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“An Inconvenient National Park,” Part 3

Tuesday, May 15, 2007  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Dr. Robert Smith of the Yellowstone-Teton Epicenter Project will be my guest today.

My first posts on this subject are here and here.  The first nifty illustration is here:


 UPDATE:  My geologist friend Viuki says there are much more immediate concerns than Yellowstone’s supervolcano:


I’ve been reading Bill Bryson since he started publishing books (very
popular in England before any Yanks had read him.) He is a wonderful
writer, and Short History is a good science text. I have all his books
if you want to borrow some more! I think he would be a great guest
columnist since he can speak authoritatively on the British version of
free speech and ours.

Now, Yellowstone. As we discussed once (a couple years ago at least),
Yellowstone Park is over an active hot spot — just like Hawai’i — as
the plates move over the hot spot, volcanic activity ensues. The
probability of eruption is unknowable, but there are far more serious
geologic concerns for the average American. They just don’t happen to be
in such scenic areas!

1. New Madrid Fault —
The Mississippi Valley-“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”
In the winter of 1811-12, the central Mississippi Valley was struck by
three of the most powerful earthquakes in U.S. history. Even today, this
region has more earthquakes than any other part of the United States
east of the Rocky Mountains. Government agencies, universities, and
private organizations are working to increase awareness of the
earthquake threat and to reduce loss of life and property in future
shocks.[# More #]

The 400 terrified residents in the town of New Madrid (Missouri) were
abruptly awakened by violent shaking and a tremendous roar. It was
December 16, 1811, and a powerful earthquake had just struck. This was
the first of three magnitude-8 earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks
to rock the region that winter.

2. Mt. Rainier, WA — if it heats up and melts the glaciers, we’re
looking at giant sized mudflows covering a large area of the
Seattle-Tacoma conurbation.

Debris-Flow Hazards Caused by Hydrologic Events at Mount Rainier,
Washington — Vallance, J.W., Cunico, M.L., and Schilling, S.P., 2003,
Debris-Flow Hazards Caused by Hydrologic Events at Mount Rainier,
Washington: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 03-368.

This report discusses potential hazards from debris flows induced by
hydrologic events such as glacial outburst floods and torrential rain at
Mount Rainier and the surrounding area bounded by Mount Rainier National
Park. The report also shows, in the accompanying hazard-zonation maps,
which areas are likely to be at risk from future such debris flows at
Mount Rainier. — Vallance,, 2003

3. Mt. Vesuvius blows up again in a big way and covers a big chunk of
Italy in ash and superheated gases, and does so very, very quickly.

4. North Pole goes south.
When Compasses Point South

If all the compasses in the world started pointing south rather than
north, many people might think something very strange, very unusual, and
possibly very dangerous was going on. Doomsayers would have a field day
proclaiming the end is nigh, while more rational persons might head
straight to scientists for an explanation.

Fortunately, those scientists in the know*paleomagnetists, to be
exact*would have a ready answer. Such reversals in the Earth’s
magnetic field, they’d tell you, are, roughly speaking, as common as ice
ages. That is, they’re terrifically infrequent by human standards, but
in geologic terms they happen all the time. As the time line at right
shows, hundreds of times in our planet’s history the polarity of the
magnetic shield ensheathing the globe has gone from “normal,” our
current orientation to the north, to “reversed,” and back again.

This changing polarity is very handy for igneous petrologists since
cooling lava hardens with magnetic crystals aligned to the current
polarity — I studied this for 3 years on the Columbia River Basalts.
It helps to determine the age of the ro
cks, direction of the lava flow,

So, if you’re looking for potential major natural catastrophes, you’re
spoiled for choice.

As far as I know, Jane Austen never wrote anything about natural
disasters — she barely mentions the American Revolution, the French
Terror or Napoleon’s Wars.

Cheers, Viki

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