Stories tagged natural disaster

Earthquake damage
Earthquake damageCourtesy USGS/Earthquake Science Center
A court in Italy has sentenced six scientists and an ex-government official to six years in prison for failing to properly warn the public about a devastating earthquake that killed 309 residents of the town of L'Aquila in 2009. The seven defendants were convicted of manslaughter and also ordered to pay for damages and court costs.

I think the court itself has failed to predict just how idiotic this irrational prosecution looks to the world scientific community. Let's hope an appeals court will be reasonable enough to override this terrible injustice.

BBC story
Scientific American on "Bizarre trial".

This video was making the viral rounds over the weekend. I think it gives a better understanding about the energy waiting to be tapped from the wind. What do you think?


I visited to Fort Collins to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the CSU Department of Atmospheric Sciences. A great celebration and an opportunity to see colleagues I haven't seen in many years.

On Saturday I drove through a section of the Cache La Poudre River to see some of the burnt scares from the High Park fire. The fire started on June 9 by a lightning strike and burned across 87,284 acres by early July, taking 259 homes. One person has died in the fire. It is the second-largest fire in Colorado's history and has cost about $30 million to fightHigh Park Fire impact on the Cache La Poudre River: A view of the Cache La Poudre River on July 14, 2012
High Park Fire impact on the Cache La Poudre River: A view of the Cache La Poudre River on July 14, 2012Courtesy Steve Ackerman

A recent rain washed the ash into the river, which now runs gun-powder black, as you can see in the photo. This is black color is consistent with the name Cache La Poudre. I have to wonder how this sediment will impact the fish in the water. This is an excellent river for trout.

Notice the burnt trees along the ridge line in the photo. Also notice the dead pine trees in the photo; a result of the pine beetle. The mountain pine beetles inhabit ponderosa, lodgepole, Scotch and limber pine trees and play an important role in the life of a forest. The black beetle attacks old or weakened trees which helps development of a younger forest. However, unusual hot, dry summers and mild winters have led to an epidemic. It would seem logical that these beetle damaged trees would increase fire risks as dead trees are flammable and likely to catch fire. But this might not be the case, indeed the dead trees may inhibit the spread of fires. The Yellowstone wildfire of 1988 provided forest ecologists with a method. Large crown fires can swept quickly through the forest spreading from tree tops. In the 1988 fire there were many trees killed and their needles burned off, but the standing dead tree trunks remained. New wildfires tend to slow and sometimes burn out when they reach standing dead forest. An interesting research topic!

Mount St. Helens erupts in 1980

by Anonymous on May. 18th, 2012

Mount St. Helens erupting
Mount St. Helens eruptingCourtesy USGS
Preceded by a magnitude 5.1 earthquake, Washington state's Mount St. Helens explodes with a major eruption in 1980 that flattens the surrounding forest, blankets the immediate area with mud and avalanche debris, and unleashes more than 500 million tons of ash into the air that reaches as far as Oklahoma (although traces of the ash encircle the globe). Fifty-seven people lose their lives from the eruption.

USGS page

Ohio Earthquakes: evidence links recent tremors to fracking.
Ohio Earthquakes: evidence links recent tremors to fracking.Courtesy USGS Earthquake Hazards Program
The dumping of waste-water used in the process known as fracking is suspected of causing recent earthquakes in Ohio. Two minor tremors (magnitude (2.7 and 4.2) were felt over the holidays in the Youngstown area which is about 50 miles east of Akron. Hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) is the process of extracting natural gas from rock deposits by fracturing the rock with high-pressure liquid injections. Waste water from the fracking process gets disposed underground into deep wells. The discarded water seeps into strike-slip faults several kilometers beneath the surface where it builds up pressure and also acts as a lubricant. allowing the rock on both sides of the fault to move more easily past each other, resulting in an earthquake. Smaller quakes had been detected in the area during the past year so Ohio's DNR requested Columbia University's Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) to set up portable seismographs in the area. Four of the sensitive instruments were installed on Novermber 30 within a half-mile of the injection site. The seismograph recordings showed that the two holiday quakes were centered within 100 meters of each other, implicating the disposal process as the catalyst. While scientists make further study of the problem, fracking has been discontinued at the injection site.

Scientific American story
New Scientist story

Are you prepared for a major earthquake? Do you know how to protect yourself when they happen? The purpose of the ShakeOut website is to help people and organizations do both. Several earthquake scenarios for individuals, schools, governments, and organizations are provided on the website. The ShakeOut dtill began in 2008 with the Great Southern California ShakeOut. Last year, the California ShakeOut had 7.9 million participants.

2011 was the first year of The Great Central U.S. ShakeOut. It was the largest earthquake drill to ever take place in the Central U.S. with more than 3 million registered participants. 2011 was also the first year of the British Columbia ShakeOut, the largest earthquake drill to ever take place in Canada, with 470,000 participants.

The next Central United States ShakeOut will likely be held on February 7th, 2012, with the first Japanese ShakeOut, centered in Tokyo, planned for the following month on March 11, 2012, the anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

New Madrid earthquakes anniversary

by Anonymous on Dec. 16th, 2011

New Madrid earthquakes: Earthquake fissure filled with intruded sand in Mississippi County, Missouri, formed at the time of the New Madrid earthquake. 1904 photograph by M. L. Fuller.
New Madrid earthquakes: Earthquake fissure filled with intruded sand in Mississippi County, Missouri, formed at the time of the New Madrid earthquake. 1904 photograph by M. L. Fuller.Courtesy US Geological Survey Photographic Library
Today marks the bicentennial of the start of the historic New Madrid earthquake series, which began at 2am on December 16, in 1811. The quakes were so powerful, large areas of land uplifted and sank creating new lakes and swamps, and causing islands to disappear. Large waves spawned by the tremors raked across the banks of the Mississippi causing massive landslides, and even briefly changing the course of the mighty river.

Named after the nearby river village of New Madrid in the then Louisiana Territory (now Missouri), the quake and its many aftershocks affected an area 10 times larger than the famous 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Luckily, the New Madrid area was sparsely populated when the line of strong earthquakes took place, as they were the strongest recorded earthquakes ever to take place east of the Rocky Mountains.

Earthquakes of such magnitude as those that struck New Madrid (~ 7.0) typically occur along plate boundaries - areas where one tectonic plate is colliding with another, such as along the West Coast's San Andreas Fault. The mid-section of the country sets on only one plate - the normally stable North American plate. Faults do run through it, such as the Cottonwood Grove and the Reelfoot faults which some scientists hypotheisze were responsible for the New Madrid series.

But researchers don't agree on what caused the strong intraplate earthquakes. They could have been triggered by other distant earthquakes or by the release of energy built up by the heating of the crust from an upper mantle magma plume or from isostatic rebound - that is the release of stresses caused by the retreat of glaciers that once covered the region.

Whatever the cause and despite new data being gathered by present day geologists, the New Madrid earthquakes were an historic anomaly that remain wrapped in mystery.

Earth magazine story
More about the New Madrid earthquakes

Lots of stories on line about last night's earthquake in Mexico that killed three people. The quote below is from a story in the Huffington Post:

The U.S. Geological Service initially estimated the quake at magnitude at 6.8, but downgraded it to 6.7 and then 6.5. A quake of that magnitude is capable of causing severe damage, although the depth of this temblor lessened its impact.

The USGS said the quake occurred at a depth of 40.3 miles (64.9 kilometers). It was centered about 26 miles (42 kilometers) southwest of Iguala in Guerrero and 103 miles (166 kilometers) south-southwest of Mexico City.

Ozone is a triatomic molecule consisting of three oxygen atoms. Earlier this week, the scientific journal Applied Physics Letters published the article, Ozone generation by rock fracture: Earthquake early warning?, written by Raúl A. Baragiola, Catherine A. Dukes, and Dawn Hedges of the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science. If future research does confirm a correlation, an array of ozone detectors could be used to give early warning to earthquakes, as well as averting disasters in tunnel excavation, landslides, and underground mining operations.

University of Virginia Press Release: Study: Ozone From Rock Fracture Could Serve As Earthquake Early Warning


Thailand Flooding from Space
Thailand Flooding from SpaceCourtesy NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
From the NASA Image of the Day on October 28:

Since July 2011, heavy monsoon rains in southeast Asia have resulted in catastrophic flooding. In Thailand, about one third of all provinces are affected. On Oct. 23, 2011, when this image from ASTER, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft was acquired, flood waters were approaching the capital city of Bangkok as the Ayutthaya River overflowed its banks. In this image, vegetation is displayed in red, and flooded areas are black and dark blue. Brighter blue shows sediment-laden water, and gray areas are houses, buildings and roads. The image covers an area of 35.2 by 66.3 miles (56.7 by 106.9 kilometers) and is located at 14.5 degrees north latitude, 100.5 degrees east longitude.

With its 14 spectral bands from the visible to the thermal infrared wavelength region and its high spatial resolution of 15 to 90 meters (about 50 to 300 feet), ASTER images Earth to map and monitor the changing surface of our planet. ASTER is one of five Earth-observing instruments launched Dec. 18, 1999, on Terra. The instrument was built by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A joint U.S./Japan science team is responsible for validation and calibration of the instrument and data products. The broad spectral coverage and high spectral resolution of ASTER provides scientists in numerous disciplines with critical information for surface mapping and monitoring of dynamic conditions and temporal change.