Hazardous Living: Good reading - is the apocalypse upon us?

by Megan Sever
Thursday, January 5, 2012

Megan Sever (pictured at Yellowstone) writes Hazardous Living for EARTH. Megan Sever

Earthquakes, volcanoes and blizzards, oh my. Is this year anomalous? Has Mother Nature turned on us and decided to shake up the planet? Are we headed toward an apocalypse? Or is God punishing us for passing health care reform by blowing up a volcano (as a certain Fox commentator suggested), or punishing promiscuous women by sending us earthquakes (as a certain Iranian cleric said)? No.

Geologist and blogger Chris Rowan has a fascinating post, titled "The seismic non-pocalypse," on his own blog (Highly Allochthonous), about the natural state of the planet and what's truly anomalous. The post, prompted by discussion over this year’s spate of notable earthquakes, the death toll and this month’s eruption of the Iceland volcano, mulls over the real likelihood of natural hazards striking.

Rowan puts together his own graphs of how likely we are to experience earthquakes of certain magnitudes, but then even more intriguingly, gets into the issue of the amount of energy released in a “normal” year. Apparently, if we worried about earthquakes' release of energy signaling the apocalypse, it should have happened in the 1960s. (Some might argue it did … but that’s an entirely different topic!) This year’s energy release is a bit higher than “normal,” Rowan notes, but even that is misleading: The Chilean earthquake released 500 times more energy than the Haitian one and caused far less damage. So what we really need to think about is where that energy is released, he writes.

Check it out. It's worth a read. At the very least, when your friends start joking about impending doom at the next happy hour, you'll sound smarter as you explain what's really happening. Happy Earth Day!

© 2008-2021. All rights reserved. Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of any of the contents of this service without the expressed written permission of the American Geosciences Institute is expressly prohibited. Click here for all copyright requests.