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.
• Satellite images show at least 16 of the launch facilities being constructed in a PLA training area in Inner Mongolia, according to US think tank report
• It says they are designed to accommodate the country’s most powerful ICBMs, as it seeks to boost nuclear deterrence
Topic | China’s military weapons
Published: 9:00pm, 16 Mar, 2021
China is building more underground silos from where its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles could be launched, according to reports. They are reportedly being built in the north of the country and are designed to accommodate the DF-41 and DF-31AG missiles that have a range of 10,000km to 14,000km (6,200 to 8,700 miles) – meaning they could reach US territory. The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force has begun constructing at least 16 silos in a missile training area west of Wuhai in Inner Mongolia, Washington-based think tank the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) said in a report in late February, citing satellite images. It said that as military rivalry with the US intensified, China was moving to expand its nuclear deterrence strategy and the missile silos were part of that.
China’s DF-41 missiles can carry multiple nuclear warheads and can be fired from a silo-based platform or a road- or rail-based mobile launcher. The new underground silos are located in the centre of the Jilantai training base, within a total area of 200 sq km, and are spaced between 2.2km and 4.4km apart so that no two of them can be destroyed in a single nuclear attack, according to the report.
Beijing’s official policy is that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict, but it also stresses the need for nuclear deterrence and the ability to respond to a nuclear attack. The US Department of Defence said in its 2019 annual report on Chinese military power that it assumed China was considering additional DF-41 launch options including rail-mobile and silos. In 2020, its report said the Jilantai training base was “probably being used to at least develop a concept of operations for silo-basing” the DF-41 missiles.
But the FAS report said even if China doubled or tripled the number of ballistic missile silos, it would still lag far behind the US and Russia in terms of nuclear strike capability. The US has 450 silos, 400 of them loaded with missiles, while Russia has about 130 active silos, compared to 18 to 20 active silos in China, according to the FAS.
It also said satellite images of the Chinese training base showed that two drive-through tunnels had been built, with enough space to accommodate mobile missile launchers – meaning they could be kept hidden.
Macau-based military analyst Antony Wong Tong said the new silos suggested China was stepping up the “quantity and quality” of its ground-based missile deployment. “Using silos is the most reliable counterstrike method, but these facilities are also key bombing targets for rivals because they’re easier to spot using satellites,” Wong said. “These ground-based facilities need to be supported by mobile launchers.”
Launching missiles from silos is the most reliable and precise way to hit a target, and the new facilities were built for the rocket force’s new DF-41 brigade under the Western Theatre Command, according to an article posted on Monday to Weapon Station, a military analysis account on social network WeChat.
The Kremlin has said the UK’s decision to increase its nuclear arsenal represents a serious blow to arms control. Moscow also said it would take Britain’s move into account when working on its own military planning.
Russia on Wednesday said it regretted the UK’s decision to significantly bolster its stockpile of nuclear weapons by the end of the decade.
Britain says it plans to increase its arsenal from 180 to 260 nuclear warheads, reversing a previous commitment to reduce its stockpile.
What was the Russian response?
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the UK’s move, at odds with a recent agreement between Moscow and Washington, was regrettable.
“We are very sorry that the UK has chosen this path of increasing nuclear warheads. This decision harms international stability and strategic security,” Peskov told reporters.
“The presence of nuclear warheads is what threatens peace throughout the world,” he added.
The spokesman complained that the UK had cited “an ephemeral threat” from Russia without “an explanation”.
“This is not true,” he added. “No threat comes from Russia.”
Russia said it would take the UK move into account when it came to future military planning
What prompted the UK’s decision?
The British policy document, outlining a recalibration of foreign policy, identified Russia as the “most acute direct threat to the UK,” posing “the full spectrum” of dangers.
The review calls for Britain to increase its cap by the middle of the decade to counter threats from Russia and China.
While it identified China as a threat, the document’s language on the threat posed by Beijing was markedly less explicit than it was about Moscow.
The move potentially puts the UK at odds with the US and NATO allies after the signing of a new START treaty in January. Russia and the United States in January agreed to extend the key pact, which is the last remaining arms reduction agreement between the Cold War rivals.
Britain also said it planned to replace its current type of nuclear warhead with one that will be able to be used during the lifespan of four new nuclear submarines that are due to enter service in the early 2030s.
Moscow and London have seen their relations greatly deteriorate over the Novichok poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Russia’s relations with NATO members more generally are at their worst since the Cold War, amid allegations that Moscow is behind election interference and cyberattacks on Western targets.
rc/rt (Reuters, AFP)
Updated 19 February 2021 Reuters February 19, 2021 17:59
VIENNA/PARIS: The UN nuclear watchdog found uranium particles at two Iranian sites it inspected after months of stonewalling, diplomats say, and it is preparing to rebuke Tehran for failing to explain, possibly complicating US efforts to revive nuclear diplomacy.
The find and Iran’s response risk hurting efforts by the new US administration to restore Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which President Joe Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump abandoned.
Although the sites where the material was found are believed to have been inactive for nearly two decades, opponents of the nuclear deal, such as Israel, say evidence of undeclared nuclear activities shows that Iran has not been acting in good faith.
Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharibabadi, declined to comment, as did the IAEA itself.
A senior Iranian official said: “We have nothing to hide. That is why we allowed the inspectors to visit those sites.”
Iran has set a deadline of next week for Biden to lift sanctions reimposed by Trump, or it will halt snap IAEA inspections under the deal, which lifted sanctions in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. Next week is also when the IAEA is expected to issue a quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities.
Seven diplomats told Reuters the agency will use that opportunity to rebuke Iran for failing to explain to its satisfaction how the uranium particles wound up at two undeclared sites. The rebuke could come either in the quarterly report or in an additional report released the same day.
US intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons program that it halted in 2003, which Iran denies. The 2015 nuclear deal effectively drew a line under that past, but Iran is still required to explain evidence of undeclared past activities or material to the IAEA.
The material was found during snap IAEA inspections that were carried out at the two sites in August and September of last year, after Iran barred access for seven months.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that radioactive material was found in the samples taken by inspectors at the two sites, although the newspaper did not specify what the material was.
Four diplomats who follow the agency’s work closely told Reuters the material found in those samples was uranium.
Identifying the material as uranium creates a burden on Iran to explain it, as enriched uranium can be used in the core of a nuclear weapon. Iran is obliged to account for all uranium so the IAEA can verify it is not diverting any to a weapons program.
Two of the sources said the uranium found last year was not enriched. But nevertheless, its presence suggests undisclosed nuclear material or activities at the sites, which Iran would have had to declare.
The IAEA’s full findings are a closely guarded secret within the agency and only a small number of countries have been informed of the specifics.
Five diplomats said that after the IAEA confronted Iran with the findings it gave unsatisfactory answers. Two of them said Iran told the agency the traces were the result of contamination by radioactive equipment moved there from another site, but the IAEA checked and the particles at the sites did not match.
One diplomat briefed on the exchanges but not the detailed findings said Iran had given “implausible answers,” describing Iran’s response as “typical delaying tactics.”
The agency has said it suspects one of the sites hosted uranium conversion work, a step in processing the material before enrichment, and the other was used for explosive testing.
The seven diplomats said they expect the agency to call Iran out for having failed to explain the traces found at the two sites, as well as over its continued failure to explain material found previously at another site in Tehran, Turqazabad.
Diplomats said it remained unclear whether the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors, which meets the week after the quarterly report, would take action condemning Iran. Several said the focus was on efforts to salvage the 2015 deal by bringing Washington back into it.
“Everyone is waiting on the Americans,” one diplomat said.
Metro Tech Reporter
Monday 15 Mar 2021 7:52 am
Isreal’s new guided mortar system (Israel Ministry of Defense)
Israel says it has completed development of a new guided mortar system that gives its army a formidable new weapon against enemies embedded in crowded environments.
The Israeli defence ministry said the Iron Sting system, using both GPS and laser technology, would provide Israeli land forces with a new level of precision, while minimising the risk of harming nearby civilians.
Defence minister Benny Gantz said the system ‘changes the battlefield and provides our forces with more accurate and effective means’.
The Israeli military has found itself over recent years grappling with the challenge of battling Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, while also training for the possibility of war against Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court this month opened a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes by Israel during its 2014 war in the Gaza Strip, when hundreds of civilians were killed during fighting between Israel and Hamas militants.
Iron Sting uses laser and GPS technology for guidance (Israel Ministry of Defense)
Israel has blamed Hamas for the civilian casualties, citing the group’s attacks launched from residential neighbourhoods. But human rights groups have said the military did not take sufficient precautions to distinguish between militants and civilians.
Colonel Assaf Shatzkin, head of the land systems department in the ministry’s research division, said the new mortar system would help the army against enemies like Hamas and Hezbollah.
The mortar has a range of several miles (Israel Ministry of Defense)
He said it could strike short-range targets within several miles with precision of just a few yards.
‘With this precise mortar shell, it can be more focused on the enemy … without a collateral damage to those that are not relevant to the fighting,’ he said.
The system is expected to be activated in the coming months, he added.
London, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News – 16th Mar, 2021 ) :Britain is to announce an increase to its nuclear weapons stockpile as part of a wide-ranging review of security, defence and foreign policy, two newspapers said on Monday.
The Guardian and The Sun said in their online editions that the country would look to raise the number of warheads from 180 to 260 by the middle of the decade.
Both dailies said details were contained in a leak they had seen of the government’s long-awaited Integrated Review, due to be published on Tuesday.
The review is also said to state clearly that Russia under President Vladimir Putin poses an “active threat” but describes China as providing a more “systemic challenge”.
London has increasingly locked horns with both Moscow and Beijing in recent years, on issues ranging from espionage and cyber-attacks to human rights.
Britain’s Trident nuclear programme is a thorny political issue domestically, with repeated calls for it to be scrapped, given global moves towards disarmament after the end of the Cold War.
Opponents for its abolition include the main opposition Labour party and the Scottish National Party (SNP). Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet is based in the west of Scotland.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) called the reports “shocking” given the pressures of the global coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
“We don’t want any more nuclear weapons. In fact, we don’t want any,” it added.
The executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Beatrice Fihn, accused Britain of “pushing for a dangerous new nuclear arms race”.
She said it was “irresponsible, dangerous and violates international law”, adding: “This is toxic masculinity on display.
” – Strategic ’tilt’ – Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to set out the conclusions of the year-long review — entitled “Global Britain in a Competitive Age — to parliament on Tuesday.
His Downing Street office billed the 100-page report as the government’s “most comprehensive articulation of a foreign policy and national security approach” in decades.
It comes as London looks to reposition itself post-Brexit, rebranding itself “Global Britain” and eyeing new opportunities beyond the European Union.
Johnson’s office said the recommendations included a strategic “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific region, given its increasing importance in global geopolitics.
Britain has already applied for partner status at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while Johnson is due to make his first post-EU visit to India in April.
Other key areas the review will address include plans for the military to adopt cutting-edge technologies such as drones and artificial intelligence.
There will also be a new focus on space and cyber, as well as a revamp of Britain’s ability to respond to security threats with the creation of a White House-style situation room.
A new Counter-Terrorism Operations Centre is also proposed.
The review is said to be a response to a changing world in which Britain “cannot rely solely on an increasingly outdated international system”.
It will stress the continuing importance of alliances, including with NATO, but set out a new foreign policy of “increased international activism… to shape a more open international order in which democracies flourish”.
The sole purpose of the theorists and strategists at the advent of nuclear deterrence was to avoid a direct military engagement between Cold War rivals: United States (US) and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). They understood the consequences of a nuclear conflagration between the two superpowers and spent years devising strategies to avoid a direct military confrontation of any sort. While both US and USSR prepared themselves to counter each other’s nuclear initiative, efforts were made to challenge each other’s military capability through the proxies. The process continued until the Cold War ended with the breakup of USSR and then US had to look for an alternate adversary to justify Pentagon’s defense expenditures. Fortunately, US found its new battleground in the Middle East and then in Afghanistan in post 9/11 environment. The hard-fought military engagement with battle hardened Taliban is perhaps nearing an end after Doha Agreement of February 2020.
In South Asia, nuclear equation was meant to ensure that an-all out conventional war is avoided, but limited wars due to protracted conflicts may continue at the peripheries. The enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan has been changing the battlegrounds. From all-out conventional wars in the pre-nuclear era to the limited military engagements in Siachen, Kargil and Balakot under the nuclear overhang, to all spectrum hybrid war spanning over two decades, India has left no stone unturned to subjugate Pakistan with an active support of the US and its allies. However, Pakistan’s response to India’s hybrid war, as exposed recently by European Watchdog through ‘Indian Chronicles’ has been of great significance. The people of Pakistan remained steadfast behind its respective governments in general and armed forces, to ward off India’s efforts of creating chaos and disunity among the populace and the federating units. The people of Pakistan were subjected to brutal bombing attacks by suicide bombers who were trained, funded, and facilitated by India. At least 40-50 such attacks were inflicted each year on different locations: places of worship to the shopping malls, and children’s schools to in-person target killings of military, religious and sectarian leaders. The Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) of Pakistan bore the brunt of India’s physical attacks under the ambit of hybrid war because such attacks were supported by a well-planned media campaign against the abilities of Pakistan Armed Forces to protect itself, its installations, and its people.
India made use of all elements of hybrid war to weaken Pakistan from within to make it a pliant state so that it can resolve all its disputes including Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on its own terms
India made use of all elements of hybrid war to weaken Pakistan from within to make it a pliant state so that it can resolve all its disputes including Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on its own terms. While India used its regular military force for the cross-LoC (Line of Control) firings on the military and civilian targets, it used special forces for espionage and instigations of Baloch nationalists to raise alarms in western capitals. The same has been highlighted in the report of EU DisinfoLab that India spent 15 years spreading anti-Pakistan sentiments through some 750 fake media outlets all over the world. Concurrently, India used its diplomatic leverage effectively to hurt Pakistan’s economy and stature by implicating it in money laundering and terror financing. Information warfare and propaganda campaign were the other tools which were effectively deployed by India to create chaos internally and pressurize from outside to submit to its prescription of peace which were obviously not in Pakistan’s best interests. Unfortunately, India got enough local support for the purpose in the form of so-called Baloch separatists and nationalists who could be easily lured for petty personal gains.
Though Pakistan was able to sail through the most difficult period of its history when it faced terrorism, sectarianism, urban unrest, election engineering, and religious extremism simultaneously, its societal faultiness have been badly exposed. Therefore, there is a need to repair the damage caused by India’s hybrid war on our society through multiple counter-narratives.
One, political government and the military establishments together make a concerted effort to make people understand India’s philosophy, and modalities adopted in its execution of hybrid war on Pakistan.
Two, Pakistan must come up with a strong counter-narrative particularly for the western world that India has been instrumental in creating chaos and unrest in an effort to destabilize a nuclear weapon state, which has been a frontline state in global effort against counterterrorism (CT).
Three, Pakistan must not leave its nuclear capability to avoid an all-out conventional war against India but use it to ensure an all-spectrum national security.
Four, government must make an effort to bring all stakeholders on to one page when it comes to national security issues. Unfortunately, the same was not seen even in times of COVID crisis, or during a vote on Financial Action Task Force (FAFT). At least on these two issues entire nation should have been on the same page.
Dr Zia Ul Haque Shamsi is the author of the book ‘Nuclear Deterrence and Conflict Management Between India and Pakistan’ published by Peter Lang, New York.