Arquivo da tag: Terremoto

Malásia detém 4 turistas que ficaram nus em monte atingido por terremoto (UOL Notícias)

AFP, Em Kuala Lumpur

10/06/201506h20 

As autoridades da Malásia anunciaram a detenção de quatro turistas – dois canadenses, um britânico e um holandês – que supostamente ficaram nus no monte Kinabalu, um ato que, segundo alguns moradores, irritou os espíritos tribais e provocou o terremoto da semana passada.

As fotografias de 10 turistas nus circularam pelas redes sociais e provocaram a revolta dos moradores, depois que um tremor de magnitude 6,0 de magnitude perto da montanha na sexta-feira passada matou 18 pessoas.

Seis turistas permanecem em paradeiro desconhecido, segundo a polícia.

O monte Kinabalu, declarado Patrimônio Mundial da Humanidade pela Unesco e muito popular entre os alpinistas, é considerado um espaço sagrado pelo grupo tribal Kadazan Dusun da Malásia, que considera o local uma área de descanso para os espíritos.

“Nós detivemos quatro deles na terça-feira e continuamos procurando os outros seis turistas”, afirmou Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman, chefe de polícia do estado malaio de Sabah, onde fica a montanha.

Jalaluddin disse que os detidos podem ser acusados de perturbação da ordem pública.

O ministro do Turismo da província de Sabah, Masidi Manjun, anunciou a abertura de processos contra os quatro estrangeiros e informou que eles permanecerão detidos por quatro dias.

O terremoto de sexta-feira provocou deslizamentos no Monte Kinabalu, quando mais de 150 alpinistas estavam no topo da montanha.

As autoridades confirmaram que 18 pessoas morreram na montanha, incluindo alguns jovens estudantes de Cingapura que estavam no local em uma excursão escolar.

Alguns internautas malaios e inclusive algumas autoridades atribuíram a tragédia aos nudistas, sugerindo que sua atitude irritou os espíritos e provocou o terremoto.

Mas para o ministro Masidi, a ideia de que as autoridades consideram que os atos dos turistas provocaram o terremoto está equivocada.

“Eu nunca disse que eles provocaram o terremoto, e sim que suas ações contrariaram os integrantes da maior tribo de Sabah. A montanha é um lugar sagrado e reverenciado”, declarou.

Um ritual tradicional de várias religiões deve ser organizado em breve para a purificação da montanha, com a presença de muçulmanos, cristãos e também de líderes tribais, afirmou Masidi.

Anúncios

Autoridade malaia acusa turistas nus de causar terremoto que matou alpinistas (UOL Notícias)

Jennifer Pak

Da BBC News

09/06/2015 06h51 

Para um funcionário do governo da Malásia, o terremoto que atingiu o país na última sexta-feira (5) e deixou ao menos 16 mortos teve pouco a ver com a atividade sísmica da região.

Joseph Pairin Kitingan, que ocupa um cargo semelhante ao de vice-governador na província de Sabah, disse que a tragédia foi causada por um grupo de turistas ocidentais que recentemente tiraram fotos nus no Monte Kinabalu, próximo ao epicentro do tremor.

Pairin disse que a atitude dos turistas irritou os espíritos da montanha: “O terremoto é uma prova das consequências, que já temíamos, das ações (dos turistas). Temos de entender essa tragédia como um alerta, sobre como as crenças e costumes locais não podem ser desrespeitados.”

Segundo o governo da Malásia, alguns dos turistas já foram identificados; entre eles estão dois canadenses, um alemão e um holandês.

Autoridades malais estão orientadas a não permitirem que eles deixem o país, enquanto as investigações estiverem em curso.

Segundo a mídia local, ao menos um dos turistas teria sido preso.

‘Sociedade moderna’

Moradores da região acreditam que o Kinabalu é sagrado por ser o último local de descanso de seus ancestrais.

Para muitos habitantes de Sabaha, não há relação entre o tremor e a atitude dos estrangeiros, mas alguns se ofenderam com a nudez.

“Eu não posso confirmar se os turistas causaram o terremoto ou não. Somos uma sociedade moderna, mas temos nossas crenças, e elas têm de ser respeitadas”, disse Supni, um guia do Monte Kinabalu.

O guia, que acha que os turistas devem ser punidos, conta que estava levando um grupo de montanhistas pela região, quando ocorreu o terremoto que deixou ao menos 137 pessoas isoladas.

Supni conta que ele e seu grupo precisaram caminhar por 12 horas, depois de serem informados que os helicópteros de resgate não estavam conseguindo chegar ao local onde estavam por conta do tempo ruim.

Ele conta que o grupo passou por alguns corpos presos nas pedras. “Passávamos em silêncio pelos corpos, em sinal de respeito. Muitas pessoas estavam chorando, mas tentamos manter a calma”, disse.

O antropólogo Paul Porodong, da Universidade da Malásia em Sabah, disse em entrevista ao jornal Star que tribos locais relacionam atos desrespeitosos a acidentes e que a nudez do grupo se encaixaria nessa crença.

Segundo a mídia local, ao menos um dos turistas teria sido preso. Para os próximos dias, a população local está planejando um ritual tradicional no Monte Kinabalu para “acalmar os espíritos”.

Earthquake Devastates Nepal, Killing More Than 1,900 (New York Times)

NEW DELHI — A powerful earthquake shook Nepal on Saturday near its capital, Katmandu, killing more than 1,900 people, flattening sections of the city’s historic center, and trapping dozens of sightseers in a 200-foot watchtower that came crashing down into a pile of bricks.

As officials in Nepal faced the devastation on Sunday morning, they said that most of the 1,931 deaths occurred in Katmandu and the surrounding valley, and that more than 4,700 people had been injured. But the quake touched a vast expanse of the subcontinent. It set off avalanches around Mount Everest, where at least 17 climbers died. At least 34 deaths occurred in northern India. Buildings swayed in Tibet and Bangladesh.

The earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.8, struck shortly before noon, and residents of Katmandu ran into the streets and other open spaces as buildings fell, throwing up clouds of dust. Wide cracks opened on paved streets and in the walls of city buildings. Motorcycles tipped over and slid off the edge of a highway.

Devastation in Katmandu. A deadly earthquake shook Nepal on Saturday near its capital, Katmandu, and set off avalanches around Mount Everest. By Rajneesh Bhandari and Colin Archdeacon on  Publish Date April 25, 2015. 

By midafternoon, the United States Geological Survey had counted 12 aftershocks, one of which measured 6.6.

Seismologists have expected a major earthquake in western Nepal, where there is pent-up pressure from the grinding between tectonic plates, the northern Eurasian plate and the up-thrusting Indian plate. Still, witnesses described a chaotic rescue effort during the first hours after the quake as emergency workers and volunteers grabbed tools and bulldozers from construction sites, and dug with hacksaws, mangled reinforcing bars and their hands.

Though many have worried about the stability of the concrete high-rises that have been hastily erected in Katmandu, the most terrible damage on Saturday was to the oldest part of the city, which is studded with temples and palaces made of wood and unmortared brick.

Four of the area’s seven Unesco World Heritage sites were severely damaged in the earthquake: Bhaktapur Durbar Square, a temple complex built in the shape of a conch shell; Patan Durbar Square, which dates to the third century; Basantapur Durbar Square, which was the residence of Nepal’s royal family until the 19th century; and the Boudhanath Stupa, one of the oldest Buddhist monuments in the Himalayas.

For many, the most breathtaking architectural loss was the nine-story Dharahara Tower, which was built in 1832 on the orders of the queen. The tower had recently reopened to the public, and visitors could ascend a spiral staircase to a viewing platform around 200 feet above the city.

The walls were brick, around one and a half feet thick, and when the earthquake struck, they came crashing down.

The police said on Saturday that they had pulled about 60 bodies from the rubble of the tower. Kashish Das Shrestha, a photographer and writer, spent much of the day in the old city, but said he still had trouble grasping that the tower was gone.

“I was here yesterday, I was here the day before yesterday, and it was there,” he said. “Today it’s just gone. Last night, from my terrace, I was looking at the tower. And today I was at the tower — and there is no tower.”

Kanak Mani Dixit, a Nepalese political commentator, said he had been having lunch with his parents when the quake struck. The rolling was so intense and sustained that he had trouble getting to his feet, he said. He helped his father and an elderly neighbor to safety in the garden outside and then had to carry his elderly mother.

“And I had time to do all that while the quake was still going on,” Mr. Dixit said. “It was like being on a boat in heavy seas.”

Nepal’s Landmarks, Before and After the Earthquake: The earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25 flattened sections of Katmandu’s historic center, where many structures were made with bricks.

Roger Bilham, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado, said the shaking lasted about one minute, although it continued for another minute in some places.

For years, people have worried about an earthquake of this magnitude in western Nepal. Many feared that an immense death toll would result, in part because construction has been largely unregulated in recent years, said Ganesh K. Bhattari, a Nepalese expert on earthquakes, now living in Denmark.

He said the government had made some buildings more robust and reinforced vulnerable ones, but many larger buildings, like hospitals and old-age homes, remained extremely vulnerable. “There is a little bit of improvement,” he said. “But it is really difficult for people to implement the rules and the regulations.”

Kunda Dixit, the editor of The Nepali Times, said that Nepal was still emerging from many years of turmoil — a decade-long war with Maoist insurgents, followed by chronic political uncertainty — and that contingency planning for events like earthquakes had often taken a back seat to “present disasters.”

“The government hasn’t been able to get around to a lot of things, not just disaster preparedness,” Mr. Dixit said.

Earthquake in Nepal Kills Hundreds. An earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7.8 shook Nepal on Saturday near its capital, Katmandu, flattening sections of the city’s historic center. By Reuters on  Publish Date April 25, 2015. 

Saturday’s earthquake struck when schools were not in session, which may have reduced the death toll. But there was not yet a full picture of the damage to villages on the mountain ridges around Katmandu, where families live in houses made of mud and thatch.

As night fell, aftershocks were still hitting, prompting waves of screaming. Many residents sat on roads for much of the day, afraid to go back indoors, and many insisted that they would spend the night outside despite the cold. Thousands camped out at the city’s parade ground. The city’s shops were running short of bottled water, dry food and telephone charge cards.

Toward evening, hospitals were trying to accommodate a huge influx of patients, some with amputated limbs, and were running short of supplies like bandages and trauma kits, said Jamie McGoldrick, resident coordinator with the United Nations Development Program in Nepal. Water supplies, a problem under normal circumstances in this fast-growing city, will almost certainly run short, he said.

Search and rescue personnel will face the challenge of reaching villages nearer the quake’s epicenter, about 50 miles northwest of Katmandu, where damage may be catastrophic.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the American ambassador to Nepal, Peter W. Bodde, had issued a disaster declaration that would allow $1 million in humanitarian assistance to be available immediately. A disaster response team and an urban search-and-rescue team from the United States Agency for International Development will also be deployed, he said in a statement,

China and India, which jockey for influence in the region, have pledged disaster assistance.

On Mount Everest, several hundred trekkers were attempting an ascent when the earthquake struck, setting off avalanches, according to climbers there. Alex Gavan, a hiker at base camp, called it a “huge disaster” on Twitter and described “running for life from my tent.” Nima Namgyal Sherpa, a tour guide at base camp, said in a Facebook post that many camps had been destroyed.

Tremors from the quake were felt across northern India, rattling bookcases and light fixtures as far away as New Delhi. Electricity was switched off for safety reasons in the Indian state of Bihar, where three deaths were reported in one district, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, India’s minister of skill development, told reporters in New Delhi. Two deaths were reported in another district.

The region has been the site of the largest earthquakes in the Himalayas, including a 2005 quake in the Kashmir region and a 1905 earthquake in Kangra, India.

Post-earthquake living conditions in Haiti: Much-needed diagnosis (Science Daily)

Date: January 12, 2015

Source: Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)

Summary: The earthquake that rocked Haiti on 12 January 2010 was one of the four greatest killers recorded worldwide since 1990. It smacked headlong into the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, home to over one in five Haitians, destroying public buildings and housing as it went. Despite the immediate response from the international community, with rescue teams and pledges of  financial assistance and support for reconstruction and development, things are still far from back to normal.


The earthquake that rocked Haiti on 12 January 2010 was one of the four greatest killers recorded worldwide since 1990. It smacked headlong into the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, home to over one in five Haitians, destroying public buildings and housing as it went. Despite the immediate response from the international community, with rescue teams and pledges of financial assistance and support for reconstruction and development, things are still far from back to normal.

Haiti is one of the most vulnerable developing countries when it comes to natural disasters and the most exposed country in the region. The earthquake’s repercussions were much more dramatic here than in other countries hit by stronger earthquakes. For example, an earth-quake of the same magnitude hit Christchurch, New Zealand’s second-largest city, that same year with no fatalities. Other recurring factors in addition to the country’s vulnerability to natural shocks have contributed to Haiti’s economic deterioration, with chronic political and institutional instability and a poor education system top of the list.

Following the phase of emergency aid to earth-quake victims more than four years ago, the time has come to review and analyse its impacts on Haitian society. A robust, constructive diagnosis of the post-earthquake situation, especially household living conditions and the labour mar-ket, calls for high-quality representative statistical data that are hard to collect in crisis and post-crisis situations. Yet a diagnosis is needed if improvements are to be made on public em-ployment, housing and sustainable reconstruc-tion policies and to natural disaster management policies, including preventive measures. An as-sessment of this sort also needs to provide in-formation on the impact of aid, especially inter-national aid whose effectiveness has been ques-tioned. Such was the purpose of the Post-Earthquake Living Conditions Survey (ECVMAS) conducted in late 2012. The Haitian Statistics and Data Processing Institute (IHSI) worked with DIAL and the World Bank to sur-vey a sample of 5,000 households representative of the entire population. It was the first national socioeconomic survey to be taken since the earthquake.

Global Map Predicts Locations for Giant Earthquakes (Science Daily)

Dec. 12, 2013 — A team of international researchers, led by Monash University’s Associate Professor Wouter Schellart, have developed a new global map of subduction zones, illustrating which ones are predicted to be capable of generating giant earthquakes and which ones are not.

Andaman Sea. “For the Australian region subduction zones of particular significance are the Sunda subduction zone, running from the Andaman Islands along Sumatra and Java to Sumba, and the Hikurangi subduction segment offshore the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Our research predicts that these zones are capable of producing giant earthquakes,” Dr Schellart said. (Credit: © vichie81 / Fotolia)

The new research, published in the journal Physics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, comes nine years after the giant earthquake and tsunami in Sumatra in December 2004, which devastated the region and many other areas surrounding the Indian Ocean, and killed more than 200,000 people.

Since then two other giant earthquakes have occurred at subduction zones, one in Chile in February 2010 and one in Japan in March 2011, which both caused massive destruction, killed many thousands of people and resulted in billions of dollars of damage.

Most earthquakes occur at the boundaries between tectonic plates that cover the Earth’s surface. The largest earthquakes on Earth only occur at subduction zones, plate boundaries where one plate sinks (subducts) below the other into the Earth’s interior. So far, seismologists have recorded giant earthquakes for only a limited number of subduction zone segments. But accurate seismological records go back to only ~1900, and the recurrence time of giant earthquakes can be many hundreds of years.

“The main question is, are all subduction segments capable of generating giant earthquakes, or only some of them? And if only a limited number of them, then how can we identify these,” Dr Schellart said.

Dr Schellart, of the School of Geosciences, and Professor Nick Rawlinson from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland used earthquake data going back to 1900 and data from subduction zones to map the main characteristics of all active subduction zones on Earth. They investigated if those subduction segments that have experienced a giant earthquake share commonalities in their physical, geometrical and geological properties.

They found that the main indicators include the style of deformation in the plate overlying the subduction zone, the level of stress at the subduction zone, the dip angle of the subduction zone, as well as the curvature of the subduction zone plate boundary and the rate at which it moves.

Through these findings Dr Schellart has identified several subduction zone regions capable of generating giant earthquakes, including the Lesser Antilles, Mexico-Central America, Greece, the Makran, Sunda, North Sulawesi and Hikurangi.

“For the Australian region subduction zones of particular significance are the Sunda subduction zone, running from the Andaman Islands along Sumatra and Java to Sumba, and the Hikurangi subduction segment offshore the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Our research predicts that these zones are capable of producing giant earthquakes,” Dr Schellart said.

“Our work also predicts that several other subduction segments that surround eastern Australia (New Britain, San Cristobal, New Hebrides, Tonga, Puysegur), are not capable of producing giant earthquakes.”

Journal Reference:

  1. W.P. Schellart, N. Rawlinson. Global correlations between maximum magnitudes of subduction zone interface thrust earthquakes and physical parameters of subduction zonesPhysics of the Earth and Planetary Interiors, 2013; 225: 41 DOI: 10.1016/j.pepi.2013.10.001

Scientists Anticipated Size and Location of 2012 Costa Rica Earthquake (Science Daily)

Dec. 22, 2013 — Scientists using GPS to study changes in Earth’s shape accurately forecasted the size and location of the magnitude 7.6 Nicoya earthquake that occurred in 2012 in Costa Rica.

Andrew Newman, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, performs a GPS survey in Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula in 2010. (Credit: Lujia Feng)

The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica is one of the few places where land sits atop the portion of a subduction zone where Earth’s greatest earthquakes take place. Costa Rica’s location therefore makes it the perfect spot for learning how large earthquakes rupture. Because earthquakes greater than about magnitude 7.5 have occurred in this region roughly every 50 years, with the previous event striking in 1950, scientists have been preparing for this earthquake through a number of geophysical studies. The most recent study used GPS to map out the area along the fault storing energy for release in a large earthquake.

“This is the first place where we’ve been able to map out the likely extent of an earthquake rupture along the subduction megathrust beforehand,” said Andrew Newman, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The study was published online Dec. 22, 2013, in the journalNature Geoscience. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and was a collaboration of researchers from Georgia Tech, the Costa Rica Volcanological and Seismological Observatory (OVSICORI) at Universidad Nacional, University California, Santa Cruz, and the University of South Florida.

Subduction zones are locations where one tectonic plate is forced under another one. The collision of tectonic plates during this process can unleash devastating earthquakes, and sometimes devastating tsunamis. The magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan in 2011 was due to just such a subduction zone eaerthquake. The Cascadia subduction zone in the Pacific Northwest is capable of unleashing a similarly sized quake. Damage from the Nicoya earthquake was not as bad as might be expected from a magnitude 7.6 quake.

“Fortunately there was very little damage considering the earthquake’s size,” said Marino Protti of OVSICORI and the study’s lead author. “The historical pattern of earthquakes not only allowed us to get our instruments ready, it also allowed Costa Ricans to upgrade their buildings to be earthquake safe.”

Plate tectonics are the driving force for subduction zones. As tectonic plates converge, strain temporarily accumulates across the plate boundary when portions of the interface between these tectonic plates, called a megathrust, become locked together. The strain can accumulate to dangerous levels before eventually being released as a massive earthquake.

“The Nicoya Peninsula is an ideal natural lab for studying these events, because the coastline geometry uniquely allows us to get our equipment close to the zone of active strain accumulation,” said Susan Schwartz, professor of earth sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a co-author of the study.

Through a series of studies starting in the early 1990s using land-based tools, the researchers mapped regions where tectonic plates were completely locked along the subduction interface. Detailed geophysical observations of the region allowed the researchers to create an image of where the faults had locked.

The researchers published a study a few months before the earthquake, describing the particular locked patch with the clearest potential for the next large earthquake in the region. The team projected the total amount of energy that could have developed across that region and forecasted that if the locking remained similar since the last major earthquake in 1950, then there is presently enough energy for an earthquake on the order of magnitude 7.8 there.

Because of limits in technology and scientific understanding about processes controlling fault locking and release, scientists cannot say much about precisely where or when earthquakes will occur. However, earthquakes in Nicoya have occurred about every 50 years, so seismologists had been anticipating another one around 2000, give or take 20 years, Newman said. The earthquake occurred in September of 2012 as a magnitude 7.6 quake.

“It occurred right in the area we determined to be locked and it had almost the size we expected,” Newman said.

The researchers hope to apply what they’ve learned in Costa Rica to other environments. Virtually every damaging subduction zone earthquake occurs far offshore.

“Nicoya is the only place on Earth where we’ve actually been able to get a very accurate image of the locked patch because it occurs directly under land,” Newman said. “If we really want to understand the seismic potential for most of the world, we have to go offshore.”

Scientists have been able to reasonably map portions of these locked areas offshore using data on land, but the resolution is poor, particularly in the regions that are most responsible for generating tsunamis, Newman said. He hopes that his group’s work in Nicoya will be a driver for geodetic studies on the seafloor to observe such Earth deformation. These seafloor geodetic studies are rare and expensive today.

“If we want to understand the potential for large earthquakes, then we really need to start doing more seafloor observations,” Newman said. “It’s a growing push in our community and this study highlights the type of results that one might be able to obtain for most other dangerous environments, including offshore the Pacific Northwest.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Marino Protti, Victor González, Andrew V. Newman, Timothy H. Dixon, Susan Y. Schwartz, Jeffrey S. Marshall, Lujia Feng, Jacob I. Walter, Rocco Malservisi, Susan E. Owen. Nicoya earthquake rupture anticipated by geodetic measurement of the locked plate interfaceNature Geoscience, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/ngeo2038

Scientific Illiteracy: Why The Italian Earthquake Verdict is Even Worse Than it Seems (Time)

By Jeffrey Kluger – Oct. 24, 2012

image: An aerial view of the destruction in the city of L'Aquila, central Italy, April 6, 2009. GUARDIA FORESTALE HANDOUT / AP. An aerial view of the destruction in the city of L’Aquila, central Italy, April 6, 2009.

Yesterday was a very good day for stupid — better than any it’s had in a while. Stupid gets fewer good days in the 21st century than it used to get, but it enjoyed a great ride for a long time — back in the day when there were witches to burn and demons to exorcise and astronomers to put on trial for saying that the Earth orbits around the sun.

But yesterday was a reminder of stupid’s golden era, when an Italian court sentenced six scientists and a government official to six years in prison on manslaughter charges, for failing to predict a 2009 earthquake that killed 300 people in the town of l’Aquila. The defendants are also required to pay €7.8 million ($10 million) in damages. “I’m dejected, despairing,” said one of the scientists, Enzo Boschi, in a statement to Italian media. “I still don’t understand what I’m accused of.”

As well he shouldn’t. The official charge brought against the researchers, who were members of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), was based on a meeting they had in the week leading up to the quake, at which they discussed the possible significance of recent seismic rumblings that had been detected  in the vicinity of l’Aquila. They concluded that it was “unlikely,” though not impossible, that a serious quake would occur there and thus did not order the evacuation of the town. This was both sound science and smart policy.

The earthquake division of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that the world is shaken by several million earthquakes each year, most of which escape notice either because they are too small or are in remote areas that are poorly monitored. An average of 50 earthquakes do manage to register on global seismographs every day, or about 18,000 annually. The overwhelming majority do not lead to major quakes and the technology does not exist to determine which ones will. The best earthquake forecasters can do is apply their knowledge and experience to each case, knowing that you can’t evacuate 50 towns or cities every day — and knowing too that sometimes you will unavoidably, even tragically, be wrong.

“If scientists can be held personally and legally responsible for situations where predictions don’t pan out, then it will be very hard to find scientists to stick their necks out in the future,” said David Oglesby, an associate professor on the earth sciences faculty of the University of California, Riverside, according to CNN.com.

The Italian seismologists are appealing their sentences and the global outcry over the wrong-headedness of the ruling will likely weigh in their favor. But whatever the outcome of their case, they’re really just the most recent victims of  the larger, ongoing problem of scientific illiteracy.

Just the day after the ruling came down, University of Michigan researchers released the latest results from the Generation X Report, a longitudinal study funded by the National Science Foundation that has been tracking the Gen X cohort since 1986. One of the smaller but more troubling data points in the new release was the finding that only 43% of Gen Xers (53% of males and 32% of females) can correctly identify a picture of a spiral galaxy — or know that we live in one.

Certainly, it’s possible to move successfully through life without that kind of knowledge. “Knowing your cosmic address is not a necessary job skill,” concedes study author Jon D. Miller of the University of Michigan, in a release accompanying the report. But not knowing it does suggest a certain lack of familiarity with the larger themes of the physical universe — and that has implications. It’s of a piece with the people who believe humans and dinosaurs co-existed, or the 50% of Americans who do not believe that human beings evolved from apes, or the 1 on 5 who, like Galileo’s inquisitors, don’t believe the Earth revolves around the sun.

More troubling than these types of individual illiteracy are the larger, population-wide ones that have a direct impact on public policy. As my colleague Bryan Walsh observed, the issue of climate change received not a single mention in all three of this year’s presidential debates, and has barely been flicked at on the campaign trail. Part of that might simply be combat fatigue; we’ve been having the climate argument for 25 years. But the fact is there shouldn’t be any argument at all. Serious scientists who doubt that climate change is a real threat are down to just a handful of wild breeding pairs. But sowing doubt about the matter has been a thriving industry of conservatives for decades — most recently in the form of a faux scientific study published by the Cato Institute, that purports to debunk climate science as fatally flawed at best or a hoax at worst. Speaking of a federally funded and Congressionally mandated report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program that responsibly reviewed the state of climate science, the Cato publication argues:

It is immediately obvious that the intent of the report is not to provide a accurate [sic] scientific assessment of the current and future impacts of climate change in the United States, but to confuse the reader with a loose handling of normal climate[italics theirs]…presented as climate change events.

Well, no, but never mind. Our willingness to believe in junk science like this exacts a very real price — in an electorate that won’t demand action from its leaders on a matter of global significance; in parents who leave their babies unvaccinated because someone sent them a blog post fraudulently linking vaccines to autism; in young gays and lesbians forced to submit to “conversion therapy” to change the unchangeable; in a team of good Italian scientists who may spend six years in jail for failing to predict the unpredictable. No one can make us get smart about things we don’t want to get smart about. But every day we fail to do so is another good day for stupid — and another very bad one for all of us.

L’Aquila quake: Italy scientists guilty of manslaughter (BBC)

22 October 2012

The BBC’s Alan Johnston in Rome says the prosecution argued that the scientists were “just too reassuring”

Six Italian scientists and an ex-government official have been sentenced to six years in prison over the 2009 deadly earthquake in L’Aquila.

A regional court found them guilty of multiple manslaughter.

Prosecutors said the defendants gave a falsely reassuring statement before the quake, while the defence maintained there was no way to predict major quakes.

The 6.3 magnitude quake devastated the city and killed 309 people.

Many smaller tremors had rattled the area in the months before the quake that destroyed much of the historic centre.

It took Judge Marco Billi slightly more than four hours to reach the verdict in the trial, which had begun in September 2011.

Lawyers have said that they will appeal against the sentence. As convictions are not definitive until after at least one level of appeal in Italy, it is unlikely any of the defendants will immediately face prison.

‘Alarming’ case

The seven – all members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks – were accused of having provided “inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory” information about the danger of the tremors felt ahead of 6 April 2009 quake, Italian media report.

In addition to their sentences, all have been barred from ever holding public office again, La Repubblica reports.

In the closing statement, the prosecution quoted one of its witnesses, whose father died in the earthquake.

It described how Guido Fioravanti had called his mother at about 11:00 on the night of the earthquake – straight after the first tremor.

“I remember the fear in her voice. On other occasions they would have fled but that night, with my father, they repeated to themselves what the risk commission had said. And they stayed.”

‘Hasty sentence’

The judge also ordered the defendants to pay court costs and damages.

Reacting to the verdict against him, Bernardo De Bernardinis said: “I believe myself to be innocent before God and men.”

“My life from tomorrow will change,” the former vice-president of the Civil Protection Agency’s technical department said, according to La Repubblica.

“But, if I am judged by all stages of the judicial process to be guilty, I will accept my responsibility.”

Another, Enzo Boschi, described himself as “dejected” and “desperate” after the verdict was read.

“I thought I would have been acquitted. I still don’t understand what I was convicted of.”

One of the lawyers for the defence, Marcello Petrelli, described the sentences as “hasty” and “incomprehensible”.

‘Inherently unpredictable’

The case has alarmed many in the scientific community, who feel science itself has been put on trial.

Some scientists have warned that the case might set a damaging precedent, deterring experts from sharing their knowledge with the public for fear of being targeted in lawsuits, the BBC’s Alan Johnston in Rome reports.

Among those convicted were some of Italy’s most prominent and internationally respected seismologists and geological experts.

Earlier, more than 5,000 scientists signed an open letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano in support of the group in the dock.

After the verdict was announced, David Rothery, of the UK’s Open University, said earthquakes were “inherently unpredictable”.

“The best estimate at the time was that the low-level seismicity was not likely to herald a bigger quake, but there are no certainties in this game,” he said.

Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics at the UK’s Royal Berkshire Hospital said that the sentence was surprising and could set a worrying precedent.

“If the scientific community is to be penalised for making predictions that turn out to be incorrect, or for not accurately predicting an event that subsequently occurs, then scientific endeavour will be restricted to certainties only and the benefits that are associated with findings from medicine to physics will be stalled.”

Analysis

by Jonathan Amos – Science correspondent

The Apennines, the belt of mountains that runs down through the centre of Italy, is riddled with faults, and the “Eagle” city of L’Aquila has been hammered time and time again by earthquakes. Its glorious old buildings have had to be patched up and re-built on numerous occasions.

Sadly, the issue is not “if” but “when” the next tremor will occur in L’Aquila. But it is simply not possible to be precise about the timing of future events. Science does not possess that power. The best it can do is talk in terms of risk and of probabilities, the likelihood that an event of a certain magnitude might occur at some point in the future.

The decision to prosecute some of Italy’s leading geophysicists drew condemnation from around the world. The scholarly bodies said it had been beyond anyone to predict exactly what would happen in L’Aquila on 6 April 2009.

But the authorities who pursued the seven defendants stressed that the case was never about the power of prediction – it was about what was interpreted to be an inadequate characterisation of the risks; of being misleadingly reassuring about the dangers that faced their city.

Nonetheless, the verdicts will come as a shock to all researchers in Italy whose expertise lies in the field of assessing natural hazards. Their pronouncements will be scrutinised as never before, and their fear will be that they too could find themselves embroiled in legal action over statements that are inherently uncertain.

THOSE CONVICTED

Bernardo De Bernardinis, former deputy chief of Italy's civil protection department

Franco Barberi, head of Serious Risks Commission

Enzo Boschi, former president of the National Institute of Geophysics

Giulio Selvaggi, director of National Earthquake Centre

Gian Michele Calvi, director of European Centre for Earthquake Engineering

Claudio Eva, physicist

Mauro Dolce, director of the the Civil Protection Agency’s earthquake risk office

Bernardo De Bernardinis, former vice-president of Civil Protection Agency’s technical department

 

*   *   *

Scientists in the dock over L’Aquila earthquake

By Susan Watts 

BBC Newsnight Science editor

20 September 2011

Next week six scientists and an official go on trial in Italy for manslaughter over the earthquake in L’Aquila that killed 309 people two years ago.

This extraordinary case has attracted international attention because science itself seemed to be on trial, with the seven defendants apparently charged for failing to predict the magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck on the night of 6 April 2009.

Scientists cannot yet say when an earthquake is going to happen with any precision, even in a seismically active zone. And over 5,000 scientists from around the world have signed a letter supporting those on trial.

Quake damaged buildings in OnnaThe earthquake was felt throughout central Italy

“I’m afraid that like an earthquake, nothing in this case is predictable. Let’s not forget, this trial is happening in L’Aquila, where the entire population has been personally affected, and awaiting a sentence that should not happen, but could happen,” Marcello Milandri said.Yet the lawyer for one of the scientists, in an interview with Newsnight, said it is possible his client will be convicted:

Seismologists can assess only the probability that a quake may happen, and then with a large degree of uncertainty about its properties.

In some circumstances, they may be able to say that the likelihood of an event has gone up, to help authorities prepare for an emergency, perhaps by concentrating on particularly vulnerable buildings or sectors of the population, such as school-children.

Weighing the risks

The signatories to the letter say the authorities should focus on earthquake protection, instead of pursuing scientists in what some feel is a Galileo-style inquisition.

The Commission calmed the local population down following a number of earth tremors. After the quake, we heard people’s accounts and they told us they changed their behaviour following the advice of the commission 

Inspector Lorenzo Cavallo

Newsnight went to L’Aquila to find out why this case has come about.

The prosecution team said they never intended to put science on trial, that they know it is not possible to predict an earthquake.

What they are questioning is whether the six scientists and the official on trial, who together constitute Italy’s Commission of Grand Risks, did their jobs properly.

That is, did they weigh up all the risks, and communicate these clearly to the authorities seeking their advice?

The local investigator, Inspector Lorenzo Cavallo, said: “The Commission calmed the local population down following a number of earth tremors. After the quake, we heard people’s accounts and they told us they changed their behaviour following the advice of the commission.

“It is our duty to investigate what has been said in each case and pass it on to the legal authority.”

Radon gas claims

A local journalist, Giustino Parisse, who lived in Onna, a small hamlet outside L’Aquila at the time, is one of those bringing the case.

In the weeks leading up to the major quake there had been a series of tremors. On the night of 5 April, several large shocks kept his children awake.

They were anxious, but he told them to go back to bed, that there was no need to worry, the scientists had said so.

Rescuers carrying bodyThe quake was the deadliest to hit Italy since 1980

His 16-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son both died in the earthquake that night, along with his father, when the family home collapsed.

He told Newsnight that people had been becoming increasingly anxious, in part because of warnings from a local nuclear scientist, Giampaolo Giuliani, that raised levels of radon gas in the area suggested to him an earthquake might be imminent.

How valuable this is as an indicator is widely disputed, and most experts in this field believe it is unreliable.

At the time the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, Guido Bertolaso,took the unusual step of asking his Commission of Grand Risks to fly to L’Aquila to discuss the situation.

They held a meeting that lasted only an hour or so, then the official now on trial, Bernardo de Bernadinis, who was then deputy director of the civil protection department, held a hurried press briefing, in reassuring tones.

Two of those on trial are linked to Italy’s National institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV).

The institute’s head of public affairs, Pasquale de Santis, told Newsnight that the trial is a distraction, that seismologists have been saying since 1998 that this is a high risk area, and that people should instead be focussing on those who failed properly to enforce building codes in L’Aquila.

Funding needed

We put this to the mayor of L’Aquila, Massimo Cialente. He hopes the trial will prompt a national debate, and make it easier for him to raise the funds and support he needs to protect people against future earthquakes.

He said six days before the major quake he moved local children from a school damaged in an earlier tremor. He said he had no official budget to do that, because prevention is not a national priority.

“We closed the school and we had to transfer 500 pupils. I needed money, but I started the work without the money. If the quake did not happen I would be charged for that.”

Those bringing the case say the people of L’Aquila have a right to know what happened. Many hope the trial will bring some peace of mind.

But some of those who signed the letter of support told Newsnight they fear the case will dissuade scientists from leaving their labs to engage with politicians and the public.

John McCloskey, professor of geophysics at Ulster University, said these scientists have spent their lives producing some of the most sophisticated seismic maps in the world.

He said it is an “outrage” that they are now on trial for manslaughter, adding that he signed the letter because “their peril is our peril”.

*   *   *

Can we predict when and where quakes will strike?

By Leila Battison – Science reporter

20 September 2011

l'Aquila earthquakeSeismologists try to manage the risk of building damage and loss of life

This week, six seismologists go on trial for the manslaughter of 309 people, who died as a result of the 2009 earthquake in l’Aquila, Italy.

The prosecution holds that the scientists should have advised the population of l’Aquila of the impending earthquake risk.

But is it possible to pinpoint the time and location of an earthquake with enough accuracy to guide an effective evacuation?

There are continuing calls for seismologists to predict where and when a large earthquake will occur, to allow complete evacuation of threatened areas.

Predicting an earthquake with this level of precision is extremely difficult, because of the variation in geology and other factors that are unique to each location.

Attempts have been made, however, to look for signals that indicate a large earthquake is about to happen, with variable success.

Historically, animals have been thought to be able to sense impending earthquakes.

Noticeably erratic behaviour of pets, and mass movement of wild animals like rats, snakes and toads have been observed prior to several large earthquakes in the past.

Following the l’Aquila quake, researchers published a study in the Journal of Zoology documenting the unusual movement of toads away from their breeding colony.

But scientists have been unable to use this anecdotal evidence to predict events.

The behaviour of animals is affected by too many factors, including hunger, territory and weather, and so their erratic movements can only be attributed to earthquakes in hindsight.

Precursor events

When a large amount of stress is built up in the Earth’s crust, it will mostly be released in a single large earthquake, but some smaller-scale cracking in the build-up to the break will result in precursor earthquakes.

“There is no scientific basis for making a prediction” – Richard Walker, University of Oxford

These small quakes precede around half of all large earthquakes, and can continue for days to months before the big break.

Some scientists have even gone so far as to try to predict the location of the large earthquake by mapping the small tremors.

The “Mogi Doughnut Hypothesis” suggests that a circular pattern of small precursor quakes will precede a large earthquake emanating from the centre of that circle.

While half of the large earthquakes have precursor tremors, only around 5% of small earthquakes are associated with a large quake.

So even if small tremors are felt, this cannot be a reliable prediction that a large, devastating earthquake will follow.

“There is no scientific basis for making a prediction”, said Dr Richard Walker of the University of Oxford.

In several cases, increased levels of radon gas have been observed in association with rock cracking that causes earthquakes.

Leaning buildingSmall ground movements sometimes precede a large quake

Radon is a natural and relatively harmless gas in the Earth’s crust that is released to dissolve into groundwater when the rock breaks.

Similarly, when rock cracks, it can create new spaces in the crust, into which groundwater can flow.

Measurements of groundwater levels around earthquake-prone areas see sudden changes in the level of the water table as a result of this invisible cracking.

Unfortunately for earthquake prediction, both the radon emissions and water level changes can occur before, during, or after an earthquake, or not at all, depending on the particular stresses a rock is put under.

Advance warning systems

The minute changes in the movement, tilt, and the water, gas and chemical content of the ground associated with earthquake activity can be monitored on a long term scale.

Measuring devices have been integrated into early warning systems that can trigger an alarm when a certain amount of activity is recorded.

Prediction will only become possible with a detailed knowledge of the earthquake process. Even then, it may still be impossible” – Dr Dan Faulkner, University of Liverpool

Such early warning systems have been installed in Japan, Mexico and Taiwan, where the population density and high earthquake risk pose a huge threat to people’s lives.

But because of the nature of all of these precursor reactions, the systems may only be able to provide up to 30 seconds’ advance warning.

“In the history of earthquake study, only one prediction has been successful”, explains Dr Walker.

The magnitude 7.3 earthquake in 1975 in Haicheng, North China was predicted one day before it struck, allowing authorities to order evacuation of the city, saving many lives.

But the pattern of seismic activity that this prediction was based on has not resulted in a large earthquake since, and just a year later in 1976 a completely unanticipated magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck nearby Tangshan causing the death of over a quarter of a million people.

The “prediction” of the Haicheng quake was therefore just a lucky unrepeatable coincidence.

A major problem in the prediction of earthquake events that will require evacuation is the threat of issuing false alarms.

Scientists could warn of a large earthquake every time a potential precursor event is observed, however this would result in huge numbers of false alarms which put a strain on public resources and might ultimately reduce the public’s trust in scientists.

“Earthquakes are complex natural processes with thousands of interacting factors, which makes accurate prediction of them virtually impossible,” said Dr Walker.

Seismologists agree that the best way to limit the damage and loss of life resulting from a large earthquake is to predict and manage the longer-term risks in an earthquake-prone area. These include the likelihood of building collapsing and implementing emergency plans.

“Detailed scientific research has told us that each earthquake displays almost unique characteristics, preceded by foreshocks or small tremors, whereas others occur without warning. There simply are no rules to utilise in order to predict earthquakes,” said Dr Dan Faulkner, senior lecturer in rock mechanics at the University of Liverpool.

“Earthquake prediction will only become possible with a detailed knowledge of the earthquake process. Even then, it may still be impossible.”

What causes an earthquake?

An earthquake is caused when rocks in the Earth’s crust fracture suddenly, releasing energy in the form of shaking and rolling, radiating out from the epicentre.

The rocks are put under stress mostly by friction during the slow, 1-10 cm per year shuffling of tectonic plates.

The release of this friction can happen at any time, either through small frequent fractures, or rarer breaks that release a lot more energy, causing larger earthquakes.

It is these large earthquakes that have devastating consequences when they strike in heavily populated areas.

Attempts to limit the destruction of buildings and the loss of life mostly focus on preventative measures and well-communicated emergency plans.

*   *   *

Long-range earthquake prediction – really?

By Megan Lane – BBC News

11 May 201

Model figures on shaky jigsaw

In Italy, Asia and New Zealand, long-range earthquake predictions from self-taught forecasters have recently had people on edge. But is it possible to pinpoint when a quake will strike?

It’s a quake prediction based on the movements of the moon, the sun and the planets, and made by a self-taught scientist who died in 1979.

But on 11 May 2011, many people planned to stay away from Rome, fearing a quake forecast by the late Raffaele Bendandi – even though his writings contained no geographical location, nor a day or month.

In New Zealand too, the quake predictions of a former magician who specialises in fishing weather forecasts have caused unease.

“The date is not there, nor is the place” – Paola Lagorio, of the foundation that honours Bendandi

After a 6.3 quake scored a direct hit on Christchurch in February, Ken Ring forecast another on 20 March, caused by a “moon-shot straight through the centre of the earth”. Rattled residents fled the city.

Predicting quakes is highly controversial, says Brian Baptie, head of seismology at the British Geological Survey. Many scientists believe it is impossible because of the quasi-random nature of earthquakes.

“Despite huge efforts and great advances in our understanding of earthquakes, there are no good examples of an earthquake being successfully predicted in terms of where, when and how big,” he says.

Many of the methods previously applied to earthquake prediction have been discredited, he says, adding that predictions such as that in Rome “have little basis and merely cause public alarm”.

Woman holding pet cat in a tsunami devastated street in JapanCan animals pick up quake signals?

Seismologists do monitor rock movements around fault lines to gauge where pressure is building up, and this can provide a last-minute warning in the literal sense, says BBC science correspondent Jonathan Amos.

“In Japan and California, there are scientists looking for pre-cursor signals in rocks. It is possible to get a warning up to 30 seconds before an earthquake strikes your location. That’s enough time to get the doors open on a fire station, so the engines can get out as soon as it is over.”

But any longer-range prediction is much harder.

“It’s like pouring sand on to a pile, and trying to predict which grain of sand on which side of the pile will cause it to collapse. It is a classic non-linear system, and people have been trying to model it for centuries,” says Amos.

In Japan, all eyes are on the faults that lace its shaky islands.

On Monday, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda urged that the Hamaoka nuclear plant near a fault line south-west of Tokyo be shut down, pending the construction of new tsunami defences.

Seismologists have long warned that a major earthquake is overdue in this region.

But overdue earthquakes can be decades, if not centuries, in coming. And this makes it hard to prepare, beyond precautions such as construction standards and urging the populace to lay in emergency supplies that may never be needed.

Later this year, a satellite is due to launch to test the as-yet unproven theory that there is a link between electrical disturbances on the edge of our atmosphere and impending quakes on the ground below.

Toad warning

Then there are the hypotheses that animals may be able to sense impending earthquakes.

Last year, the Journal of Zoology published a study into a population of toads that left their breeding colony three days before a 6.3 quake struck L’Aquila, Italy, in 2009. This was highly unusual behaviour.

But it is hard to objectively and quantifiably study how animals respond to seismic activity, in part because earthquakes are rare and strike without warning.

A man in Christchurch carrying a young girl through stricken streetsCountries in the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire”, like New Zealand, are regularly shaken by quakes

“At the moment, we know the parts of the world where earthquakes happen and how often they happen on average in these areas,” says Dr Baptie.

This allows seismologists to make statistical estimates of probable ground movements that can be use to plan for earthquakes and mitigate their effects. “However, this is still a long way from earthquake prediction,” he says.

And what of the “prophets” who claim to predict these natural disasters?

“Many regions, such as Indonesia and Japan, experience large earthquakes on a regular basis, so vague predictions of earthquakes in these places requires no great skill.”

 

Who was Raffaele Bendandi?

  • Born in 1893 in central Italy
  • In November 1923, he predicted a quake would strike on January 2, 1924
  • Two days after this date, it did, in Italian province of Le Marche
  • Mussolini made him a Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy
  • But he also banned Bendandi from making public predictions, on pain of exile