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.
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force on January 22
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force on January 22
Islamabad, January 29
Pakistan on Friday said it was not bound by the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons as it failed to take into account the interests of all stakeholders.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force on January 22, culminating a decades-long campaign aimed at preventing a repetition of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
Though hailed as a historic step by several nations, the treaty was opposed by the world’s nuclear-armed countries, including the US, China, Russia, the UK and India. Japan also didn’t support the pact.
The treaty, which was adopted in July 2017, was “negotiated outside the established UN disarmament negotiating forums”, Pakistan’s Foreign Office said in a statement.
“Accordingly, Pakistan does not consider itself bound by any of the obligations enshrined in this treaty. Pakistan stresses that this treaty neither forms a part of, nor contributes to the development of customary international law in any manner,” it said.
The statement noted that none of the nuclear armed states, including Pakistan, took part in the negotiations of the treaty which “failed to take on board the legitimate interests of all the stakeholders” and many non-nuclear armed states have also refrained from becoming parties to the agreement.
The foreign ministry underlined that the UN General Assembly at its first special session devoted to nuclear disarmament in 1978 had agreed by consensus that in the adoption of disarmament measures, the right of each state to security should be kept in mind.
It also agreed that at each stage of the disarmament process the objective would be undiminished security for all states at the lowest possible level of armaments and military forces, the ministry said.
This objective, it said, can only be achieved as a cooperative and universally agreed undertaking, through a consensus-based process involving all the relevant stakeholders, which results in equal and undiminished security for all states. PTI
By Steven Nelson
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed an extension of the US-Russia New START nuclear arms control treaty.
The move, confirmed by the Kremlin, was expected after legislation authorizing renewal unanimously passed the Russian parliament.
Putin signed the bill just days after speaking with President Biden about a range of contentious issues, including Russia’s alleged offering of bounties to the Taliban for killing US troops and alleged hacking of US government websites.
The treaty is the lone major arms control deal between the US and Russia. It limits each country to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed nuclear missiles and bombers.
The extension will last five years and does not require action by the US Congress.
Former President Donald Trump in 2018 announced he would withdraw the US from a different arms control treaty with Russia restricting the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe.
Trump repeatedly floated brokering a major nuclear arms reduction treaty between the US, Russia and China, but the deal never materialized.
The US and Russia own the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons. Much smaller arsenals are held by China, the UK, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.
Iranian parliament speaker says scientists produced 17kg of 20 percent enriched uranium in less than a month, moving the country’s nuclear programme closer to weapons-grade enrichment levels.
The interior of the Fordow Uranium Conversion Facility in Qom, Iran is shown [File: HO/Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/AFP]
Iran produced 17kg (37.5 pounds) of 20 percent enriched uranium in less than a month, state TV has reported, moving its nuclear programme closer to weapons-grade enrichment levels amid heightened tensions with the United States.
Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf made the announcement in a televised speech during a visit to the country’s Fordow nuclear facility on Thursday.
Uranium enriched to 20 percent is a short technical step away from weapons-grade 90 percent enrichment.
In his speech, Qalibaf thanked the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), which has not confirmed the information.
Western nations have criticised the enrichment activity and called on Tehran to adhere to a 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers.
Iran has said it would produce 120kg of 20 percent enriched uranium per year, or 10kg per month on average, so 17kg would exceed that timetable.
Roughly 250kg of 20 percent enriched uranium are needed to convert it into 25kg of the 90 percent enriched needed for a nuclear weapon.#
The development brings Iran closer to crossing the line between nuclear operations with a potential civilian use, such as enriching nuclear fuel for power-generating reactors, and nuclear-weapons work, something Tehran has long denied ever carrying out.
Former US President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
After the US then ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.
US President Joe Biden, who was vice president when the deal was signed during the Obama administration, has said he hopes to return the US to the deal.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the US would only rejoin the accord once Iran meets its own commitments under the deal.
September 3, 2020
Poster of Sadrist Movement Leader Muqtada al-Sadr is seen as Iraqi demonstrators gather at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq on 3 January 2020 [Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency]
January 28, 2021 at 11:47 am
Some “parties” in Iraq have been exerting “pressure” on Sunni provinces under the pretext of fighting terrorism for “electoral gains”, Shia Iraqi leader Muqtada Al-Sadr said.
“Some political parties may benefit from this during the election campaign,” Al-Sadr wrote on Twitter, warning that Sunni provinces have been the most affected by terrorism, “which means that terrorists will exploit this to carry out their terrorist acts in various regions of Iraq”.
Al-Sadr stressed on the need for the electoral competition to be based on legal, ethical, democratic and human grounds, away from violence and fighting, and selling the rest of Iraq’s lands to the occupier and those who have other goals.
“It is shameful that the political forces are fighting over the elections while all the provinces live under the weight of poverty, hunger, pandemic and fear,” he added.
In the past 20 years most countries with nuclear ambitions have been geopolitical minnows, like Libya and Syria. In the next decade the threat is likely to include economic and diplomatic heavyweights whose ambitions would be harder to restrain. China’s rapidly increasing regional dominance and North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal haunt South Korea and Japan, two of Asia’s largest powers. Iran’s belligerence and its nuclear programme loom over the likes of Saudi Arabia and Turkey (see article). Proliferation is not a chain reaction, but it is contagious. Once the restraints start to weaken they can fail rapidly.
BAGHDAD – The leader of the Sadrist movement in Iraq, Muqtada al-Sadr, offered on Wednesday to help with Qatar’s efforts to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran together for dialogue. The move immediately raised eyebrows, with many questioning whether the Shia cleric was exaggerating his ability to play a regional role to help resolve complex files and disputes between nations.
Observers of Iraqi affairs said that the initiative of Sadr, who has been accused of behaving in a volatile and at times contradictory way, came as yet another attempt to win Iran’s blessing and gain recognition as the leader of the Shia political family in Iraq, instead of the leaders and heads of parties and militias that Iran has relied on to maintain and extend its influence in the country since 2003.
Sadr, who also leads the Peace Brigades militia, is thus trying to invest in the failure of his main opponents and rivals to lead the Iraqi state, especially after many of them have turned into a burden for Iran because of the Iraqi public’s hostility to them.
Sadr is also apparently trying to invest in Iran’s need to initiate a dialogue with Saudi Arabia by showing sympathy with Tehran towards that end, knowing that such a dialogue has no chance of success.
Sadr also knows that he cannot succeed in a task that other countries have already failed at. According to observers, the Shia cleric is aware that he will be unable to convince Saudi Arabia to reconsider its refusal to engage in dialogue with Iran, which has made repeated offers.
Saudi Arabia had previously insisted that Iran must concretely change its behaviour and policies in the region before dialogue could be considered.
However, Sadr’s proposal is linked to his preparations for Iraqi elections scheduled for October.
The Shia cleric has apparently set a very ambitious goal for his movement to participate in upcoming elections, with the hope that Sadrists will secure a majority of seats in parliament allowing them to control the formation of the next government.
In his attempt to win over the largest number of voters, including votes of the Sunni community, which often vote for candidates of their own sect, Sadr previously defended Iraqi Sunnis, which he acknowledged have suffered from the war on terror.
“There is an attempt by Qatar to open a dialogue between the two neighbours, Saudi Arabia and Iran,” said the director of Sadr’s media office, Haider al-Jabri, during a news conference in Najaf. “Sadr expressed his readiness to cooperate in this regard, given the positive impact such a dialogue could have on Iraq and its people.”
Qatar had previously urged for comprehensive dialogue in the region, a call welcomed by Iran. This came weeks after the 41st Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit was held in Saudi Arabia, during which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt reconciled with Qatar years after a boycott was imposed by the four countries on Doha.
Since the reconciliation’s success, Qatar has seemed to want to extend its benefits to Iran and Turkey, which cooperated with Doha during the period in which it was boycotted and isolated.
Observers believe that the Iranian-Saudi conflict has a negative impact on Iraq, which is inhabited by a sectarian mix of Sunnis and Shias and has become an arena of competition for regional influence between Riyadh and Tehran.
Iraq has had close ties with Iran since the overthrow of the former Iraqi regime in 2003 and Shia parties close to Tehran took over the reins of power in Baghdad.
This Iranian-Iraqi rapprochement has long drawn the frustration of Riyadh, which resumed diplomatic relations with Baghdad in December 2015 after a 25-year break following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The Sadrist movement, which has been working to strengthen its leadership across the state and sectarian limits, is now defending Iraqi Sunnis, who have been marginalised under Shia parties’ rule and were subjected to severe pressure due to both terrorism and the fight against it.
On Tuesday, Sadr said that “the Sunnis in Iraq are under pressure from some parties under the pretext of fighting terrorism.” He wrote on Twitter that “the goal of these parties is to take advantage of this situation in the upcoming early parliamentary elections,” adding that” the people of the Sunni provinces are the ones who were affected the most by terrorism.”
After first pledging not to participate in elections, Sadr reversed his decision in November. “If I live and life remains, I will follow events closely and accurately,” he wrote on Twitter. However, “if I find that the elections will result a Sadrist majority in the House of Representatives, and that they [members of his movement] will obtain the premiership, then I will be able, with your help, as we pledged together to complete the reform project from within.”
Sadr, who is a cleric, justified going back on his pledge not to participate in elections by saying: “The reason that led to my oath not to run in the elections will disappear and I will be dissolved from my oath,” implying that perjury is justifiable since the man “will save Iraq from corruption, subordination and deviation” if his movement secures significant election gains and manages to control the government.
He added, “Religion, doctrine, and the homeland are in danger, and all of you are a shepherd, and all of you are responsible for the flock.”
The Shia leader stressed the need to “compete on legal, ethical, democratic and human foundations away from violence,” considering that “it is shameful for political forces to clash for elections at a time when Iraqi provinces live under the line of poverty, hunger, epidemic and fear.”
In recent years, some political parties and citizens have accused armed Shia factions of committing violations against Sunnis during the war against ISIS, which invaded the country in 2014 and occupied large parts of its land, most of which were in Sunni areas in northern and western Iraq.
Just as the residents of those areas suffered from the extremist organisation’s bloody violence, they also suffered the ravages of the war against ISIS, which left massive damage to the infrastructure and private and public property, and led to the deaths and injuries of thousands and the displacement of people to areas not affected by the war.
The militia’s alleged violations against the Sunni population, which international human rights organisations have also reported, ranged from field executions to torture and enforced disappearances.