Man-made earthquakes and science communication

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Two papers on man-made earthquakes have been published last week and both have had received media coverage. Especially now, few days after the L’Aquila trial, the public is interested in any earthquake story and so the new findings that severe earthquakes happened due to human action caused some attention. Additionally, it caused me a headache and triggered not an earthquake, but a feeling of anger. Let’s talk about some good examples for bad science communication.

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What’s up? The Friday links (46)

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For me the most important geo news this week was the court decision on the L’Aquila trial on Monday. A local court sentenced six scientists and one official for manslaughter to six years in prison – 2 years more than claimed by the prosecutor. Even though the scientists may not have found the best words to describe the earthquake hazard in L’Aquila, the decision is ridiculous in my opinion and caused an outcry throughout the scientific community. Especially the consequences for any risk assessment and public information might be fatal. I am really concerned. In the following I link to some blog posts that I found particularly interesting:

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L’Aquila trial: Italian scientists guilty of manslaughter – up to six years in prison

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Breaking news are sad ones for the earthquake community. A court in Italy found seven scientists guilty of manslaughter in multiple cases and sentenced them to prison. The scientists had to give a statement about the likelyhood of a major quake after a series of tremors occurred in L’Aquila. They stated that there was no higher risk for a forthcoming major event; few days later a M6.3 earthquake devastated the historical city and more than 300 people died.

The scientific community tried to support the italian scientists by clarifying that earthquake prediction is still impossible. Also, more than 5000 scientists signed an open letter in support of the Italian colleagues. This is surely a sad day for earthquake geology and I am sure it will change the way we communicate our findings to the public and to officials.

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Special Issue on the 2012 Emilia (Italy) earthquakes in Annals of Geophysics

Annals of Geophysics, the former Annali di Geofisica, published its latest issue today, dedicated to the 2012 Northern Italy earthquakes: Vol 55, No 4 (2012): The Emilia (northern Italy) seismic sequence of May-June, 2012: preliminary data and results. On 20 May 2012 an earthquake with a magnitude of Mw6.1 hit Finale Emilia, on 29 May an Mw5.8 event followed. The earthquakes caused a number of fatalities and significant damage. Earthquake environmental effects were widely observed, too.

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Preliminary Program for the Morelia2012 workshop out now

The preliminary program of the 3rd INQUA-IGCP 567 Workshop to be held at Morelia (Mexico) from 19 – 23 November 2012 is out now. This program is subject to very minor modifications regarding social events, etc.. The scientific program will be the definitive one, but might be subject to late unforeseen inconveniences.

Please note that some dates like the field trip have changed!

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Inside a fault

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In September, Klaus and me lead a MSc student excursion to southwestern Germany. We not only went through the entire stratigraphy of that area (mainly Triassic and Jura), but also visited the salt mine in Stetten, quarries in Dotternhausen (opalinus clay, posidonia schist, Malm), the Kaiserstuhl carbonatite volcano complex and the Upper Rhine Graben area. One of my personal highlights was the Freudenstädter Graben, a small tectonic graben striking NW-SE, whose NE main fault is exposed in an old mine in Hallwangen.

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What’s up? The Friday links (45)

Nature published three articles on the Sumatra April 2012 mega-strike-slip earthquakes. I am pretty sure that at least one of them will be discussed intensely. Earlier this year, two earthquakes with magnitudes of M8.6 and M8.2, respectively, occurred in the Indian Ocean off Sumatra. The epicentres were close to the epicentral area of the 2004 Christmas event, but further to the SW and entirely on the Indo-Australian plate. This was surprising for many reasons: We did not expect such strong strike-slip quakes, we did not expect them to happen intraplate, and we were surprised by the complex en echelon and orthogonal fault pattern. 

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New papers: paleotsunamis in Oman, Tohoku-oki tsunami 2011 in Japan

Two new tsunami papers have been published recently, and I am happy to be co-author of one of them. In Hoffmann et al. 2012 we report on our observations along the NE Omani coast between Fins and Sur. We found a ridge of imbricated boulders parallel to the coast, but in heights of several meters above m.s.l. on top of a cliff and dozens of meters inland. Also, extremely large blocks clearly stemming from the cliff were found. We used LiDAR to determine the mass of very large blocks (up to 40 t) and found this method to result in far lower weights than estimated with the classical method.

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Ancient Geohazards in the Eastern Mediterranean – Call for posters

In the frame of the forthcoming international workshop “Out of Rubble: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Minoan Earthquakes” (Leuven, Belgium, 29-30 November 2012), we welcome poster proposals on the topic “Ancient Geohazards in the Eastern Mediterranean”. Posters should address any issue related to the definition of ancient geohazards in the Eastern Mediterranean (e.g. tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, extreme climatic events).
More information: click here

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What’s up? The Friday links (44)

Today’s Friday links are mostly about cake geology and scientists playing with food, but let’s start with something different. Yesterday, volcano Fuego (“fire”) erupted in Guatemala and produced an impressive column of ash and smoke. This beautiful stratovolcano is only 40 km from Guatemala City and one of the most active volcanos of Central America.

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