Reading Around the Internet: December 1, 2014

With the turn of the calendar page to the first of December comes the joys of the end of the semester… For me, that means grading term papers, writing final exams, grading final exams, and preparing final grades — and deadlines. Lots of deadlines! Oh, and there’s the whole preparation for the holidays, which this year includes decorating my new living quarters for the first time. My Christmas tree goes up this week — I can hardly wait… And as I type on a balmy 60 degree Sunday evening, there’s a parade happening outside my apartment windows. It seems to me there’s an unusually high number of doggies with reindeer antlers on their heads out there giving their owners some pointedly pathetic looks… It’s nice to have front row seats to the parade!

Even with all that happening, I did find a couple of items in my on-line reading the last week that I thought some of my readers may also find interesting, especially should you want a break from your year-end deadlines or holiday festivities/preparations.

Predicting Earthquakes and Tsunamis

Imagine how much better prepared we could be if we could predict when and where a giant earthquake or tsunami will occur. Researchers have been working on doing just that for quite some time. In a paper published on November 17th in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, a research team led by University of South Florida professor Tim Dixon discusses “slow slip events”, a geological phenomenon that may allow researchers to identify the precursors to major earthquakes. My understanding from a summary of the paper here is that a slow slip event is a bit like an earthquake, only it releases its energy very slowly and over a longer period of time (weeks or months). It appears that slow slip events may be precursors to much bigger earthquakes. If so, they could provide us with valuable information that will help people living in earthquake and tsunami prone areas prepare for major events.

More About Earthquakes

A group of researchers from laboratories at Geosciences Rennes, Geosciences Montpellier and Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, and a scientist in Taiwan have released findings supporting a theory that erosion may also trigger earthquakes. This has consequences for land use planning. If surface activities matter to subsurface movement of the earth, not only does deforestation and the subsequent erosion of land matter, but so would other natural hazards, such as flooding, which often increases the speed of erosion.

In Oklahoma, geologists and other scientists attended a meeting focused on the need for updating national earthquake maps with information concerning man-made hazards, i.e., earthquakes triggered by disposal wells and/or hydraulic fracturing. The three-day workshop was co-hosted by the US Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey. KOSU, which is where the link above goes, interviewed the attendees concerning the importance of including such information for planning and building purposes and summarized the discussions.

Volcanoes

Mount Aso in Japan erupted. According to Newsweek, the last time it blew was 22 years ago. It is one of the largest volcanoes in the world.

In the meantime, Iceland’s Bardarbunga (which, in Icelandic is spelled Bárðarbunga) continues its eruption, This is the longest, continual eruption that Iceland has experienced in centuries. You can see a video here and read about it at the Newsweek site.

Hawaii’s volcano is also still active and still a potential threat to communities in its path. Here’s an update from Hawaii News Now.

First Responders, Robots and Ebola…. Wait… Robots? Yep. Robots. 

NPR ran a story a couple of days ago about first responders learning to use robots in disaster scenario drills in a training site called Disaster City. Apparently, the possibilities for handling future Ebola breakouts may include using robots in search and rescue operations. Researchers think they can design robots that may be able to interact with infected patients, or assisting caretakers with various other tasks. There are many questions that arise in creating such robots. The article is fascinating both for its description of the training site as well as possible uses for technology in a wide variety of disaster scenarios.