Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘tsunami

Taking Stock: Japan, Giant Earthquake, Tsunami, Libya, etc.

with 10 comments

Just when I thinks the news can’t get any worse, it does. Actually, I always know things can get worse, I’m just a bit dismayed that my predictions of doom and gloom are bearing fruit from unexpected quarters. And by that I mean the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. This is already one of the largest earthquakes in history, and the most destructive earthquake in Japan in nearly a  century. This was badly timed to say the least. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and here are a few points of interest, thoughts about the quake, global implications, etc.

First, Japan is an organized an efficiently run country, right, so at least the rescue and rebuilding and all that will go smoothly, and they were well prepared? Well, sort of. My readings have indicated that Japan has one of the world’s best government bureaucracies. And by that I mean like all well run government agencies, they are really good at covering up problems and shifting blame. And they don’t have a good track record for honestly either, especially when it comes to nuclear releases. My point here? Take anything the Japanese government says with a grain of salt. Like any other government when they need to, they will lie. (Not putting them down though, in fact Japan has practised sustainable forestry and agriculture for centuries, nearly 80% of Japan is forested, something no other industrialized country can claim. That’s fodder for an upcoming blog.)

And how the hell did a bunch of nuclear power plants fail? Aren’t they designed to withstand earthquakes? Well, yes. Just not this earthquake. Nuclear power plants are designed to (hopefully) withstand a major quake, like a 7.0 or something. This quake was around 9, one of the largest quakes in history. And the cost to make a nuclear power plant able to withstand a 9.0 magnitude quake would be ridiculous, if it could even be done. Basically by building nuclear plants in Japan they were betting they wouldn’t have a quake like this in the lifetime of the plants. They lost the bet.

So what’s the worst that could happen? Something as bad or nearly as bad as Chernobyl is possible. The fact that they are evacuating huge numbers of people alone says that. Chernobyl killed over a hundred, certainly gave thousands cancer, and likely in the final analysis will have caused hundreds of thousands of cases of cancer. Then there’s the plain economic damage from abandoned cities and towns and lost agricultural land. Yes nuclear fallout is the gift that just keeps on giving. For generations. And this wouldn’t just be confined to Japan. Measurable (and thus cancer causing)  fallout could easily reach the USA west coast, I mean, Japan sent balloon bombs to the West coast in World War Two, that’s just the way the wind blows. Sigh. Is this disaster an argument against nuclear power? Yes, yes it is.

Now globally, what are the implications of this earthquake? There’s two areas of concern here. The geophysical and the economic. The geophysical first, could this be a harbinger of things to come? There have been a  lot of quakes lately, what’s up with that? Statistically, nothing. There’s big quakes all the time, usually they hit remote areas because most of the world’s population is very concentrated. There’s been a bit of bad luck lately in that some big quakes have struck areas were a lot of people live, but these things happen. Still, humans have made some enormous changes in a very short time geologically speaking in terms of how weight is distributed on the Earth’s surface. Think massive erosion, countless trillions of tons of soil have been eroded off deforested mountains the world over and washed into the oceans. Add to that cubic miles of ice melted from ice caps and glaciers the world over in recent decades. So maybe we are in for more quakes as the earth “settles” so to speak. Global rattling, great.

That’s pretty speculative. The economic news, well, that sucks. Japan is one of the world’s largest economies, so this is going to hurt. Tens of billions of dollars in real damage. Real damage in that real things were destroyed, infrastructure, farms, homes, businesses. Printing money won’t replace these, actual wealth has been destroyed. Then there’s further pressure on already shaky global food supplies. In and of itself this might not be a big deal, but in combination with other economic disruption running through the world today, this quake and tsunami is a body blow the world’s economy didn’t need. And by other economic disruption, I mean events in Libya and the Middle East. Just look at Libya, for one thing their imports and exports  have dropped to zero. That’s going to hurt any business that had dealing with Libya. Then there’s refugees flooding into neighbouring countries, they have to be fed and housed. Then there’s the just plain loss of wealth because people in Libya aren’t working. And what’s playing out in Libya is also going on in a half a dozen other countries throughout the Middle East in one fashion or another. Not to mention ongoing war in a few countries, the west is pouring a lot of wealth into Bush’s foreign adventures still.

I wrote most of this last night. This morning I see there’s been another explosion at an afflicted reactor in Japan. And the rebels recaptured a city in Libya. I should mention that at this point, almost no matter what happens in Libya, it’s going to cause global problems for years or decades. If Qaddafi wins, great, Libya is a pariah state with  an ongoing insurgency. Yeah, the world needs another one of those. And if Qaddafi loses, rebuilding Libya into a modern state and undoing the damage wrought by the rebellion will take years at best.

Sigh. So since things might get worse before they get better, my next post will be a helpful guide to surviving the coming appocalypse, whatever shape it may take. Suggestions welcome.

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law, having been created over a century ago. It’s titled “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” and was created by Hokusai. It’s not a tsunami though people often assume that. The reasons I selected it for this post seem pretty self evident to me, so I’ll let people guess. My heart goes out to the people of Japan, I can’t imagine what they are experiencing.)



Written by unitedcats

March 14, 2011 at 5:33 am

Worst Case Scenario: Methane Eruption, Deepwater Horizon is America’s Tsunami

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In keeping with the theme of this blog, people should keep in mind that there is a small but real possibility that the Deepwater Horizon blowout could lead to a catastrophe of global proportions the likes of which hasn’t been seen in human history. How likely is it that we are now in the early scenes of a real life version of Armageddon? No one knows, the Deepwater Horizon blowout could trigger a methane eruption that will end civilization as we know it. Well, the end of civilization as we know it in the United States.

Let me explain. Say one has a huge reservoir of gas that has been turned into a liquid by low temperatures and high pressure. If the temperature goes up or the pressure goes down, this liquid starts turning into a gas. And when liquid turns into a gas, it expands, rapidly. To get an idea of how powerful this sort of thing is, this is pretty much what happens when a super volcano erupts and hundreds of cubic miles of ejecta is created. IE the gas dissolved in a huge underground reservoir of magma turns into actual gas and turns cubic miles of rock into vastly larger volumes of pumice and ash. Poof, whole states buried in many feet of ash. A key point here is that these things may start slowly, but once they start the end result is inevitable. IE once something starts relieving the pressure … the pressure starts to drop … and more gas comes out of solution! I mean it’s  bad analogy in many sense, but it’s like blowing up a balloon, if you keep blowing it eventually pops … and once the pop has occurred … nothing is going to stop that balloon from exploding.

Well, in the sea floor there are huge reservoirs of frozen methane gas. They are the products of organic decay, but are kept in a liquid state by the cold temperatures and high pressure. And at least one time in Earth’s history they have “popped” and turned into methane gas in a very short time period. And methane gas makes CO2 look like a wimp in the global warming department. In this occasion they heated up the Earth 7 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit.) Yikes. That seems unlikely in this case, but it is possible that we have triggered what will be a methane eruption of historically unprecedented scale.

And a huge methane eruption could be quite exciting to say the least. Worst case scenario: Dozens of cubic miles of water in the Gulf of Mexico will more or less froth into toxic foam. Hundreds of people on ships, planes, and offshore platforms in the area will be dead almost instantly. The tsunamis created when the ocean rushes back in to fill this void will kill hundreds of thousands within hours. Florida will be especially hard hit, but so will parts of Georgia, which doesn’t even have a Gulf Coast! Property damage in the afflicted areas will basically be total. Millions of casualties is not outside the range of possibility.

Thank you. Just doing my job. I’d actually be appalled if it turned out that bad, but sadly the current oil spill reality is appalling enough. This is a slow moving Chernobyl. And this isn’t turtles and pelicans, this is people. Huge numbers of people are trying to clean up this mess without proper protective clothing. Few of them are really volunteers an any real sense of the word. Americans are manning the dikes in the worst ecological disaster in American history, and the government is standing by and letting BP public relations flacks call the shots. We should be declaring a national emergency and sending in the army to help with the clean up, but I guess that isn’t manly enough for General Petraeus  and his ilk.

In any event, just how likely is some sort of massive methane generated tsunami? Well, according to BP, the possibility of this happening is “unfounded.” Well, I’m reassured, if BP says it can’t happen, then we have nothing to worry about.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, it’s use is central to illustrating the post, and it is arguably a historically important image. I can’t find the source, but the image is apparently titled: “Backward Flow in Qian Tang Jiang River, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China.” It looks exciting, doesn’t it? In any event this will be my last current events post for a bit, between the wars, the economy, and the gulf oil mess it’s all too depressing lately.)

Written by unitedcats

July 1, 2010 at 8:31 am