Disaster in Haiti

i-d3117d58103843f9a9903e10af3e49f5-haitibuzz.jpgA 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti yesterday, and while the devastation is readily apparent, the human toll is not yet known. Chris Rowan details the tectonics on the event on Highly Allochtonous, explaining that the epicenter’s proximity to Port-au-Prince means the capital “endured the maximum possible shaking intensity from an earthquake of this size.” Rowan goes on to conclude the diminutive Caribbean plate experienced a strike-slip fault along its northern edge with the much larger North American plate, a rupture which was not “particularly unusual” in the “tectonic context,” but which in the economic context of the western hemisphere’s poorest nation makes for nothing short of a catastrophe. Jonah Lehrer on The Frontal Cortex fears the impending casualty count, writing that when humans are faced with such large numbers, “the emotional event becomes an abstraction, which fails to trigger the proper moral reaction.” Eric Klemetti on Eruptions reports that the US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a local Tsunami Watch last night, and PZ Myers and Greg Laden offer links for us to stay on top of the story and make donations to aid agencies providing help in the wake of this disaster.

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… And a Helmholtz Coil in a Pear Tree

i-568cf52d6368878da906f24198670c90-12dbuzz.jpgOn the first day of Christmas, one might gift his or her true love with a certain bird in a certain fruit tree…unless one’s true love is geology. On Highly Allocthonous, Chris Rowan runs down a seasonal list of twelve geologic features, forms, and phenomena that interest him more than drummers drumming or lords a-leaping, concluding on the traditional twelfth day of Christmas—January 5—with folds a-plunging. From reversing streams and melting glaciers to the flipping of Earth’s magnetic poles, Chris probes our planet from pole to pole, serving up a rich holiday feast of geologic goodness in tasty individual morsels. Lucky for Chris, the magnanimous ScienceBlogs staff has decided to fulfill one of his wishes this year—just as soon as we figure out how to wrap those nine fractionating isotopes.

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Step On a Crack…

i-449865279b8a04c7fecc67d805ef626f-crackbuzz.jpgWhen it comes to geologic phenomena, the difference between renewal and cataclysm can walk a fine line. On All of My Faults Are Stress Related, Kim Hannula elucidates the distinction between causes and triggers. Citing an article about the Zipingpu Dam that concludes that the weight of the reservoir might have triggered an earthquake, Hannula notes that “the ultimate cause of the earthquake was the collision of India with Asia, and the resultant tectonic mess.” Elsewhere, Erik Klemetti on Eruptions dresses down Popular Science alarmism, concluding that the chance of exploratory drilling causing a “game-ending eruption” in the Campei Flegrei is minimal. In another post, Klemetti reports that the Mayon volcano in the Philippines may be “headed towards a significant eruption,” with evacuation of nearby villages already underway.

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As the World Turns

i-bdbfc492085b16d978cc532eb7a976b6-volcano-30g.jpgAs the Earth’s tectonic plates shift and grind miles below our feet, we feel the effects on the surface in the form of earthquakes and volcanic activity. As Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science and Chris Rowan of Highly Allochthonous explain, earthquakes far from tectonic plate boundaries may be aftershocks of more violent seismic events along mid-continental faults that occurred hundreds of years earlier. According to a study published in Nature this week, faults in the middle of a continent take much longer—100 years or more—to return to normal activity; thus, aftershocks can occur long after what would be expected from coastal quakes. In other earthquake news, Chris Rowan also reports on Iran’s decision to move their capital city to a less earthquake-prone location than Tehran. And on Eruptions, Erik Klemetti gets to the bottom of a recent Slashdot post proclaiming that recent volcanic activity in Ethiopia is causing the African continent to rift apart, forming a new ocean. In fact, explains Erik, the recent eruptions are part of a known process. “This is nothing new,” says Erik. “We’ve known that Africa is splitting apart for decades.”

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