Archive for September, 2005

Explore the Seafloor

Friday, September 23rd, 2005

Take a journey to the bottom of the sea.

Click here for today’s podcast on features of the seafloor.

There’s No Escaping Plate Tectonics

Thursday, September 15th, 2005

The impacts of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the any-day-now Big One in California underscore just how much plate tectonics shapes our lives. The tsunami was the direct result of a megathrust earthquake generated in a subduction zone. Even the impacts of Hurricane Katrinia owe in some part to the type of continental margin on which Florida and the other Gulf States reside. And California sits along the juggernaut of a transform boundary innocently called the San Andreas fault.

As we consider our own preparedness for natural disasters, and our own degree of interest in them, it would be wise to reflect for a few moments on how plate tectonics influences the landscape and perils of where we live. By appreciating this big picture, you may better understand how this theory of the Earth really does relate to your daily life…and how knowledge of this theory may even save your life…especially if it motivates you to make sure that you are ready…no matter what Mother Nature may throw our way.

Click here for today’s podcast about tectonic plates and plate boundaries.

When Science Alone Is Not Enough…

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

Sometimes, even the best of science isn’t enough to prevent human catastrophe. Scientists and engineers had known for decades that it wasn’t a question of whether the flood walls and levees in New Orleans would break, but when they would break. Hurricane and flood models clearly illustrated the kind of disaster that would happen…and, like a scripted Hollywood movie, it was pretty much exactly what did happen. Beyond the issue of emergency preparedness…beyond the incredible lack of planning on what to do with hundreds of thousands of people when they were displaced…and even beyond the utter lack of urgency to respond after the hurricane hit…is the greater issue of why the people of New Orleans…and the people of any state, for that matter…more times than not, disregard the warnings of impending doom.

Survey upon survey reveals that most people ignore warnings of high probability natural disasters. And not just for hurricanes…heck, people ignore the threat of earthquakes, El Ninos, tsunami and any of a host of other potential dangers. The addage goes that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink…is the same thing true for humans…you can warn a fella he’s about to be hit by a propellor but you can’t make him move out of the way?

The ugly truth is that public education on the dangers of disasters, the means to plan and prepare for a disaster and the course of action required to implement those plans and adapt during a disaster is sadly lacking in our country. Back in the days of the cold war, school kids practiced diving under their desks if an air raid siren sounded. We drew up home nuclear fallout shelters and talked about what to do in the event of a nuclear blast. We even prepared hurricane kits with food and water, batteries, flashlights and first aid kits. An informal survey of my classes this week revealed uncertainly over what to do in an earthquake. Many students still thought doorways were safe. (Duck and cover is the rule of thumb now). I am sure that many of the people along the Gulf Coast reasoned that they had survived the last hurricane…and this one would be no different.

It’s really up to all of us…not just city, county, state and federal officials…to be ready when the next disaster hits. It’s OUR individual responsibility to educate ourselves about natural disasters. When a hurricane bears down, we need to listen to the news, go to a web site if possible, glean as much information as we can and make an INFORMED decision about the coming danger. At the very least, we can stockpile food and water, make sure our first aid kits are up to date, make sure we have fresh long-lasting batteries, check our flashlights to determine if they are sufficient for our situation and PLAN for what to do if we are away from home, in our car or somewhere out of touch with our loved ones.

All the science in the world is not going to stop hurricanes, stop earthquakes or calm a tsunami. But we can educate ourselves about these natural disasters and be prepared as best we can when they come. Granted, we will need a little help from our friends…but if we are all prepared, then we have a better chance to help those around us…and we increase the likelihood that everyone…no matter what their walk of life…has a chance.

Be prepared. Share what you know. Learn more. If there is any lesson in Katrina, hopefully, it’s that we will all know better next time.

Click here for today’s podcast about the theory of plate tectonics, a theory 50 years in the making and, perhaps, an example of how even scientists don’t always agree on how nature works.

Global Warming 1, Humans 0

Friday, September 2nd, 2005

The War on Terror has taken on added dimensions in the aftermath of Hurricane Al-Katrina. If we can’t mobilize our own forces on our own turf to rescue our own people from a well-predicted natural disaster, then what the hell good is Homeland Security and emergency preparedness anyways?

Since the 1960s, scientists and engineers have warned that under certain conditions, the levees in New Orleans would crumble and drown the city. The Gulf Coast is certainly no stranger to hurricanes…crimeny, they named a drink after them on Bourbon Street! If that’s not enough, we’ve bulldozed the natural barriers that once protected the Gulf Coast, created a huge sinkhole by sucking out all the gas and oil beneath it, starved the region of sand by diverting the natural flow of the Mississippi…and accelerated sea level rise by ignoring global warming! Talk about the chickens coming home to roost…

Rather than insure the safety of a million-plus people, our poultry politicians chose to spend billions of dollars on shoe-checks at airports. Rather than maintain adequate levels of personnel to respond to national emergencies, the pollies sent National Guard troops to fight a medieval-style crusade in the Middle East. And rather improve the Third-World status of impoverished and marginalized Americans living along the Gulf Coast, our leaders robbed social and infrastructure improvement programs to give tax breaks to the wealthy. Let freedom ring…eh?

Hurricane Katrina was not, as one National Hurricane Center scientist put it, a rare event. Sure, it packed powerful winds and a tsunami-like storm surge. And sure, it hit the one spot along the Louisiana/Mississippi coast that scientists predicted would set the doomsday scenario in motion. But hurricanes of Katrina’s size and power have been racing across the Atlantic for decades. And we have known for decades that the Gulf Coast was completely ill-prepared for such hurricanes. We knew it was coming…and we did little to prepare…even when we knew Katrina was going to hit.

If federal, state and city officials knew the city would flood, why weren’t rescue boats placed in strategic locations? Where were the stockpiles of food and water and medicine that at the very least would have let people survive when the flood hit? Whose bright idea was it to put flood pumps on the same circuit as the city’s main power supply? What kind of emergency response plan is the Superdome…or the Astrodome, for that matter? And just where are all our troops? Doesn’t it mean anything to protect and serve our own citizens…at home?

My heart weeps for the Dome people and the forgotten people at the Convention Center and the devastated people all up and down the coast. I am sad for the children aren’t old enough to understand what is happening to them…but who will bear the scars of this catastrophe for the rest of their lives. To them I say, this is not how America treats her citizens.

Global warming may not have directly caused Hurricane Katrina but there is little doubt that it sparked her fury. The most “powerful” nation in the world is also the number one culprit where global warming is concerned. How many more innocent people must die needlessly and how many more billions of dollars must be lost before we wake up and take responsiblity for our actions? We have met the enemy…and it is us.

Click here for today’s podcast and learn more about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.