Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti Is Not The End: Other Earthquakes Are Just Round The Corner – Ulster Expert

Professor McCloskey says: “At the end of a week which has been dominated by the awful scenes from Haiti, the thought that other big earthquakes are just round the corner is a truly bleak picture. Professor McCloskey and his group rapidly analysed the M9.2 earthquake that triggered the Indian Ocean 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and alerted the world to the threat of another large quake in the Sumatra region of the Indian Ocean 10 days before it struck. He is head of the Geophysics Research Group at Ulster’s Environmental Sciences Research Institute.

West of Sumatra

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A huge wave-generating quake capable of killing as many people as in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami could strike off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and the city of Padang is in the firing line, a team of seismologists said on Sunday. The group -- led by a prominent scientist who predicted a 2005 Sumatran quake with uncanny accuracy -- issued the warning in a letter to the journal Nature Geoscience.

In their letter, they stated that:

Padang, population 850,000, sits directly above the Sunda subduction zone where the Australian plate plunges beneath the Eurasian plate. Since late 2004, a series of earthquakes, the first of which triggered the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, has ruptured the plate boundary from the Andaman Islands to the Sunda Strait, a distance of nearly 2,500 km. Only some 300 km of the Sunda margin — the Mentawai segment — remains unbroken in the past five years (Fig. 1a); Padang lies broadside on to this segment.

Under Siberut, the biggest of the Mentawai Islands, the megathrust has not ruptured since the great 1797 earthquake (Mw = 8.7), when up to 10 m of slip produced a tsunami and inundated Padang and its adjacent coast1. The megathrust is strongly coupled there (Fig. 1b) and stores almost all of the 5 cm or so of annual plate convergence. The strain released in 1797 has been more than replenished. Furthermore, recent earthquakes both to the north and to the south have loaded the locked segment and raised the risk of another great shock.

The peril comes from a relentless buildup of pressure over the last two centuries on a section of the Sunda Trench, one of the world's most notorious earthquake zones, which runs parallel to the western Sumatra coast, they said.

Professor McCloskey says:

“For some years now scientists have been warning of the build up of stress on one of the earth’s great plate boundaries to the west of Sumatra in Indonesia. For more than 200 years the collision between the Indian ocean plate and the Asian plate has stored an enormous amount of energy.

“It’s just like slowly drawing a bow. For hundreds of years the energy is stored as the two tectonic plates bend and deform. Then, in just a few seconds all this energy is released generating a massive earthquake and sometimes flexing the seafloor to create a tsunami.

“Off western Sumatra the bow is drawn tight. The last shock happened more than 200 years ago and the stresses are probably larger now than they were then; the earthquake must happen soon.

On 30 September 2009, the city of Padang in Indonesia was rocked by an earthquake with a moment magnitude of Mw = 7.6. Despite its size, the earthquake did not rupture the Sunda megathrust and did not significantly relax the 200 years of accumulated stress on the Mentawai segment. The megathrust strain-energy budget remains substantially unchanged and the threat of a great, Mw > 8.5, tsunamigenic earthquake on the Mentawai patch is unabated.

“The science of earthquakes is still on a steep learning curve and earthquake prediction is as far off as ever.

“Science and scientists do not have all the answers. We don’t know where or when the next big earthquake will happen. We disagree on a lot of the details about how earthquakes work, how they start and how they stop but there are many things about which there is no disagreement.

“All the indicators are pointing in the same direction for western Sumatra. Another massive earthquake is due there and could happen literally any day.

“Scientists cannot forecast the exact size of the earthquake but in this case there is complete agreement that it will be very strong, probably bigger than magnitude 8.5, dwarfing the energy release in the Haitian quake. We also cannot say for sure what size the tsunami will be but it has the potential to be very destructive – maybe even worse than 2004.

Preparation for coming of Earthquake

“It is an international disgrace that we appear not to have made the smallest progress in preparation .The ‘international community’ is very good at preparing for war but has failed completely to prepare to help the poor who are always the ones to suffer in these events.

“But the future need not look like Haiti. We know this earthquake is coming and we might have years or even decades to prepare.

“Given the unfolding scenes of carnage following the Haiti earthquake and the completely inadequate speed of the international response, the responsibility on the Indonesian government, the international community and the international NGOs is enormous.

“We must work urgently to prepare for this earthquake if we are not to witness again the awful scenes of children dying for want of a few stitches or a cast for a broken leg.

“The September Padang earthquake and the tragedy of Haiti underline the importance of preparation. There are many things that can be done to reduce the impact of earthquakes. Many of these are low-tech methods that have been tried and tested.

“In an earthquake a table can save your life, its legs are extremely strong under compression so when the roof falls down the table provides a small air space, if you’re in there you have a chance.’

It’s also clear that we haven’t organized ourselves sufficiently internationally.

“It was really disturbing to see children lying on the floor in hospitals with no pain relief, without any medical help at all. How many lives could have been saved if the international community had prepared properly for this event?

“Scientists can’t tell where and when but I can tell you now that other earthquakes like this are absolutely certain. We can’t continue to refuse to accept the inevitable; earthquakes happen, they kill people, they will kill more and more people if we don’t organise ourselves properly. We must start now.

(Extract from http://news.ulster.ac.uk/releases/2010/4813.html dated 17-1-2010)

Yes, agreed with Professor McCloskey; with the Haiti earthquake it revealed weaknesses of our readiness for global disasters, which has become more frequent and with larger magnitude. The strong nation are well prepared for wars, but not ready for global disasters. The countries around the potential site, should now be planning for Risk Impact Analysis; Emergency Readiness Program, and Evacuation Master Plan etc. It include Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Australia, India, Myanmar, Sri Langka etc....

We must start now to prepare for the eventuality, to be ready even if it happen today....

Do not take things for granted...Be prepared just as a Scout motto.

Related articles:
1.Tsunami-generating quake possible off Indonesia: scientists, AFP, dated 18-1-2010,yahoo news, http://malaysia.news.yahoo.com/afp/20100117/tap-science-quake-tsunami-indonesia-aeccaac.html
2. “The September 2009 Padang earthquake”, by John McCloskey ,Dietrich Lange ,Frederik Tilmann ,Suleyman S. Nalbant ,Andrew F. Bell ,Danny Hilman Natawidjaja & Andreas Rietbrock, Nature Geoscience's website on 17 January at 1800 London time / 1300 US Eastern time. A pdf is available from http://files.me.com/jivaro1956/svji17
3. Professor John McCloskey, http://www.science.ulster.ac.uk/geophys/people/mccloskey.html

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