Sunday, January 30, 2011

LiDar, faults, and earthquake studies

I recently came across another regional earthquake-related blog that was new to me. Groundswell was created to increase awareness and spread information about seismicity, earthquake research and mitigation efforts in the southwestern US.

Groundswell had a post about LiDar and fault studies. LiDar - light detection and ranging - is a very precise way of obtaining digital elevation models from aircraft using laser beams reflected from the Earth's surface.

Groundswell linked to a video from the website OpenTopgraphy, "A Portal to High-Resolution Topography Data and Tools," an NSF supported facility based at the University of California, San Diego.

Here is that video:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Earthquake Report web site

I came across an eartquake site named Earthquake Report.

It looks like a well designed website which contains information on recent and significant earthquakes.

It says about itself:
Earthquake Report has been created by Armand Vervaeck from Belgium (at right).

Earthquake Report has only 1 goal :  reporting about earthquakes the best possible way.

Earthquake Report tries to bridge the gap in between science and basic understanding.

News in this site will not only appear very quickly, but we always try to bring Added Value news you won't find anywhere else.

Those looking only for scientific facts should use the USGS, EMSC and other governmental organizations.

Earthquake Report focuses on the Impact of Earthquakes on people. We will search for unique news, even in the most remote places on Earth. Victims of an Earthquake in the jungle of Papua New Guinea merit the same attention as those people living in Port au Prince or Conception.
It seems to have educational and outreach goals consisten with those of this site, but with an explicitly global emphasis.

Go have a look, and bookmark it if you like it. Nice work, Armand,

Monday, January 17, 2011

PBS falls short on the Haiti earthquake anniversary

Two of my favorite PBS programs had shows about Haiti one year after the disastrous earthquake.

I found both of them to be wanting.

The Frontline program Battle for Haiti spent the whole hour discussing criminals and gang members who escaped from prison at the time of the quake, and have since come to rule and terrorize neighborhoods and tent villages. I don't doubt that this is a serious problem, but I had a hard time believing that this was the only issue that should be focused on in discussing the country's recovery efforts. It seemed a somewhat Willy Horton-ish portrayal of an entire country. But you can stream the program using the link above, and judge for yourself.

The Nova program  - Deadliest Earthquakes - was about the science of large quakes, such as those that occurred in Haiti and Chile during 2010. This is basically a re-hash of the type of the type of earthquake program Nova does about once a decade, reporting on a recent disastrous earthquake that heroic scientists (working "around the clock" to stave off future disasters), and the hope for a way to predict future quakes.  After the usual skepticism about quake predictability (which is well justified by the history of that effort), a new possible magic bullet for prediction - the slow quake - is offered up.  I watched this film with the thought of showing it in my geophysics course this semester, and I probably will, but the visualizations of plate movements, fault motions, and seismic waves are awful and inscrutable.  The old fashioned cartoon style animations were great, but now we have nondescript and indecipherable wire mesh visuals which hardly show anything, in my opinion. But again, you can stream the show and judge for yourself.

If you'd like to see a fascinating PBS program that deals with the intersection of science, ambition, and public policy, look for Dinosaur Wars, the American Experience show about the epic slugfest between dinsoaur hunters OC Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope during the latter half of the 19th century.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Earthquakes in review for 2010 - USGS

From a press release by the U.S. Geological Survey:

While the U.S. Geological Survey recorded 22 magnitude-7 or larger earthquakes in 2010, almost all the fatalities were produced by one — the major quake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12.

In 2010, about 227,000 people were killed due to earthquakes, with over 222,570 from the magnitude-7.0 Haiti event, as reported by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

According to official estimates, the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti injured 300,000 people, displaced 1.3 million, and left 97,294 houses destroyed and 188,383 damaged in Port-au-Prince and much of southern Haiti.  In Haiti, this high-intensity shaking together with both buildings vulnerable to earthquakes and high population exposure resulted in catastrophe.

A magnitude-8.8 earthquake that hit offshore Bio-Bio, Chile, on Feb. 27 was the largest recorded in 2010. It killed at least 577 people, with about half of those deaths caused by an earthquake-generated tsunami. While the energy released by this earthquake was more than 500 times that of the one that struck Haiti, the fatalities were far fewer due to strict building codes in Chile and lower maximum shaking intensities.

As usual, the biggest earthquake in the United States in 2010 was in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. This year it was a magnitude-6.6 event on July 18 in the Fox Islands, and it caused no damage or casualties. The biggest 2010 earthquake in the contiguous United States was a magnitude 6.5 that shook Northern California on Jan. 10. About 30 people were injured and moderate damage occurred to hundreds of homes and buildings in the Eureka-Ferndale area. The event was felt as far away as Portland, Ore. A series of minor earthquakes peppered Oklahoma throughout the year, including a magnitude 4.4 on Oct. 13 that injured two people in Norman.

An unusual earthquake occurred near the edge of the Continental Shelf about 125 km south-southeast of Westhampton, Long Island, New York, on Nov. 30. Because it was offshore, the magnitude-3.9 tremor caused no damage, but it was felt throughout Long Island, in large parts of Connecticut and New Jersey, and as far away as Maine and West Virginia.

A magnitude-2.1 earthquake in New Jersey on Christmas Day and a magnitude-3.4 in Washington, DC, on July 16 round out the more unique seismic events recorded. The latter shook the windows in the White House, and the USGS received over 21,724 reports on the Did You Feel It? website.

A complete list of 2010 earthquake statistics can be found on the Earthquake Information for 2010 website.

From USGS:
 I think I see plate tectonics!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Haiti, one year later

Along with other major media outlets, National Public Radio has a story on Haiti, one year after its disastrous earthquake.  You may read or listen to the story.

The New York Times offers a series of images before and after the earthquake.

Despite much aid. there is often a mismatch between what is offered and what is needed, and insufficient coordination between different agencies.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Seismologist Jack Oliver

Jack Oliver, co-author of one of the seminal papers about plate tectonics and seismology, has passed away.

From the LDEO website, where you can read the full obituary:
Dr. John Ertle “Jack” Oliver, a geophysicist with roots at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory whose research helped revolutionize our understanding of the basic forces shaping the planet, died peacefully at his home in Ithaca, N.Y., on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011. He was 87.
He was a former chair of the Department of Geology at Columbia University and head of the seismology program at Lamont from 1955-71.
Together with fellow Lamonters Bryan Isacks and Lynn Sykes, he wrote a paper in 1968, “Seismology and the new Global Tectonics,” which made a compelling geophysical case for the then-novel theory of plate tectonics, a theory that now forms the basis for all our current understanding of how the Earth works.
“It was literally the bible for understanding seismology,” said Larry D. Brown, a former student of Oliver’s who is now chairman of Cornell’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “It was one of the top five seminal papers on plate tectonics.”
“Jack Oliver, along with Bryan Isacks, Lynn Sykes, and others in the Lamont seismology group, showed how the properties of earthquakes were a near-perfect fit to the emerging theory of plate tectonics,” said Arthur L. Lerner-Lam, associate director of the seismology division at Lamont. “Their work was key in convincing scientists of the explanatory power of the ‘new global tectonics,’ and opened up new areas of research that even today remain fundamental.”
A pdf file of the Isacks, Oliver and Sykes paper can be downloaded here. I still use it in my teaching of geophysics because of the clear and illustrative examples.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Insurance Company Munich Re - Natural Catastrophes in 2010

Insurance companies oviously care about natural catastrophes and the resulting damages.  I walked by Munich Re most days on my way to the office when I had my Spring semester sabbatical last year.  The Walking Man sculpture stands out front of Munich Re - see my photo below.  

Munich Re has issued a press release on natural catastrophes of 2010.  Read the full press release at the Munich Re webpage.
Several major catastrophes in 2010 resulted in substantial losses and an exceptionally high number of fatalities. The overall picture last year was dominated by an accumulation of severe earthquakes to an extent seldom experienced in recent decades. The high number of weather-related natural catastrophes and record temperatures both globally and in different regions of the world provide further indications of advancing climate change. 

Altogether, a total of 950 natural catastrophes were recorded last year, nine-tenths of which were weather-related events like storms and floods. This total makes 2010 the year with the second-highest number of natural catastrophes since 1980, markedly exceeding the annual average for the last ten years (785 events per year). The overall losses amounted to around US$ 130bn, of which approximately US$ 37bn was insured. This puts 2010 among the six most loss-intensive years for the insurance industry since 1980. The level of overall losses was slightly above the high average of the past ten years.

"2010 showed the major risks we have to cope with. There were a number of severe earthquakes. The hurricane season was also eventful – it was just fortunate that the tracks of most of the storms remained over the open sea. But things could have turned out very differently", said Torsten Jeworrek, Munich Re's Reinsurance CEO. "The severe earthquakes and the hurricane season with so many storms demonstrate once again that there must be no slackening of our efforts to analyse these risks in detail and provide the necessary insurance covers at adequate prices. These prices calculated by the insurance industry make it possible to assess the economic consequences of these otherwise difficult-to-evaluate risks."

Major catastrophes dominate the list of losses

In all, there were five catastrophes last year assignable to the top category of "great natural catastrophes" based on the definition criteria of the United Nations: the earthquakes in Haiti (12 January), Chile (27 February) and central China (13 April), the heatwave in Russia (July to September), and the floods in Pakistan (also July to September). These accounted for the major share of fatalities in 2010 (around 295,000) and just under half the overall losses caused by natural catastrophes.

One of the most devastating earthquakes in the history of the past 100 years, the quake in Haiti on 12 January killed more than 220,000 people. Only the 1976 Tangshan earthquake in China claimed more lives (242,000). Whilst the earthquake in Haiti resulted in human tragedy on a staggering scale, it gave rise to only negligible losses for the insurance industry, as is so often the case in developing countries.

Five-hundred times more energy than in the Haiti quake was released by the earthquake that hit Chile just over a month later. With overall losses of US$ 30bn and insured losses of US$ 8bn, this quake was last year's most expensive natural catastrophe. Chile is a highly developed country with very strict building codes to take account of the high earthquake exposure. As a result, there were comparatively few human casualties, despite the severity of the quake – the fifth-strongest ever measured – although people were killed in Chile, too.

Asia and America most frequently affected by catastrophes

Natural catastrophes in Australia/Oceania gave rise to around 16% of global losses. The costliest event was the earthquake which occurred on 4 September in Christchurch, the third-largest city in New Zealand. Overall and insured losses were in the billions here as well. In Australia, there were two severe hailstorm losses, each of which caused overall losses of well over US$ 1bn in March.

Monday, January 3, 2011

National Earthquakes Hazard Reduction Program

The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) is a multiagency program established by Congress “to reduce the risks of life and property from future earthquakes in the United States.” The four federal agencies participating in NEHRP are the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF),
and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). NIST serves as the lead agency for NEHRP.

NEHRP was initially authorized by Congress in 1978 and has been subsequently reauthorized at 2- to 5-year intervals. The latest reauthorization of NEHRP (Public Law 108–360) authorized funding through fiscal year (FY) 2009. This legislation also required that the NEHRP Interagency Coordinating Committee (ICC), which directs the program, submit an annual report on NEHRP budgets and activities. The ICC submits this annual report in accordance with Section 103(1) of Public Law 108–360.

Many related links, including the latest annual report, can be found on the web page linked to above.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Seismological Society of America meeting, 2011

SSA 2011
April 13-15, 2011
Memphis, Tennessee

SSA’s 2011 Annual Meeting will provide a stimulating exchange of research on a wide range of topics with colleagues from all over the world. Oral presentations, poster sessions, exhibits, field trips, business meetings and social gatherings all provide participants the opportunity to meet and share with their peers. The meeting will also commemorate the bicentennial of the the great 1811 and 1812 New Madrid earthquakes that forever changed the mid-western US landscape. In 2011 and 2012, there will be events held throughout the central United States observing the anniversary. For information on other bicentennial events please visit the New Madrid Bicentennial website.

Upcoming dates
Abstract Submission Deadline 11 January 2011
Program w/ Abstracts Online 25 February 2011
Meeting Pre-Registration Deadline 11 March 2011
Hotel Reservation Cut-Off 20 March 2011
Online Registration Cut-Off 1 April 2011