Experts weigh in on recent earthquakes

Regions of the world where buildings are not designed to stand earthquakes tend to have more deaths and structural damages, such as those seen in the January earthquake in Haiti. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The earthquake scare began in January with a 7.0 magnitude in Haiti and then progressed in February to an 8.8 magnitude in Chile, and it all starts with a release of energy in the Earth’s crust that creates seismic waves.

Earthquake activity also extends to the U.S., specifically in California, Washington and Alaska, but Texas remains at low risk.

“Texas is at a relatively low risk of earthquakes. In contrast to California, it is not close to the boundary of a tectonic plate,” UH geology professor Kevin Burke said. “Strain accumulates relatively quickly at plate boundaries, and rocks on the boundaries break relatively frequently, generating earthquakes.”

The largest earthquake in Texas was near the city of Valentine in 1931 and reached a 5.8 magnitude. A schoolhouse, which consisted of one section of concrete blocks and another section of bricks, had to be rebuilt due to the damage. Property damage was reported from the city and surrounding areas, and landslides occurred as far away as Carlsbad, N.M.

According to the United States Geological Survey’s Web site, there are several reasons for the perception that the number of earthquakes, specifically destructive ones, is increasing.

“In the last 20 years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year,” Burke said. “This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications.”

Due to the increase in global communication, news regarding natural disasters such as an earthquake’s devastation travels faster.

“Just a few decades ago, if several hundred people were killed by an earthquake in Indonesia or eastern China, for example, the media in the rest of the world would not know about it until several days to weeks later, long after such an event would be deemed ‘newsworthy,’” Burke said. “So by the time this information was available, it would probably be relegated to the back pages of the newspaper, if at all. And the public Internet didn’t even exist. We are now getting this information almost immediately.”

He added that alternate forms of earthquakes could be created.

“Seismologists, people who study earthquakes, are mostly skeptical about the idea that a ‘recent’ concentration of ‘earthquake activity’ is anything more than part of normal statistical variation,” Burke said. “But some recent observations indicate that there may be processes that generate concentrations of earthquakes in relatively short intervals of time.”

More damages and deaths from earthquakes occur in other parts of the world because buildings are poorly designed and constructed for earthquake-hot-spot regions with high population densities.

Although earthquakes cannot be predicted, according to the USGS Web site, probabilities can be calculated for potential future earthquakes. Scientists estimate that over the next 30 years, the probability of a major earthquake occurring in the San Francisco Bay area is 67 percent and 60 percent in Southern California.

“Earthquakes are not predictable in a short time period. But the distribution of earthquakes on the earth is well known,” geophysics graduate professor Aibing Li said. “The areas that are prone to earthquakes should have a hazard-zoning map and building codes for different zones. The most effective way to prepare for an earthquake is to build strong buildings.”

The USGS focuses on long-term mitigation of earthquake hazards rather than short-term to help improve the strength and stability of structures.

Since earthquakes can happen in any weather at any time of the year, the American Red Cross has regulations for earthquake safety.

“Drop, cover and hold under a table or desk is the best recommendation,” according to the American Red Cross. “It is the simplest, reliable and easiest method to teach people, including children.”

According to the American Red Cross, victims of an earthquake should also try not to move or escape as it is happening. The longer distance that someone tries to move, the more likely they are to become injured by falling or flying debris, tripping, falling or getting cut by damaged floors, walls and items in the path of escape.

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  • There recirculated an article about how hiding under a desk for protection is a death warrant.
    That it is best to hide next to a desk or big object that will take the blow of falling objects and you are in the pocket of safety that is right next to the item. I wonder which is better to do?

  • In answer to JAYNE and the article – When the Oakland Earthquake happened several years ago, the bridge upper roadway collapsed onto the bottom. The rescue workers said that if at the start of the quake they had got out of their cars and laid in a fetal position next to the car almost all of those on the bridge would have been saved. He said that rolling out of bed or off a chair or where ever down to the side will save your life. Falling things overhead would not come down on you as if you got under a table or anything else for that matter as the table or what ever could crumble and crush you…I was in that earthquake and it was very scary….

  • Recent Earthquakes are being manufactured by the HAARP sending billions of microwaves bouncing off ionosphere back into Earth’s Fault lines after micros are accelerated to speed of light by the Earth’s natural magnetic field-this is not difficult to do, the penetration of micros can vibrate through hundreds of miles of solid rock with even low voltages, but aiming it like a weapon is Unknown Technology as yet or has that Been Solved to produce a weapon billions times more powerful that all the hydrogen bombs???

  • Just recently Scientists have discovered Climate change and a change in the Orbit of the Earth around the Sun (elongated) are linked,no explanation was given as to what would change this Orbit. Scientist don’t know what the Earths Core is made up of for sure,I am sure the pressure inside the Earth is also linked to what they have just found out. Extinction Events coincide with sudden Climate Change as well as evidence of catastrophic upheavals of the Earth.I write this as I am sure that an upheaval will happen around the World in the near future,the Article states that a 67% chance for San Francisco Bay in the next 30yrs, “wrong”, 100% in less than two years is more like it. If you believe God still speaks to us in dreams I will tell what was said: “The Pressure is Building”,and “The World Shook at 10-2011”.Make of this what you will, but for me to do nothing does not seem right.

  • In answer to Maxtruth, it seems rather unlikely that the government could aim microvaves with anywhere near the power it would take to set off a large earthquake. Also, microwaves are not particles, they are electromagnetic waves and travel at the speed of light by definition. While they could in theory resonate along a fault if it were reflective to microwaves, the truth is that most rock absorbs microwaves and therefore the most the government could do is heat the rock up by a small fraction of a degree, far less than a normal day would. Finally, an earthquake of magnitude 9.5, which is about the largest possible earthquake on Earth, would release approximately 175 gigatons of energy, or about five times the total nuclear stockpile of the world in 1970, not the billions you talk about. There are only a few places in the world such an earthquake could occur; namely Alaska, Chile, and Indonesia. Furthermore, an earthquake in one of these places would be a one-shot deal; once it happened, the energy in the fault would be used up and the government would have to wait a few centuries for the pressure to build up again. Finally, recent research has shown that earthquakes tend to occur when faults are lubricated by rainfall; a malevolent conspiracy would be much better off pumping water into the ground and waiting a few years for it to percolate through and cause the earthquake that they want to occur, for whatever reason.

  • Having a Government bombard some country with stuff to create an earthquake is an interesting concept. Problem is what is the point of Haiti and Chile they are no threat to anyone????

    The Earth goes in cycles its course around the Sun goes from circular to elliptical unfortunately the latter this time will take us the closest to the center of the galaxy which will have a terrible effect on the earth. Get ready for a lot more earthquake activity and volcanic action in the next couple of years.

  • If you are concerned that the Earth will move closer to the center of the galaxy, I have several things that should help you sleep easier… One, the Earth is about 25,000 light years away from the galactic center and takes 225 million years to go around the galactic center. This means that it will be a quarter of that time, or about 55 million years, before the sun gets close to the galactic center. Even if you were to live for that 55 million years, you still would be in no danger, because the sun would not be significantly closer to the center, only a couple million light years. The change would not be noticeable over a couple of years, but you might notice it over a period of as short as 1 or 2 million years. Earthquakes and volcanic activity also have nothing to do with where in the galaxy the Earth. The main effect of Earth’s galactic position is just the amount of extremely high-energy radiation we receive, and the nice thing about our planet is that it has an atmosphere to block that.

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