Predicting Earthquakes

There’s an interesting new earthquake study getting some press. A group of researchers at Stanford University have developed a new way of predicting ground movement and hazards associated with shaking buildings during earthquakes. They’re using the ambient seismic field, which is generated by ocean waves interacting with the Earth’s crust. The ambient seismic field is always present in the ground, and in the past has been treated a little like interference when studying earthquakes — i.e., the constant small waves of the ambient field had to be sorted out from the larger waves of the seismic shifts that produce earthquakes. In this new technique, the scientists use these smaller waves to help understand how seismic waves move through the ground. From there, they worked out predictions concerning what would happen if much stronger waves occurred, including the way waves are amplified as they move through sediments as well as where they will travel once a seismic event occurs. Since many of our major population areas are in both earthquake-prone and built on top of sedimentary basins (i.e., Tokyo, Mexico City, Seattle, parts of the San Francisco Bay area, and still others), this research may provide valuable insight into what may happen during an earthquake event in those places. Apparently, this technique is not expensive, and so the scientists are also hoping that developing countries, which may not be able to afford the expensive computers needed for other earthquake prediction techniques, will also be able to use it in their planning.

From the policy perspective, this is exciting because it gives us a way to predict (i.e., develop our best guess) about what would happen during an earthquake in various locations. That, in turn helps us plan, develop and build. This sort of research also provides us with ideas about how to prepare in the event of an earthquake, including developing evacuation routes, food storage, and so forth. While the technique is new, researchers will be testing their results in other settings, so we should have a sense of the limitations as well as the possibilities for using it in the near future.

Unfortunately, the Science article is gated, but there is a very nice summary of the findings and their implications in Science Daily.

And for readers with access to Science, here’s the full citation and a link to the article: 

M.A. Denolle, E.M. Dunham, G.A. Prieto, G.C. Beroza. “Strong Ground Motion Prediction Using Virtual Earthquakes.” Science, 2014: 343 (6169): 399 DOI: 10.1126/science.1245678. 

Cancer Clusters and Radiation in Coldwater Creek

I have been following the story of a possible cancer cluster along Coldwater Creek just outside St. Louis for a while now. That’s because my former colleague, neighbor and friend, Scott McClurg, is the lead plaintiff in a case filed in 2012. He and his other plaintiffs allege in the lawsuit that nuclear waste sites near the airport contaminated Coldwater Creek, a stream in the area where they played as children, grew up, and in some cases raised their own families. This contamination, the plaintiffs believe, is the cause of their illnesses, which include cancers and autoimmune disorders.

There are many, many facets of this story that are remarkable. For example, a group of high school friends coming together, discussing their illnesses and realizing that a surprisingly large number of cases of rare cancers and autoimmune disorders existed among them. Then, they mobilized legally, did some organizing and have been using Facebook to collect data concerning their illnesses. This is the sort of court case with human dimensions to it that will become a book one day. Certainly, at the moment, it is getting some very well-deserved press.

The most remarkable part of this story for me is not so dramatic. The most remarkable part is simply Scott McClurg.  Here he is, fighting his cancer while at the epicenter of all of this legal action, taking care of his family in the midst of maintaining a very busy career, and still he was the neighbor who went over to my home while I was away at Thanksgiving to shovel my stoop.

So I wanted to do a brief post with a few links to the story for readers who might not otherwise see it. Theres been some more recent coverage, too. I also want to signal here that we will be expanding a bit in our posts at DPP. We will consciously look for more environmental justice stories, i.e., court cases and political actions in which neighbors come together to maintain a clean and healthy community. We will discuss this complex area of case-law, and explore how environmental justice and property politics are often intertwined. Specific environmental justice actions are not always apparent when you do not live in the communities where they are taking place, but the law and politics of property and disasters are always best understood in context. Therefore, please email me if theres something youd like me to consider writing about (dpphatcher@gmail.com).