By Kiyoshi Kurokawa and Najmedin Meshkati
Ten years ago, on March 11, 2011, the biggest recorded earthquake in Japanese history hit the country's northeast coast. It was followed by a tsunami that traveled up to 6 miles inland, reaching heights of over 140 feet in some areas and sweeping entire towns away in seconds.
This disaster left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing. It also destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and released radioactive materials over a large area. The accident triggered widespread evacuations, large economic losses and the eventual shutdown of all nuclear power plants in Japan. A decade later, the nuclear industry has yet to fully address safety concerns that Fukushima exposed.
We are scholars specializing in engineering and medicine and public policy, and have advised our respective governments on nuclear power safety. Kiyoshi Kurokawa chaired an independent national commission, known as the NAIIC, created by the Diet of Japan to investigate the root causes of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Najmedin Meshkati served as a member and technical adviser to a committee appointed by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to identify lessons from this event for making U.S. nuclear plants safer and more secure.
Those reviews and many others concluded that Fukushima was a man-made accident, triggered by natural hazards, that could and should have been avoided. Experts widely agreed that the root causes were lax regulatory oversight in Japan and an ineffective safety culture at the utility that operated the plant.
These problems are far from unique to Japan. As long as commercial nuclear power plants operate anywhere in the world, we believe it is critical for all nations to learn from what happened at Fukushima and continue doubling down on nuclear safety.
Failing to Anticipate and Plan
The 2011 disaster delivered a devastating one-two punch to the Fukushima plant. First, the magnitude 9.0 earthquake knocked out off-site electric power. Next, the tsunami breached the plant's protective sea wall and swamped portions of the site.
Flooding disabled monitoring, control and cooling functions in multiple units of the six-reactor complex. Despite heroic efforts by plant workers, three reactors sustained severe damage to their radioactive cores and three reactor buildings were damaged by hydrogen explosions.
Off-site releases of radioactive materials contaminated land in Fukushima and several neighboring prefectures. Some 165,000 people left the area, and the Japanese government established an exclusion zone around the plant that extended over 311 square miles in its largest phase.
For the first time in the history of constitutional democratic Japan, the Japanese Parliament passed a law creating an independent national commission to investigate the root causes of this disaster. In its report, the commission concluded that Japan's Nuclear Safety Commission had never been independent from the industry, nor from the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, which promotes nuclear power.
For its part, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, had a history of disregard for safety. The company had recently released an error-prone assessment of tsunami hazards at Fukushima that significantly underestimated the risks.
Nuclear power generates about 10% of the world's electricity (TWh = terawatt-hours). About 50 new plants are under construction, but many operating plants are aging. World Nuclear Association / CC BY-ND
Events at the Onagawa Nuclear Power Station, located 39 miles from Fukushima, told a contrasting story. Onogawa, which was owned and operated by the Tohoku Electric Power Company, was closer to the earthquake's epicenter and was hit by an even larger tsunami. Its three operating reactors were the same type and vintage as those at Fukushima, and were under the same weak regulatory oversight.
But Onogawa shut down safely and was remarkably undamaged. In our view, this was because the Tohoku utility had a deep-seated, proactive safety culture. The company learned from earthquakes and tsunamis elsewhere – including a major disaster in Chile in 2010 – and continuously improved its countermeasures, while TEPCO overlooked and ignored these warnings.
Regulatory Capture and Safety Culture
When a regulated industry manages to cajole, control or manipulate agencies that oversee it, rendering them feckless and subservient, the result is known as regulatory capture. As the NAIIC report concluded, Fukushima was a textbook example. Japanese regulators "did not monitor or supervise nuclear safety….They avoided their direct responsibilities by letting operators apply regulations on a voluntary basis," the report observed.
Effective regulation is necessary for nuclear safety. Utilities also need to create internal safety cultures – a set of characteristics and attitudes that make safety issues an overriding priority. For an industry, safety culture functions like the human body's immune system, protecting it against pathogens and fending off diseases.
A plant that fosters a positive safety culture encourages employees to ask questions and to apply a rigorous and prudent approach to all aspects of their jobs. It also fosters open communications between line workers and management. But TEPCO's culture reflected a Japanese mindset that emphasizes hierarchy and acquiescence and discourages asking questions.
There is ample evidence that human factors such as operator errors and poor safety culture played an instrumental key role in all three major accidents that have occurred at nuclear power plants: Three Mile Island in the U.S. in 1979, Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986 and Fukushima Daiichi in 2011. Unless nuclear nations do better on both counts, this list is likely to grow.
🇸🇪 Nuclear Safety statement in IAEA BoG: Important safety upgrades introduced at 6 remaining nuclear power stations… https://t.co/FrgHv4N4UL— SwedenUN Vienna 🇸🇪 (@SwedenUN Vienna 🇸🇪)1614680434.0
Global Nuclear Safety Grade: Incomplete
Today there are some 440 nuclear power reactors operating around the world, with about 50 under construction in countries including China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Many advocates argue that in light of the threat of climate change and the increasing need for carbon-free baseload electricity generation, nuclear power should play a role in the world's future energy mix. Others call for abolishing nuclear power. But that may not be feasible in the foreseeable future.
In our view, the most urgent priority is developing tough, system-oriented nuclear safety standards, strong safety cultures and much closer cooperation between countries and their independent regulators. We see worrisome indications in the U.S. that independent nuclear regulation is eroding, and that nuclear utilities are resisting pressure to learn and delaying adoption of internationally accepted safety practices, such as adding filters to prevent radioactive releases from reactor containment buildings with the same characteristics as Fukushima Daiichi.
The most crucial lesson we see is the need to counteract nuclear nationalism and isolationism. Ensuring close cooperation between countries developing nuclear projects is essential today as the forces of populism, nationalism and anti-globalism spread.
We also believe the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose mission is promoting safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, should urge its member states to find a balance between national sovereignty and international responsibility when it comes to operating nuclear power reactors in their territories. As Chernobyl and Fukushima taught the world, radiation fallout does not stop at national boundaries.
Author Najmedin Meshkati holding an earthquake railing in a Fukushima Daiichi control room during a 2012 site visit. Najmedin Meshkati / CC BY-ND
As a start, Persian Gulf countries should set aside political wrangling and recognize that with the startup of a nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates and others planned in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, they have a common interest in nuclear safety and collective emergency response. The entire region is vulnerable to radiation fallout and water contamination from a nuclear accident anywhere in the Gulf.
We believe the world remains at the same juncture it faced in 1989, when then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. made this perceptive argument:
"A decade ago, Three Mile Island was the spark that ignited the funeral pyre for a once-promising energy source. As the nuclear industry asks the nation for a second look in the context of global warming, it is fair to watch how its advocates respond to strengthened safety oversight. That will be the measure of whether nuclear energy becomes a phoenix or an extinct species."
Kiyoshi Kurokawa is a Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo.
Najmedin Meshkati is a Professor of Engineering and International Relations, University of Southern California.
Disclosure statement: Kiyoshi Kurokawa, MD, MACP, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo and Professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Tokyo. He served as Chairman of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, which released its official report in July 2012. The English translation of his book, Regulatory Capture: Will Japan Change? is expected to be released in 2021.
Najmedin Meshkati, Ph.D., CPE, is a Professor of Civil/Environmental, Industrial & Systems Engineering, and International Relations at the University of Southern California (USC). He teaches and conducts research on technological systems safety and has visited many nuclear power stations around the world, including Chernobyl (1997), Mihama (1999), and Fukushima Daiichi and Daini (2012). He served as a member and technical advisor on the U.S. National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Committee on Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident for Improving Safety and Security of U.S. Nuclear Plants.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
The Pacific Ring of Fire is aptly named. It's a string of volcanoes in the Pacific Ocean, and the region is prone to earthquakes. In fact, most earthquakes strike within the ring. Here's five facts.
How Big Is the Pacific Ring of Fire?
The Ring of Fire dominates the Pacific Ocean. It's a string of at least 450 active and dormant volcanoes that form a semi-circle, or horse shoe, around the Philippine Sea plate, the Pacific Plate, Juan de Fuca and Cocos plates, and the Nazca Plate. There is a lot of seismic activity in the area.
About 90 percent of all earthquakes strike within the Ring of Fire. This means people's lives are under almost constant threat in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and other island nations like the Solomon Islands, Fiji, and many more in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia, all the way east to the western seaboard of the North and South Americas. Although levels of threat differ depending on local factors like your proximity to the quake's epicenter, whether it's out to sea or on land - and standards of housing.
Why So Many Volcanoes in the Ring of Fire?
The tectonic plates move non-stop over a layer of partly solid and partly molten rock. This is called the Earth's mantle. When the plates collide or move apart, for instance, the Earth moves, literally. Mountains, like the Andes in South America and the Rockies in North America, as well as volcanoes have formed through the collision of tectonic plates.
Many volcanoes in the Ring of Fire were created through a process of subduction. And most of the planet's subduction zones happen to be located in the Ring of Fire.
What Is Subduction?
Subduction happens when tectonic plates shift, and one plate is shoved under another. This movement of the ocean floor produces a "mineral transmutation," which leads to the melting and solidification of magma - that is, the formation of volcanoes. Basically, when a "downgoing" oceanic plate is shoved into a hotter mantle plate, it heats up, volatile elements mix, and this produces the magma. The magma then rises up through the overlying plate and spurts out at the surface.
If, however, the overlying plate is ocean, it can produce a chain of volcanic islands like the Marianas. This is also where we see the Earth's deepest trenches and deepest Earthquakes.
When and Where Were the Worst Earthquakes in the Ring of Fire?
The worst earthquake in the Ring of Fire - and, with it, the world - struck Chile on May 22, 1960. It was a 9.5-magnitude quake. That's according to the US Geological Survey's list of the "Largest Earthquakes in the World Since 1900."
It's closely followed by the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 (magnitude 9.2), the Northern Sumatra earthquake - also known as the Indian Ocean Tsunami - on December 26, 2004 (magnitude 9.1), and one off the East Coast of Honshu, Japan, on March 11, 2011 (magnitude 9.0), which led to a tsunami and ultimately the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.
Most of the earthquakes on the list are strictly within the Ring of Fire, and they range from magnitude 9.5 to 8.5.
Given All This Activity, Can't We Predict Earthquakes in the Ring of Fire?
No. Most experts will tell you it's (so far) been impossible to predict earthquakes. Even if two happen within the ring in close succession, it is hard to say the one had anything to do with the other. One earthquake will not necessarily cause another.
Some seismologists are cautiously open to the idea that whatever we do as humans - whether it's testing nuclear explosives or deep-sea drilling - all has a potential impact. But there's little or no hard, scientific proof.
As for the Ring of Fire specifically, the region is under constant tension. When a quake strikes, that tension is temporarily relieved, but it soon starts to build again. So all that is left for the people who live around the Ring of Fire is to be aware of the danger, perhaps to live further inland, build safer, earthquake resistant housing, and for nations everywhere to improve oceanic and land-based early-warning systems to help minimize the risk to life.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
In order to create ocean floor images, scientists typically need to use air guns that shoot sound beneath the waves. The sound waves travel through the crust and bounce back to instruments on the seafloor, Scientific American explained. This provides important information about the workings of earthquakes and the ocean's ability to store carbon, but the loud noise can interfere with marine mammal communications.
Now, it looks like scientists have found a new method thanks to marine mammals themselves.
"It shows these animal vocalizations are useful not just for understanding the animals, but also understanding their environment," John Nabelek, study co-author and Oregon State University College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences professor, said in a university press release.
Fin whales can grow to be 60 tons and 80 feet long, according to The New York Times. Their songs are proportionate to their size, reaching up to 189 decibels. They can also be heard from 600 miles away, Scientific American reported.
"They're nearly as loud as a big container ship," William Wilcock, a marine geophysicist at the University of Washington and not part of the study, told The New York Times.
The study found that those sound blasts can help scientists create images of the Earth's subsurface 1.6 miles below the seafloor, Scientific American reported.
Seismologist Václav Kuna, an Oregon State doctoral student at the time, made this accidental discovery, according to the press release. While listening to seismometer recordings, Kuna kept hearing one-second chirps that would repeat every 30 seconds, The New York Times reported.
He realized that the sounds were coming from fin whales, but something seemed unusual about them, Scientific American explained. At the time, seismometers, which measure vibrations, were recording the songs, instead of underwater microphones. That meant the whale song was echoing from below ground.
"After each whale call, if you look closely at the seismometer data, there is a response from the Earth," Nabelek said in the press release.
The press release explained the process and its meaning for the scientists:
Whale calls bounce between the ocean surface and the ocean bottom. Part of the energy from the calls transmits through the ground as a seismic wave. The wave travels through the oceanic crust, where it is reflected and refracted by the ocean sediment, the basalt layer underneath it and the gabbroic lower crust below that.
When the waves are recorded at the seismometer, they can provide information that allows researchers to estimate and map the structure of the crust.
The researchers were able to use songs recorded by three different seismometers in order to pinpoint the whales' location and make images based on their calls.
Imaging the area immediately below the seafloor can help scientists understand earthquakes and how they impact ocean sediment. The whale songs could also provide information about the location of earthquakes and the amount of carbon that can be stored in ocean sediments, Scientific American reported.
Because fin whales live everywhere except the ice-covered Arctic, their songs are a widely available tool, Wilcock told Scientific American.
Kuna told The New York Times that he did not think fin whale songs could replace air guns since they create relatively weak seismic waves and therefore low-resolution images. But air gun surveys are expensive and it can be hard to obtain permits to use them, so whale songs can fill in the gaps, the press release explained. And relying more on whale songs can reduce the underwater noise pollution that is harming marine life, according to a recent scientific review.
"It's win-win," Kuna told The New York Times.
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The Atlantic Ocean is getting wider and, after a uniquely ambitious expedition, scientists finally think they know why.
The reason? An upwelling of matter from much deeper below Earth's crust than is usually observed.
"This was completely unexpected," Dr. Kate Rychert from the University of Southampton said in a press release. "It has broad implications for our understanding of Earth's evolution and habitability."
Plate tectonics is the theory that Earth's shell moves over its inner mantle as a series of divided plates, Live Science explained. Their movements are the forces behind natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis, the press release noted.
Scientists have long known that the tectonic plates beneath North and South America are moving apart from those beneath Africa and Asia, widening the Atlantic Ocean at a rate of about 1.5 inches a year, Business Insider explained. This is happening at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an undersea mountain range that separates the North American and South American plates on the Western side from the Eurasian and African plates to the East. But, until recently, scientists were not sure how.
That's because plates tend to move as gravity pulls the denser parts of plates into Earth, the press release explained. But the Atlantic Ocean is not surrounded by dense plates. Instead, the researchers discovered that material from Earth's mantle is swelling up beneath the ridge and pushing the plates apart from below. What's more, this material is coming from depths of more than 600 kilometers (approximately 371 miles). Usually, upwellings of this sort are much shallower, originating from depths of 60 kilometers (approximately 37 miles.). When they are deeper in origin, they tend to occur in more isolated areas.
"Upwelling from the lower to the upper mantle and all the way up to the surface is typically associated with localized places on Earth, such as Iceland, Hawaii and Yellowstone, and not with mid-ocean ridges," Roma Tre University seismologist and study coauthor Matthew Aguis told Insider. "This is what makes this result exciting because it was completely unexpected."
To achieve this finding, researchers placed 39 seismometers several miles deep along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, VICE reported. They left them there for a full year, from 2016 to 2017. This gifted the scientists with a wealth of data, allowing them to image variations in Earth's mantle at depths of around 410 to 660 kilometers (approximately 255 to 410 miles), the press release explained. It also provided them with the first high-resolution and large-scale imaging of the mantle beneath the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
"There are similar experiments around the world, but this was a large scale, with so many instruments for such a long time," Agius told VICE.
Understanding plate tectonics is important for helping to predict disasters like earthquakes, the press release explained. It can also help with climate change estimates across deep time, since plate tectonics impact sea level.
"This work is exciting and that it refutes long held assumptions that mid-ocean ridges might play a passive role in plate tectonics," study coauthor and University of Oxford professor Mike Kendall said in the press release. "It suggests that in places such as the Mid-Atlantic, forces at the ridge play an important role in driving newly-formed plates apart."
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At least 42 people are confirmed dead and more than 600 injured after a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Sulawesi early Friday morning.
The earthquake and subsequent aftershocks also damaged more than 300 homes and two hotels, and destroyed a hospital and the regional governor's office, leaving people trapped under rubble and forcing around 15,000 to flee their homes, Reuters reported. The global pandemic complicates matters, likely making it harder to provide aid.
"[T]his (disaster) was one of our fears and now we are putting all of that planning and protocols into place," Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross in Indonesia, told Reuters.
The earthquake struck at 1:28 a.m. Jakarta time at a depth of 6.2 miles, Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said, according to CNN. The quake hit 3.7 miles northeast of the city of Majene, killing at least eight people, injuring 637 and damaging 300 homes. It also impacted the nearby area of Mamuju, where the death toll has reached 34 so far. Nearly half of the structures there have also been destroyed, Safaruddin Sanusi, the head of West Sulawesi's Communications and Information Department, told CNN.
Sanusi said rescue workers' priority involved finding people in collapsed buildings. Unfortunately, the death toll will likely rise as this work continues.
"I'm afraid to say how many fatalities," Ardiansyah, a West Sulawesi emergency response official, told The New York Times. "We are still evacuating and erecting shelters. Many people are buried under the ruins."
Among the collapsed or damaged buildings were four of Mamuju's largest hospitals, Sanusi told CNN.
"Mitra Manakara [Hospital] is flattened by this earthquake, while three others, Mamuju Central Hospital, Bhayangkara Hospital and Regional Hospital are also in [a] bad situation," he said.
At Mitra Manakara Hospital, eight people died and around 60 were safely evacuated, BBC News reported.
"It happened so quickly, around 10 seconds," local police spokesman Syamsu Ridwan told the BBC.
The earthquake also triggered three landslides, cut power and damaged bridges, Reuters reported.
Indonesia is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a hotbed for seismic activity. In 2018, a 7.5 earthquake and 18-foot tsunami also devastated the island of Sulawesi. The final death toll surpassed 2,000, according to BBC News. Friday's earthquake did not trigger a tsunami, but officials warned that aftershocks still could.
There were six tremors of 2.9 magnitude or higher in the 12 hours before the major earthquake struck, The New York Times reported. It was then followed by at least 26 aftershocks, Dwikorita Karnawati, the head of Indonesia's Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, told Reuters. The aftershocks have caused persistent anxiety for survivors.
"Praise be to God, for now OK, but we just felt another aftershock," area resident Sukri Efendy told Reuters.
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The eruption sent lava shooting into the air, along with a huge cloud of ash and steam. Hawaiian officials urged residents to stay indoors shortly after the eruption.
"Trade winds will push any embedded ash toward the Southwest. Fallout is likely in the Kau District in Wood Valley, Pahala, Naalehu and Ocean View. Stay indoors," an official from Civil Defense Agency tweeted, according to CNN.
However, the lava posed little risk to residents due to the eruption's location on Halemaumau within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the AP reported.
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, (HVO) which monitors activity at Kilauea and its sister volcano Mauna Kea, issued a red aviation code alert after the initial eruption, but has since lowered it to an orange alert, meaning another significant eruption may still be possible.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) also reported a 4.4 magnitude earthquake that struck about an hour after the initial eruption. The USGS received more than 500 reports from people who felt the earthquake, but no major damage has been reported, according to the AP.
Kilauea last erupted in May 2018. That event involved a period of earthquakes and eruptions lasting for four months, creating lava flows that destroyed more than 700 homes, the AP reported.
The 2018 activity also caused Halemaumau's longtime lava lake to drain, according to the AP. In 2019, a new body of water was discovered in Kilauea's crater, leading to speculation about future eruptions, the New York Times found.
Jessica Ferracane, a Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman, told the AP that curious park spectators should take precautions. "There are high amounts of hazardous sulfur dioxide gas and particulates and those are billowing out of the crater right now and those present a danger to everyone, especially people with heart or respiratory problems, infants, young children and pregnant women."
HVO confirmed that Kilauea summit eruptions can last more than a decade, based on 200 years of tracking.
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Thomas H. Goebel
The way companies drill for oil and gas and dispose of wastewater can trigger earthquakes, at times in unexpected places.
California was thought to be an exception, a place where oil field operations and tectonic faults apparently coexisted without much problem. Now, new research shows that the state's natural earthquake activity may be hiding industry-induced quakes.
As a seismologist, I have been investigating induced earthquakes in the U.S., Europe and Australia. Our latest study, released on Nov. 10, shows how California oil field operations are putting stress on tectonic faults in an area just a few miles from the San Andreas Fault.
Industry-induced earthquakes have been an increasing concern in the central and eastern United States for more than a decade.
Most of these earthquakes are too small to be felt, but not all of them. In 2016, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake damaged buildings in Pawnee, Oklahoma, and led state and federal regulators to shut down 32 wastewater disposal wells near a newly discovered fault. Large earthquakes are rare far from tectonic plate boundaries, and Oklahoma experiencing three magnitude 5 or greater earthquakes in one year, as happened in 2016, was unheard of.
Chart: The Conversation / CC-BY-ND Source: Thomas Goebel / University of Memphis; Oklahoma Geological Survey Get the data
Oklahoma's earthquake frequency fell with lower oil prices and regulators' decision to require companies to decrease their well injection volume, but there are still more earthquakes there today than in 2010.
A familiar pattern has been emerging in West Texas in the past few years: Drastically increasing earthquake rates well beyond the natural rate. A magnitude 5 earthquake shook West Texas in March.
Chart: The Conversation / CC-BY-ND. Source: Thomas Goebel / University of Memphis; U.S. Geological Survey Get the data
How It Works
At the root of the induced earthquake problem are two different types of fluid injection operations: hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal.
Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand and chemicals at very high pressures to create flow pathways for hydrocarbons trapped in tight rock formations. Wastewater disposal involves injecting fluids into deep geological formations. Although wastewater is pumped at low pressures, this type of operation can disturb natural pressures and stresses over large areas, several miles from injection wells.
Tectonic faults underneath geothermal and oil reservoirs are often precariously balanced. Even a small perturbation to the natural tectonic system – due to deep fluid injection, for example – can cause faults to slip and trigger earthquakes. The consequences of fluid injections are easily seen in Oklahoma and Texas. But what are the implications for other places, such as California, where earthquake-prone faults and oil fields are located in close proximity?
California Oil Fields' Hidden Risk
California provides a particularly interesting opportunity to study fluid injection effects.
My colleague Manoo Shirzaei from Virginia Tech and I wondered if induced earthquakes could be masked by nearby natural earthquakes and were thus missed in previous studies. We conducted a detailed seismologic study of the Salinas basin in central California. The study area stands out because of its proximity to the San Andreas Fault and because waste fluids are injected at high rates close to seismically active faults.
Satellite data shows the ground rising as much as 1.5 centimeters per year in parts of the San Ardo oil field. The line-of-sight velocity (LOS-VEL), as viewed from the satellite, shows how rapidly the ground surface is rising. Thomas Goebel / University of Memphis
Using satellite radar images from 2016 to 2020, Shirzaei made a surprising observation: Some regions in the Salinas basin were lifting at about 1.5 centimeters per year, a little over half an inch. This uplift was a first indication that fluid pressures are out of balance in parts of the San Ardo oil field. Increasing fluid pressures in the rock pores stretch the surrounding rock matrix like a sponge that is pumped full of water. The resulting reservoir expansion elevates the forces that act on the surrounding tectonic faults.
Next, we examined the seismic data and found that fluid injection and earthquakes were highly correlated over more than 40 years. Surprisingly, this extended out 15 miles from the oil field. Such distances are similar to the large spatial footprint of injection wells in Oklahoma. We analyzed the spatial pattern of 1,735 seismic events within the study area and found clustering of events close to injection wells.
The stresses from injecting water can trigger earthquakes several miles from the well itself. The blue triangles scale with each well's injection rate. Thomas Goebel/University of Memphis / CC BY-ND
Other areas in California may have a similar history, and more detailed studies are needed to differentiate natural from induced events there.
How to Lower the Earthquake Risk
Most wastewater disposal and hydraulic fracturing wells do not lead to earthquakes that can be felt, but the wells that cause problems have three things in common:
- These are high-volume injection wells;
- They inject into highly permeable rock formations; and
- These formations are located directly above tectonic faults in the deeper geologic basement.
Although the first issue may be difficult to resolve because reducing the volume of waste fluids would require reducing the amount of oil produced, the locations of injection wells can be planned more carefully. The seismic safety of oil and gas operations may be increased by selecting geologic formations that are disconnected from deep faults.
Thomas H. Goebel is an assistant professor of seismology at the Center for Earthquake Research and Information, University of Memphis.
Disclosure: Thomas H. Goebel receives funding from the U.S. Department of Energy
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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The biggest earthquake in decades rattled New England Sunday morning.
The 3.6 magnitude quake was epicentered a few miles off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts, according to NPR. No injuries were reported, but 21 people in New Bedford had to evacuate their homes because of minor structural damage, NBC10 Boston reported.
"I've never in my life experienced something so scary, ever in my life," one New Bedford woman told NBC10 Boston. "Like something exploded and I thought like a car had hit my building."
The quake struck around 9:10 a.m. at a depth of about 9.3 miles. It was felt across Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as in parts of Connecticut and Long Island, New York, CBS Boston reported. Around 14,000 people reported it to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) website.
"Earthquakes in this area are commonly felt very far away because the rocks in this area are very contiguous, very old, so they transmit the energy very well from earthquakes," USGS geologist Paul Caruso told The New York Times.
Caruso said there had been 26 earthquakes in Southern New England since 1963. However, this was the largest since a 3.5 quake struck in March of 1976, Caruso told CBS Boston.
"This was the first earthquake I really felt in New England," local seismologist Dr. Alan Kaftka told NBC10 Boston. He said smaller earthquakes in the region were common, but there had only been around nine earthquakes of a similar magnitude since the 1700s.
While no major damage was reported, there was some minor damage. The most dramatic involved collapsed chimneys in two New Bedford apartment buildings, displacing several families. The Red Cross said it was helping 21 people, including children, who had to find another place to stay because of earthquake damage in the city.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said that structural damage was found in at least two homes in the city's South End, CBS Boston reported.
Meteorologist and Rhode Island native Torry Gaucher tweeted that he found a crack in his basement.
Well that is a new stress crack... bummed that my house felt it but I didn’t since I was in the hot tub haha… https://t.co/P6ZraOBfbQ— Torry Gaucher (@Torry Gaucher)1604847912.0
There is also a concern that more damage could be detected as residents turn on their heat for the winter, District Fire Chief James Fortin told NBC10 Boston.
"Once people start turning on heat, we're afraid that there is going to be damage that people are not aware of and we're going to have an ongoing carbon monoxide issue," he said.
Both Fortin and Mitchell advised residents to check their carbon monoxide detectors.
Earthquake damage exposes the potential danger of natural gas heating.
"If you smell gas in your house, after turning the heat on or otherwise, evacuate immediately and call 911," Mitchell tweeted Sunday.
In 2018, a series of gas explosions in three towns near Boston injured 25 and killed one person.
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A mild but "relatively uncommon" earthquake rattled central New Jersey early Wednesday morning.
The 3.1 magnitude quake lasted 13 seconds and was epicentered about a mile and a half from Freehold Township, U.S. Geological Survey scientist Robert Sanders told North Jersey.com. The quake struck around 2 a.m. and was felt throughout central New Jersey and as far away as Philadelphia and Long Island, NBC4 New York reported.
A small tremor occurred in the Freehold area around 2:00 AM. It was felt in much of central New Jersey. #njwx https://t.co/A2axmRkv7v— NWS Mount Holly (@NWS Mount Holly)1599632816.0
"It sounded like a dump truck being dropped from a few stories up, but about four to five blocks away," a resident of Matawan, New Jersey wrote on the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center's (EMSC) earthquake-tracking website, NJ.com reported. "It rumbled the floor for about five seconds. I could feel [it] from my feet on the floor and through the seat of the chair."
Sanders told NBC4 New York that earthquakes in the area were relatively uncommon. The last time the ground shook significantly within a 10-mile radius of Wednesday's quake was in 1992, when another 3.1 magnitude earthquake was reported. The last time before that was a 3.5 magnitude earthquake in 1979.
"It will take a few days or weeks before analysts can see if there's a specific fault line at cause here," Sanders said.
The earthquake prompted at least 125 911 calls in a half-hour period, the Monmouth County Sheriff's Office said. The Freehold Police Department also said its dispatch center received dozens of calls. However, no damage was reported.
"With it being a magnitude of 3.1, a case of injuries is very unlikely," Sanders told NorthJersey.com. "We might have [a] case of items falling off shelves and possibly landing on someone, but typically we don't usually see any widespread damage done with a magnitude this low."
Many people describing the quake said it did not feel like a typical shaking earthquake.
"I lived in California and have felt many earthquakes, but I didn't recognize this as one," a Freehold resident wrote on EMSC. "There was no shaking or movement. Just a sound like someone opening up a large sliding glass door followed by two or three very loud banging noises."
The #earthquake M3.1 In #NJ was well felt within 30 miles of its epicenter. This map represent the eyewitnesses' re… https://t.co/dT0MtwnY8I— EMSC (@EMSC)1599632497.0
"It's relatively common to hear a loud bang during an earthquake," Sanders told North Jersey.com. "Smaller and more shallow earthquakes have some fault areas and therefore produce high-frequency energy for loud noises. Anyone that is close to the epicenter is likely to hear these effects from the earthquake."
The last major earthquake to be felt in New Jersey was in 2011, when a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck in Virginia. That was one of the largest quakes ever recorded in the Eastern U.S. and shook buildings throughout New Jersey, NJ.com reported.
New Jersey itself is due for a major earthquake, the state's Department of Environmental Protection told NBC4 New York, citing a 5.5 magnitude quake that struck in 1884. It said a similar quake today would cause severe damage and likely claim lives.
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The quake struck offshore at 10:12 p.m. local time and was located around 500 miles southwest of Anchorage and around 60 miles southeast of Perryville, Alaska, CBS News reported.
"This is a very significant earthquake in size," Alaska Earthquake Center seismologist Michael West told the Anchorage Daily News.
M 7.8 earthquake strikes 105 km SSE of Perryville, Alaska. Tsunami warning canceled. https://t.co/bUwKvi65Lg Le… https://t.co/DlORAa8a2I— USGS (@USGS)1595413807.0
The earthquake initially triggered a tsunami warning for South Alaska, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands, CBS News reported.
"Based on the preliminary earthquake parameters... hazardous tsunami waves are possible for coasts located within 300 kilometers of the earthquake epicenter," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said, according to CBS News.
The warning prompted evacuations in towns and cities including Kodiak, Sand Point, Unalaska and Homer, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
"We were in a (city) council meeting and started feeling it rocking, and by the time I got home from the council meeting then the warnings were going and had to turn back around," Unalaska City Manager Erin Reinders told the Anchorage Daily News.
Meanwhile, in Kodiak, residents sheltered in Kodiak High School and the local Catholic school while also trying to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
"We've got a high school full of people. I've been passing out masks since the first siren sounded," Kodiak School District superintendent Larry LeDoux told the Anchorage Daily News. "Everything's as calm as can be. We've got probably 300, 400 people all wearing masks."
Tsunami warning in kodiak AK https://t.co/pBio9lnWDF— Tyler 🏳️🌈 (@Tyler 🏳️🌈)1595399877.0
The warnings were canceled by 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. However, a tsunami measuring 0.8 feet was reported in the city of Sand Point, according to CBS.
Because of its size and characteristics, Tuesday's quake had the potential to be devastating.
For one thing, it was shallow, measuring six miles, or 10 kilometers, deep, CNN reported.
"Anything below 70 kilometers is considered a shallow quake," CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar explained. "That's important, because shallow earthquakes often cause the most damage, compared to the ones that are deeper, regardless of the strength."
Shallow quakes are also more likely to produce tsunamis, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
West told the Anchorage Daily News that Tuesday's earthquake was more or less the same type as the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964.
That earthquake was the strongest ever recorded in North America, with a magnitude of 9.2, CBS explained. The quake and following tsunami killed more than 250 people.
"These are the style of earthquakes which can be very tsunami-producing," West told the Anchorage Daily News.
The fact that Tuesday's quake occurred offshore reduced shaking, West said. Officials did not think the shaking caused any damage.
"No reports of any damage," Kodiak Police Sgt. Mike Sorter told The Associated Press early Wednesday morning, as USA TODAY reported. "No injuries were reported. Everything is nominal."
CNN also reported that more than 20 aftershocks have followed into early Wednesday, ranging in magnitude from 2.8 to 6.1.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that CNN reported the depth of the quake at six miles. CNN has corrected this number to 17 miles. The article has been corrected to reflect this change.
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Mexico's national seismological service said the quake had a magnitude of 7.5 while the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) put it at 7.4, according to The New York Times. It struck around 10:29 a.m. local time and was centered about 14 miles off the Pacific Coast of the southern state of Oaxaca.
SISMO Magnitud 7.5 Loc 23 km al SUR de CRUCECITA, OAX 23/06/20 10:29:02 Lat 15.57 Lon -96.09 Pf 5 km https://t.co/8uuY2um91w— Sismologico Nacional (@Sismologico Nacional)1592927165.0
Around 200 houses near the epicenter were damaged, a local official told Reuters, 30 severely so.
"We lost everything in one moment to nature," Vicente Romero, a stationary store owner whose home was significantly damaged, told Reuters. "This is our life's work."
#BREAKING: A magnitude 7.4 earthquake strikes Mexico. Look at this video of a building in the area where the earthq… https://t.co/YX3LDJwOnk— Michael Ikahihifo (@Michael Ikahihifo)1592930463.0
One of the deaths occurred at state-run oil company Pemex, when a worker fell off a refinery structure, The Guardian reported. The earthquake also sparked a fire at a Pemex refinery in the Pacific city of Salina Cruz. It injured one worker before it was snuffed out.
Another person died when a building collapsed in Huatulco, Oaxaca and a third when a house collapsed in the village of San Juan Ozolotepec. A fourth man was killed when a wall collapsed on him in the village of San Agustín Amatengo.
Despite these individual tragedies, the overall damage was relatively minor.
"Fortunately there was no major damage," Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in a Twitter video reported by The New York Times.
Tercer mensaje al pueblo de México tras sismo. https://t.co/5Kn9jPVmu3— Andrés Manuel (@Andrés Manuel)1592933296.0
Obrador said there had been 147 aftershocks as of early Tuesday afternoon.
"I hope and I wish with all my soul that there will be no more damaging aftershocks," he said.
"We are verifying [damages] because this hospital is also tending Covid cases on the Oaxacan coast," Oaxaca state Gov. Alejandro Murat said, as CNN reported.
The earthquake was felt in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and rattled buildings in Mexico City, more than 400 miles away.
LOOK: A powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake swayed buildings in Mexico City and sent thousands fleeing into the stree… https://t.co/eoUXH3XN4t— Bloomberg QuickTake (@Bloomberg QuickTake)1592962295.0
"It really moved," Francisco Aceves, who owns an import-export firm in Mexico City and was on the 22nd floor of an office building when it started, told The Guardian.
Two people in Mexico's capital were injured and more than 30 buildings were damaged, Reuters reported.
Mexico is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, according to CNN, because it sits atop three tectonic plates.
Tuesday's quake comes less than three years after a 2017 earthquake killed hundreds in Mexico City and rendered thousands homeless, BBC News pointed out.
Also in 2017, Mexico was struck by the strongest earthquake to rattle it in a century when an 8.2 temblor was recorded off the Pacific Coast, according to The New York Times. That earthquake killed at least 90 and mostly impacted the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.
Eunice Pineda, a 26-year-old teacher in Juchitan, told Reuters that Tuesday's quake "was two minutes of torture," but she also had adopted a philosophical outlook about the earthquakes that rattle her home.
"We learn to appreciate, to treasure every moment," she said.
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By Fabian Schmidt
Researchers have discovered an interesting similarity in two of the largest recent earthquakes in Japan and Chile: a strange large-scale ground movement back and forth in the months leading up to the quake.
These earthquakes are among the 10 strongest ever measured: the 2011 Tohoku-oki seaquake off the coast of Japan registered 9.0 on the moment magnitude scale, triggering the devastating tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. It was the fourth-strongest quake in the last 100 years. The 2010 seaquake off the coast of the Maule region of Chile, occupies sixth place on the list.
Researchers from the Geoforschungszentrum Potsdam (GFZ) along with collaborators from Chile and the United States have now discovered astonishing similarities in the months before both quakes: multiple strange reversals of ground motion — an extremely slow "wobbling" of the continental plate, so to speak.
Lead author, geophysicist Jonathan Bedford, along with a team of geodesists, geologists and seismologists, evaluated the movements of ground stations of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).
These ground stations continuously track the distances to multiple GNSS satellites that orbit the earth in elliptical orbits. After these distances have been established, and given the estimates of the satellite positions, geodesists are able to define the motion of points on the Earth within a terrestrial reference frame.
In Japan, there is a very dense network of ground stations. Although the network in Chile was not as dense in 2010, it was sufficient to obtain the data.
Whole Continental Plate 'Wobbles'
Bedford and his colleagues analyzed how the ground stations in Japan and Chile had moved in the five years before the two quakes. They noticed that the motion of the continental plate on which the stations are located had been reversed several times in the last five months before the quake (in the case of Japan) and seven months (in the case of Chile). The researchers published their results in the scientific journal Nature.
Both plate boundaries are subduction zones. Subduction is the process of one plate diving under another. In both study regions, the oceanic plates are subducting underneath the continental plates and meet at a place called the trench, which for both cases is submerged under the ocean. Normally, the continental plate is pressed by the oceanic plate and thus pushed away from the trench. However, the geophysicists have now discovered that this movement was first reversed in the direction of the trench, then away from the trench, then back towards the trench again.
Same Movement Over Thousands of Kilometers
They call this phenomenon "wobbling," due to its appearance in the GNSS time series. The amplitude of this movement is not particularly great — it was only between 4 and 8 millimeters — but Bedford points out that this is significant compared to the relative plate motion that can be a few centimeters per year. Furthermore, the spatial extent of the signal extended thousands of kilometers along the plate boundaries.
"It is a common assumption that deeper subduction proceeds at a fairly constant speed in between large earthquakes," says Bedford. "Our study shows that this assumption is an oversimplification. In fact, its variability might be a key factor in understanding how the largest earthquakes nucleate."
With global satellite tracking now becoming better and better, and with accurate data available for the first time in decades, earthquake researchers have an ever-increasing ability to make such observations.
"We can now trace movements back decades," says Bedford. "In the next stage, we'd like to monitor the changes in near real time."
Not Suitable as an Early Warning System
Until now, seismologists have been more able to say where large earthquakes are likely to occur — less able to say when. By simply calculating the magnitude of the last large earthquake in a region and knowing the average relative plate velocity, one can estimate when that fault will be mature enough to sustain a repeat event, although there are great uncertainties in this approach. This is because sometimes a fault will rupture only over a smaller area (e.g. with a "large" magnitude 8 event) and other times it will rupture over many magnitude 8 regions all at once (e.g. in a "mega" magnitude 9 event).
Could an observed untypical plate movement therefore give us a better warning of an imminent earthquake? Not really.
"It would not be wise for a geophysicist to issue such a warning," is Bedford's sobering answer. "The observed signals of this study are not necessarily precursory movements of a major quake."
More research is necessary and as a matter of principle, people in known earthquake areas should not let their guard down.
"The general public should always be prepared," Bedford warns.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.