money by slashing nukes. Some have even argued for going down to just one leg of the Cold War triad, eliminating Air Force ICBMs and air-launched weapons in favor of a total reliance on Navy nuclear submarines
David AxeForbes Staff
Aerospace & Defense
I write about ships, planes, tanks, drones, missiles and satellites.
It’s a useful exercise in geopolitics to try seeing your country’s actions from the point of view of your adversaries.
Someone should explain that to U.S. Strategic Command, the headquarters that oversees America’s nuclear forces. The command has been celebrating trials testing out a new capability on the U.S. Air Force’s B-1 bombers.
But the rhetoric, from the perspective of Russian and Chinese officials, is pretty alarming. It sounds atomic. And treaty-busting.
“Strategic deterrence is the foundation to our survival as a nation,” STRATCOM tweeted about the B-1 on Dec. 5. “In order to stay ahead of the competition, we have to pave the way to modernize current systems to enhance our readiness and capabilities.”
The problem is, the B-1 pointedly lacks nuclear capability. To comply with the 2011 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States USM and Russia, the Air Force stripped out the special wiring and external hard-points that allowed the swing-wing bomber to carry nuclear weapons.
If the B-1 could haul nukes, it would represent a violation of the last major arms-control accord between Washington and Moscow. Which is why it was so startling when STRATCOM used the words “strategic deterrence” while promoting efforts to add to the Air Force’s 62 B-1s new external hard-points for non-nuclearweapons.
“Strategic deterrence” usually means nukes. The implication of the STRATCOM’s messaging, therefore, is that the B-1 might return to the nuclear fold. In fact, the B-1 modifications “will keep the aircraft compliant with the New START agreement,” the Air Force stressed in a news release.
The military is sending a mixed message. The B-1s are part of America’s strategic deterrence, STRATCOM says. But not really, the Air Force adds.
“When STRATCOM talks about ‘strategic deterrence,’ it means all strategic deterrence: nuclear as well as conventional,” said Hans Kristensen, a nuclear expert with the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C. “So it’s not like they’re making a mistake in the the tweets, but I would like them to be more specific so not to create confusion about what they’re talking about.”
The hypocrisy is just the icing on the messaging cake. “STRATCOM is part of the national security community that is criticizing China and Russia for being too opaque about their nuclear postures,” Kristensen said.
IRAN has claimed the US may have been behind the “AI-machine gun” assassination of its nuclear weapons mastermind – as it announced it had arrested “terrorist” suspects.
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a senior official in Iran’s nuclear programme, was shot 13 times while driving on a road to the east of capital Tehran.
Fakhrizadeh was shot 13 times while travelling in his car
Earlier this week Iran said Fakhrizadeh was assassinated by an Israeli death squad with a machine gun that “zoomed in” on his face using artificial intelligence.
Now it claims to have arrested suspects they allege were involved in the sophisticated hit job on November 27 and claimed it was US-backed.
Iranian official Hossein Amir Abdollahian told Al-Alam TV he was unable to share the details of who they were for security reasons, but vowed they would not escape justice for the killing.
He said: “Some of the individuals involved in the execution of this assassination have been identified by our security apparatuses and even arrested.
“Were the Zionists (Israel) able to do this alone and without the cooperation of, for example, the American (intelligence) service or another service?
“They certainly could not do that.”
Iran has given contradictory details of Fakhrizadeh’s death in the daytime ambush on his car on a highway near the capital Tehran.
‘A.I CONTROLLED MACHINE GUN’
A senior Revolutionary Guards commander has said the killing was carried out remotely with artificial intelligence and a machine gun equipped with a “satellite-controlled smart system”.
Speaking to the regime-linked Mehr news agency, Ali Fadavi, deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said: “The automatic weapon installed in the pickup was also equipped with a smart satellite system that zoomed into Fakhrizadeh’s face and used artificial intelligence.”
He added that the gun “focused only on martyr Fakhrizadeh’s face in a way that his wife, despite being only 25cm away, was not shot”.
There were no “terrorists” at the scene, he said, and that the gun was being “controlled online”.
Witnesses earlier told state television that a truck had exploded before a group of gunmen opened fire on Fakhrizadeh’s car.
Experts and officials told Reuters last week that Fakhrizadeh’s killing exposed security gaps that suggest Iran’s security forces may have been infiltrated and that the Islamic Republic is vulnerable to further attacks.
Ali Fadavi, deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, claimed Fakhrizadeh was targeted using artificial intelligence
Who was Mohsen Fakhrizadeh?
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the Iranian nuclear scientist whose assassination the Islamic republic has blamed on Israel, was little known before his death, but one thing is certain: he was important.
The man Israel alleges was the father of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme was senior enough to meet with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in January 2019, based on official pictures released after his death.
For his assassins, Fakhrizadeh was also important enough to be killed Friday in a brazen, daylight attack on a major road just outside Tehran that Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, said was carried out using new and “complex” methods.
After his death, Defence Minister Amir Hatami referred to Fakhrizadeh as his deputy minister and head of the ministry’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND).
So what do we know about the work of the 59-year-old, bearded and spectacled nuclear scientist?
Was he the senior official who “managed nuclear defence” and did “extensive work” in this field, having played a “significant role in defence innovations”, as Hatami said?
Or was he, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged in April 2018, the head of a secret nuclear weapons programme whose existence the Islamic republic has always strenuously denied?
The Palestinian Hamas group has reiterated their commitment to the resistance and the principle of not recognizing Israel.
“On its foundation anniversary, Hamas reiterates its commitment to the unity and integrity of the Palestinian people, to resistance against the occupation, to not recognize Israel and to oppose normalization projects,” Maher Salah, the head of movement’s Diaspora Office, said in a statement.
Underlining that Hamas is committed to the unity of Jerusalem as a Palestinian city and rejects attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque with Judaization plans, Salah said that the blockade against Gaza should be lifted.
He also highlighted the importance of opposing the annexation plans of the West Bank, and the continuation of the works of the UN’s aid agency to help Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA.
Hamas was founded simultaneously with the First Intifada in 1987 by the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood Organization (Ikhwan) in the Gaza Strip.
*Writing by Gozde Bayar
Much has been reported in both the local and international Media about the covert and overt diplomatic interaction between the Israeli-Saudi officials to normalize the realtions—paving the way for a genuine concern for Pakistan. Needless to say, despite having had a history of their proverbial relations, the two brotherly Islamic countries- Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have recently undergone to experience some asymmetric dynamics/ cross-currents in their relationship. Though a policy statement given by the Saudi FM Faisal Bin Farhan (on August 20) emphasizing that ‘’no deal with Israel without peace for Palestinians’’ has somehow dispelled the confusion arising in the mind of Muslim Ummah about Israel-Saudi rapprochement, a feeling of discomfiture still prevails in Pakistan regarding Saudi Arabia’s growing ties with both Israel and India-the two known foes of Islam and Muslims. To win the hearts and minds of the Pakistanis, Riyadh needs to revive the core of its traditional ties with Pakistan.
As manifested by the current deal concluded between the United Arab Emirates and Israel that today Muslim word faces a challenge of unity among its ranks and files
History is witness to the fact that both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have had long maintained a strong, strategic relationship. The two brotherly states have worked within the framework of several bilateral, regional and global forums, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The crux of Saudi Arabia’s cooperation remained financial while the nuclear- armed Pakistan role has been to support on the security front. The former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal once described relations between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as “probably one of the closest relationships in the world between any two countries” As the custodian of the Two Holy sites in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia maintained a legacy of its sustainable relations with Pakistan’s political and military. In return, Pakistan has been helping the Saudi government in maintaining iron-clad security of the two Holy sites for decades. Islamabad has also cooperated closely with Saudi Arabia to uplift its global image. The Saudis have also been allowed to spread their extremist Wahhabi version of Islam in Pakistan through a vast network of mosques and seminaries. During the Cold war period, the relations between the two states reached its zenith, particularly, the collaboration the two sides cemented during the Afghan Jihad-1979-89. Though the Iranian revolution inspired the Shia groups, the Saudi-Pakistani alliance in Afghanistan and General Zia’s Islamisation policies did play the same role for Sunni groups.
In the post 9/11 phase, the Taliban factor gained pivotal consideration for Riyadh because of two obvious reasons. Firstly, Iran might have developed its own ties with the Afghan Taliban; secondly, high-level talks were held with the Taliban in Qatar, with which Riyadh remains at a standoff. Furthermore, in the post –Musharraf era, the Iranian and the Chinese factors also remain instrumental in visualizing the relations between Riyadh and Islamabad as similarly for us the Pakistanis Saudi ties with Israel and India remain the source of genuine concerns.
During MBS’ visit to Pakistan in February 2019, the crown prince told Prime Minister Imran Khan: “Consider me an ambassador of Pakistan in Saudi Arabia. “The fact remains that Prime Minister Imran Khan hasn’t visited any other country more than Saudi Arabia, and similarly the crown prince himself visited Pakistan with a large delegation.” Needless to say, Islamabad-Riyadh always enjoyed historic and diverse relations despite recurring changes in Pakistan’s political landscape. And of course, the relationship grew closer amid the crown prince visit to Pakistan, during which he signed $20 billion in memorandums of understanding, and was given a no-expense- spared, red-carpet welcome by both Imran Khan and the chief of army staff.
And yet undeniably, the relations between Islamabad and Riyadh have largely endured despite recent hiccups such as when Prime Minister Khan had to cancel his participation in the Kuala Lumpur summit late last year under Saudi pressure. That meeting, attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, was seen by Riyadh as a challenge to the OIC, which is headquartered in Jeddah.
Recently, Pakistan FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi took a principal stand while reminding our Saudi brothers that if the KSA will not call the OIC meeting on India’s illegal revocation of the Kashmir status, Islamabad would fulfil this moral responsibility. By any diplomatic yardstick, the comments of Pakistan Foreign Minister should have not been taken out of context. It needs no mentioning that for decades, the Saudi-Pakistani relations have been strong in multiple dimensions. Riyadh has been among Pakistan’s strongest supporters on the Kashmir issue and the two have been allies for decades in the Afghan conflict Saudi Arabia is also the source of 50 percent of Pakistan’s oil imports and the two countries have strong defence ties too. Saudi Arabia is also a major source of financial support for Pakistan. Indeed, rarely has Pakistan paid back these loans.
Needless to say, the Saudi -backed UAE -Israel deal– both in form and substance– does not fulfil the credo of the OIC Charter: ‘’…to adhere our commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter, the present Charter and International Law; o endeavour to work for revitalizing Islam’s pioneering role in the world while ensuring sustainable development, progress and prosperity for the peoples of Member States; to enhance and strengthen the bond of unity and solidarity among the Muslim peoples and Member States; to respect, safeguard and defend the national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all Member States…’’ Obviously, the Arabs’ espoused rapprochement with Israel without settling the question of the simmering Palestinian issue (the right to self-determination) has not only caused perturbation in Pakistan but also in the Muslim Ummah. By no means, Pakistan can leave the Palestinian question of freedom at the helm of the Israeli government.
On the premise of Pakistan foreign relations with the Muslim states, Pakistan knits its cordial relations with Turkey, Iran and Malaysia-a factor that might have been irritating the Saudis. While for we the Pakistanis, Riyadh’s unflinching tilt –towards both Israel and India –irritates us. But in diplomacy, these asymmetric challenges are amicably settled. But Saudis must realise that the Kashmir and the Palestinian issues are the bloodlines of Pakistan’s foreign policy. By no means, Islamabad can downplay its role in galvanizing these issues on the global level. Pakistan-China common stand on Kashmir endorses this objective. The Palestinians rightly argue that normalization with Israel means– opening the door wide to tamper with the security and capabilities of our countries and peoples to serve its settlement colonial project, "the Greater Israel," especially since it has the ability to do so with its own capabilities or open American support.
As manifested by the current deal concluded between the United Arab Emirates and Israel that today Muslim word faces a challenge of unity among its ranks and files. A general perception anchored in the Muslim world holds that the said deal could have not been possible without a Saudi-backing. In this regard, both Riyadh and Islamabad have to save the legacy of their historic relationship.