Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New book on Midwestern earthquake hazard

Disaster Deferred: How New Science Is Changing our View of Earthquake Hazards in the Midwest
Seth Stein
Columbia University Press

October, 2010
Cloth, 296 pages, 55 halftones, 38 line drawings, 2 tables
ISBN: 978-0-231-15138-2
$27.95 / £19.95
Although the government claims that parts of the Midwest face earthquake danger equal to or greater than California's, new science over the past 20 years shows that these claims are exaggerated. The series of earthquakes that struck Missouri 200 years ago were much smaller than the public has been led to believe.  There are no signs that similar large earthquakes are likely to happen in the next few hundred years. The billions of dollars needed to bring buildings in parts of the Midwest like Memphis and St. Louis up to California's earthquake resistant standards are a waste of taxpayer money and divert dollars from far worthier causes.

In the winter of 1811-12, a series of large earthquakes in the New Madrid seismic zone-often incorrectly described as the biggest ever to hit the United States-shook the Midwest. Today the federal government ranks the hazard in the Midwest as high as California's and is pressuring communities to undertake expensive preparations for disaster.

Coinciding with the two-hundredth anniversary of the New Madrid earthquakes, Disaster Deferred revisits these earthquakes, the legends that have grown around them, and the predictions of doom that have followed in their wake. Seth Stein clearly explains the techniques seismologists use to study Midwestern quakes and estimate their danger. Detailing how limited scientific knowledge, bureaucratic instincts, and the media's love of a good story have exaggerated these hazards, Stein calmly debunks the hype surrounding such predictions and encourages the formulation of more sensible, less costly policy. Powered by insider knowledge and an engaging style, Disaster Deferred shows how new geological ideas and data, including those from the Global Positioning System, are painting a very different-and much less frightening-picture of the future.

Seth Stein is Deering Professor of Geological Sciences at Northwestern.

To read an interview with the author or to find out more about this work go to:

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