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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Seismology: The sleeping dragon

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The great Sichuan earthquake of 12 May 2008 caught Earth scientists off guard. Tucked below towering hillsides in Bailu, in China's Sichuan province, two school buildings face one another across a courtyard. Both are several storeys high, white with cheery light-blue trim. It's a peaceful April day, cool and humid; a rubbish bin shaped like a penguin sits at the side of the courtyard, as if waiting for someone to toss in a candy wrapper. But no one will be feeding the penguin today. That's because a nearly 2-metre-high ridge of buckled and uplifted concrete runs right through the courtyard, a manifestation of the geological faults that spawned the great Sichuan earthquake of 12 May 2008.

Along the third side of the courtyard is a ghost. It is a pile of brick rubble, all that remains of another building that collapsed in the quake. There, geologists are hunting for clues to what happened on that day, digging a 40-metre-deep trench to search for signs of past quakes that emanated from these faults.

These cracks in Earth's crust are deceptive pieces of geology. Both Chinese and Western scientists had mapped them before but failed to recognize their potential. "I was astonished at this quake," says Xu Xiwei, deputy director of the Institute of Geology at the China Earthquake Administration in Beijing. The buildings that collapsed and the landslides and mud flows that buried towns combined to kill at least 70,000 people and cause widespread ecological damage (see "Panda's in Peril")

More so than other quakes, this one has uncovered gaps in earthquake hazard research, both in China and elsewhere. When scientists assess seismic risk, they tend to focus on the faults that move the most and produce large earthquakes often. That strategy pays off with the many quakes that play by the rules. In western Sichuan, however, it turned out to be disastrously wrong.

One year later, researchers are probing the deadly faults in the hope of finding ways to avoid repeating their mistakes. In retrospect, they say, the geology of the Longmen Shan, or Dragon's Gate Mountains, was trying to warn them.

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1 comment:

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Thoughts worth thinking about

"Our subconscious minds have no sense of humor, play no jokes and cannot tell the difference between reality and an imagined thought or image. What we continually think about eventually will manifest in our lives."-Sidney Madwed

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every woman and man present their views without penalty, there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.- Albert Einstein Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. - Leo Buscaglia

A person's true wealth is the good he or she does in the world. - Mohammed

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. -Albert Einstein

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others. - Ghandi

The unselfish effort to bring cheer to others will be the beginning of a happier life for ourselves. - Helen Keller

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person. - Dr. David M. Burns

Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures. -His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it. -

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity. -George Bernard Shaw

Ego's trick is to make us lose sight of our interdependence. That kind of ego-thought gives us a perfect justification to look out only for ourselves. But that is far from the truth. In reality we all depend on each other and we have to help each other. The husband has to help his wife, the wife has to help the husband, the mother has to help her children, and the children are supposed to help the parents too, whether they want to or not.-Gehlek Rinpoche Source: "The Best Buddhist Writing 2005 pg. 165

The hostile attitude of conquering nature ignores the basic interdependence of all things and events---that the world beyond the skin is actually an extension of our own bodies---and will end in destroying the very environment from which we emerge and upon which our whole life depends.