Tags: Bad | Things | Happen

Bad Things Do Happen

Wednesday, 29 December 2004 12:00 AM

This is a reminder of what can happen and has happened time and again, and it behooves us to recognize that the unthinkable is not merely possible but inevitable.

Some TV commentators have wondered if an event similar to the Asian debacle could happen here in the U.S. and not just in California, which is sitting on a geological time bomb we all know is going to explode one of these days.

Today's "The Australian" reports that "a scientist looking to pinpoint the next big earthquake has warned the U.S. east coast could be destroyed by a tsunami unleashed by the collapse of a volcanic island in the eastern Atlantic.

"A massive chunk of La Palma, the most volcanically active island in the Canaries archipelago, is unstable, British geologist Simon Day warned yesterday. Dr. Day, of the Benfield Grieg Hazard Research Centre at University College London, said the 500 billion ton rock could collapse the next time the volcano, Cumbre Vieja, erupts.

That would send a dome-shaped wall of water up to 100m tall - 10 times as high as the tsunamis that hit south Asia - racing across the Atlantic at 800km/h. Waves would hit the west coast of Africa and the south coast of England within a few hours, he said. Eight hours after the collapse, the U.S. east coast and the Caribbean would bear the brunt. Cities from Miami to New York would be swamped by waves up to 50m high, capable of surging 20km inland, according to Dr. Day's research."

But an east coast tsunami is not the only threat mainland U.S. faces. The New Madrid fault trembles from time to time, reminding us of what happened when between December 16, 1811, and February 7, 1812, the most violent quakes ever to hit the North American continent in recorded history struck the Mississippi valley in southeast Missouri.

Collectively known as the New Madrid earthquakes, these quakes affected more than 1 million square miles. By comparison, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake affected only 60,000 square miles, less than one-sixteenth the area of the New Madrid earthquakes.

As Enid Bagnal reported in her book "On Shaky Ground" scientists believe that each of the three greatest tremors would have measured more than 8.0 on the Richter scale, had that measuring device been in place in 1811.

Vibrations were felt from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic coast and from Mexico to Canada. The quake zone was in constant movement during this period. Five towns in three states disappeared, islands vanished in the Mississippi River, lakes formed where there had been none before, and the river flowed backward for a brief period.

But that's just a drop in the geological bucket. NASA's "Volcanoes - The Inside Story" weaves a horror story that shows just how violent dear old Gaia can get when she decides it's time to reorder her outer skin.

"Great eruptions emerge from two types of volcanoes: fissure eruption and giant caldera. In both types, the volume of volcanic rock deposited on the surface of the Earth during a single great eruption can be many hundreds of cubic miles - hundreds of times larger than the major eruptions mankind has direct experience with.

"Giant caldera eruptions explode with violence, noise, and destruction that defies description - try to imagine an eruption ten thousand times larger than Mount St. Helens! Several giant caldera eruptions are known to have occurred in the United States. The Valles caldera in New Mexico expelled about 100 cubic miles of ash that still covers much of the middle of the state. The Long Valley caldera in southwestern Nevada ejected over 150 cubic miles of ash that now makes up thick layers of rock in mountains all over the West.

"But the largest of these eruptions known in the United States came from a fairly recently recognized giant caldera right in the middle of Yellowstone National Park. This caldera, some 30 by 50 miles in size, covers about half of the park ...

"The Yellowstone Caldera is much larger than the crater on Mount St. Helens. The explosive ash deposit from Yellowstone is also much larger that the deposit from Mount St. Helens... The Yellowstone eruption blasted out a phenomenal 300 cubic miles of ash in a thick blanket that extended from California to the Mississippi River. All life within hundreds of miles must have been extinguished in less than an hour.

"In giant fissure eruptions, sometimes called "flood basalt" eruptions, the Earth simply cracks open and disgorges vast amounts of fluid basalt. These giant outflows are not explosive, but they may continue for weeks without a break, inexorably burying vast areas under a sea of liquid rock. Flood basalt eruptions also come in swarms: as soon as one finishes, another begins.

"Multiple outflows from the same set of cracks continue for thousands of years, creating enormous barren plains of rock. The largest flood basalt deposit in the United States is the Columbia River Basalt group which covers the eastern third of the state of Washington, a quarter of Oregon, and part of Idaho. One individual layer of basalt - a single eruption - covers 15,000 square miles to depths of 100 feet or more - a total volume of about 600 cubic miles.

"The entire Columbia River group covers 50,000 square miles to depths of a mile or more, with a total volume of 25,000 cubic miles! All of this stuff came out of a group of cracks, each 30-50 yards wide and tens of miles long, in western Idaho. Flood basalt volcanoes are the largest known deposits of volcanic material.

"Given what we know about what a major eruption can do the the world's environment, we can only guess at the conditions great eruptions create. However, we do know that many of the world's great flood basalt eruptions correspond in time with some of the great periods of extinction of life in the Earth's past - indicating extremely challenging climatic conditions for extended periods of time.

"Fortunately, the larger an eruption is, the less frequently it occurs: many small eruptions occur around the world every year, large eruptions occur every year or so, major eruptions occur on scales of decades to centuries, while great eruptions.... Well, the Columbia basalts, the world's youngest major flood basalt deposit, are about 15 million years old. The Long Valley and Valles Calderas blew up, respectively, about 11 million and 700 thousand years ago.

"The Yellowstone caldera erupted about 600 thousand years ago. Certainly no great eruptions have occurred during recorded history. It would seem that humanity is unlikely to experience a great eruption anytime soon. On the other hand, the Yellowstone blast is only the latest in a string of eruptions in that area that occur every 600 thousand years or so. And its about that time again... "

Nowadays we tend to blame natural disasters on God. "How can a merciful God allow such things to happen?" people ask. Well, Nature's God designed this universe to be self-regulating and most of the so-called natural disasters are simply part of that ongoing re-modernizing process.

Sure humans get hurt, humans suffer, but suffering and need are the Lord's way of drawing his erring children back into his embrace. There are no atheists in foxholes, the old saying goes. And there are damned few of them when trouble strikes and we fall to our knees recognizing God's supreme dominion over all things and the absolute dependence of everything upon him.

Anyone with two cents worth of brains recognizes just how far this world has strayed from God over the past 100 years. We've been wallowing in a pit of slime. We can expect Him to do what must be done to draw us back into His embrace.

Keep in mind: what God wants is to have everyone of his children united with him in eternity, which is all that matters. What happens here on earth is transitory - sooner or later it comes to an end. Eternity is forever.

Happy New Year

He can be reached at phil@newsmax.com


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This is a reminder of what can happen and has happened time and again, and it behooves us to recognize that the unthinkable is not merely possible but inevitable. Some TV commentators have wondered if an event similar to the Asian debacle could happen here in the U.S....
Wednesday, 29 December 2004 12:00 AM
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