Earthquake in Nepal: Science, Media, Health Risks in Dispute
Perched as it is, smack in the Himalayas, that great climbing wall heaved up by the titanic tectonic shoving match the earthly regions we call India and China have been waging centimeter by centimeter for many millions of years; Nepal will always be shattered by earthquakes. We still don’t know how calamitous the one that hit Nepal in May will be on the future, but there are dire predictions.
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Devastation in Nepal
Perched as it is, smack in the Himalayas, that great climbing wall heaved up by the titanic tectonic shoving match the earthly regions we call India and China have been waging centimeter by centimeter for many millions of years.
Nepal will always be shattered by earthquakes. We still don’t know how calamitous the one that hit Nepal in May will be on the future, but there are dire predictions.
Map of Nepal
Red circle shows the location of the main earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, 2015. Orange circles show locations of aftershocks. Circle size indicates intensity of the shock. Image by United States Geological Survey (USGS)
DotEarth’s Andrew Revkin has been reporting estimates from one highly respected expert who says there may be more than 50,000 deaths all told, with a minimum of 25,000. Another, though, tells him that the Nepal government’s estimate of 10,000 is more likely.
This NoteStream includes many details about the scientific basis for these estimates, plus a Q&A and a map of shaking intensity of the shocks far more detailed than the simpler USGS maps. In an earlier post, Revkin discussed an alternative scenario, possible reasons why the death counts so far have been significantly lower than predictions made before the quake. At SciAm, Christina Reed posted another expert interview that also emphasized how both deaths and damage were looking as if they might be less awful than originally feared.
Becky Oskin reports at LiveScience that some experts say more shocks are still to come because the big one didn’t release all the seismic pressure trying to explode beneath the Himalayas.
The ground has already moved about 10 feet near the capital Kathmandu, but there may be up to 50 more feet to go, according to one. At Achenblog, Joel Achenbach mulls over the fact that, although earthquake prediction is enormously useful in a general way, particular earthquakes are still very often a surprise–occurring at different times and places and strengths than expected. What are the implications–for Japan, for California, for Virginia?
Achenbach is hopeful that, thanks to recent efforts at making Nepal more earthquake-aware, the toll there will be less bad than some fear: “I’d like to think that science and communication can make a huge difference when it comes to disasters.”
Updated satellite map of aftershocks and the primary shock of the 2015 Nepal earthquake (25th April 21:30 UTC+5:30). Image by United States Geological Survey (USGS)
The Multimedia Earthquake
Mountain communities like Nepal are subject to what Richard Bissell and Thomas Kirsch call “a trifecta of risk”:
a seismologically active landscape, hillsides prone to slide and avalanche, and, often, poverty that precludes construction of earthquake-resistant structures.
Carl Engelking has posted YouTube drone footage of earthquake destruction in Nepal at Drone360. Folks at the American Geophysical Union have of course jumped into action. At Dan’s Wild Science Journal, Dan Satterfield has collected links about earthquake science and videos. At the Landslide Blog, Dave Petley has posted a running series of pieces (and videos) reporting on the earthquake’s impact.
Josh Fischman has geologic details of the continuing struggle between the landmasses that created the world’s highest mountains in infographic form at SciAm.
At the SciAm blog Rosetta Stones, Dana Hunter has collected many links, including information about contributing to relief efforts. Relevant past pieces from SciAms of yesteryear have been collected here. People have begun to behave as if the immediate crisis is over, but now there will be worries about coming health risks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is telling US residents not to go to Nepal unless they must. But there’s not much blogging yet about medical matters.
Medical Matters in Nepal Now
Engineer Abhishek Yadav was at home in Kathmandu when the earthquake hit last Saturday.
He described the chaotic scene for the BMJ blog. Older structures dissolved into clouds of dust, but so did newer ones; there are building codes, but they are widely ignored. Some private hospitals closed after the government ordered free medical care for all. Predictably, medical supplies ran out, power was shut down.
Doc Paul Auerbach has gone to Nepal to help with medical efforts, and the BMJ blog is also running his postings. At Live Science, Rachael Rettner talks to UNICEF about what to expect. Including the central question of clean water.
Department of Earthquake Pessimism
Trolling for free graphics to illustrate this post, I stumbled into this US Geological Survey’s more-or-less real-time (one day) map of earthquakes around the world. Yikes.
Meanwhile, the busy USGS has updated the US danger-zone map to reveal that the riskiest places at the moment are mostly in the heartland.
At ScienceInsider, Eric Hand says that the new map shows for the first time that there are 17 areas in 8 states with frequent induced earthquakes, thanks to the oil and gas boom.
U.S. Earthquake Map
New map highlights US earthquake risk zones. Blue boxes indicate areas with induced (human-caused) quakes. Image by USGS.
So far, most induced earthquakes have done no more than rattle windows.
But a few have been big enough to damage buildings, and now USGS says that it can’t rule out the possibility of a magnitude-7 temblor, which would cause widespread damage. Let me muster some departing optimism. Hand also reports that, in addition to pleasing you and me, the drop in oil prices is closing some potentially dangerous production sites.