Could we be leaving our children not only a far hotter world, but a more geologically unstable one too?
In Waking the Giant, Bill McGuire argues that now that human activities are driving climate change as rapidly as anything seen in post-glacial times, the sleeping giant beneath our feet is stirring once again. The close of the last Ice Age saw not only a huge temperature hike but also the Earth’s crust bouncing and bending in response to the melting of the great ice sheets and the filling of the ocean basins — dramatic geophysical events that triggered earthquakes, spawned tsunamis, and provoked a series of eruptions from the world’s volcanoes.
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Bill McGuire is Professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London. His books include Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, Surviving Armageddon: Solutions for a Threatened Planet, and Seven Years to Save the Planet.
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This Day in World History
March 11, 2011
Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster Strike Japan
Japan, situated on the Ring of Fire on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, has suffered some major earthquakes over the years. However, nothing before compared to the triple disaster of March 11, 2011: a massive earthquake followed by powerful tsunamis which led to a serious nuclear accident.
The horrors began shortly before three in the afternoon local time with a 9.0-magnitude earthquake. Its epicenter was nearly 20 miles below the floor of the Pacific Ocean about 80 miles east of the Japanese city of Sendai. The quake was one of the most powerful ever recorded, and the strongest to hit this region of Japan.
Map prepared by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration depicting the tsunami wave height model for the Pacific Ocean following the March 11, 2011, earthquake off Sendai, Japan. Source: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research.
The quake unleashed several tsunamis, or tidal waves, that moved as fast as 500 miles an hour in all directions — most destructively to the nearby northeastern coast of Japan’s Honshu island. Waves as high as 33 feet high crashed into towns and cities along the coast, washing away anything in their path. One wave reportedly reached as far inland as 6 miles.
Several nuclear plants are located in northern Honshu. Most shut down automatically when the quake occurred, but the powerful tsunamis damaged the backup power systems at a plant in Fukushima. As a result, cooling systems shut down, and nuclear fuel overheated and later caught fire. The fire released radiation in the air, and the use of seawater to try to cool the reactors led to radiation contaminating the sea. Japanese officials had to ban people from a zone up to 18 miles around the damaged reactors, scene of the second worst nuclear accident in history.
In the end, the triple disaster cost Japan nearly 20,000 dead — mostly from the tsunamis — more than 130,000 forced from their homes, more than $300 billion in damage, and a severe jolt to the economy.
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So busy lately… school visits and parties and book festivals – it’s all out of my comfort zone and therefore hugely, crazy exhausting. But the more I get out, the more I like it, and the more I like it, the more acclimated I get to actually talking to other grown-ups. Dare I say it: it’s fun!
This weekend was HUGE, with the Texas Book Festival. I got to meet so many great local (and non-local) authors, learn so many new things from readings and panels, climb a little more out of my shell… it was really energizing.
I’m pleased to report that I didn’t scorch my elbow off or pull hair out of my mouth while I spoke to Libba Bray, like many of us feared. In fact, I stood there, mute, with a huge dorky smile on my face. But she liked my Modest Mouse t-shirt, and she signed my book, so all-in-all the Libba Encounter of Aught Nine was a success.
For such a long time, I’ve been trapped in this house. Years, really. And it’s no one’s fault, just circumstances. Having the chance to do things like meet Libba Bray, or get together with a group of other writers – these are things I haven’t allowed myself to think about for a long time, because it just hasn’t been possible. On top that, I’ve never been a very social person, so initially, being trapped in the house wasn’t a very big deal. But now that my book is out, and the new book is coming out, it’s important for me to be able to leave the house. Not only that, I crave the attention and the insights and the critiques from my writing community. I don’t necessarily want to soldier along alone like I’ve been doing.
It’s funny, because I had this realization last year with my mama community. I didn’t want to ask for help, I didn’t want to accept help. I wanted to hunker down and hide in the house and just push through everything as best our family could. But then I realized that my mama community, my friends – they ARE my family. And to accept help from them wasn’t a sign of weakness or fragility, it was an acceptance of love.
Now that might sound pretty cheesy, but it’s true. And now I’m learning that the same thing can be said for the local writing community. They are here as support and empathy and encouragement – and as friends. It’s not something I should shy away from just because I feel that writing is solitary. The writing process can still be solitary even while you have a community supporting you – and that you support as well.
It’s nice to be around people. Sometimes that obvious statement isn’t so evident when you’re fighting the tsunamis that life keeps throwing at you. Saying that I’ve been treading water is incredibly cliche, but it really is the best metaphor. A wave comes, threatens to drown me and my family, and yet, our heads pop up above the surface.
I know there are more waves. There is a lot still to come this year with Ike-a-saurus. But it is less daunting when I realize I don’t have to face it alone. And as far as the books go, I am just thrilled to be sticking my nose into a community of such creative, supportive, amazing folks.
You guys are like my emotional Spanx. And that is awesome.
Bortz, Fred. 2012. Meltdown! The Nuclear Disaster in Japan and our Energy Future
. New York: Lerner.(Advance Review Copy provided by NetGalley)
Last week, if you asked me to explain the processes and dangers inherent in the creation of nuclear energy, I would be hard-pressed to offer more than a rudimentary explanation. After reading Meltdown!
however, I marveled at how easily I grasped the entire process. Physicist and author, Dr. Fred Bortz
, has a distinct talent for distilling a complex subject into an easily understood concept.
In a compact, colorful book, complete with numerous illustrations and photographs, Fred Bortz recounts the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, sandwiched between solid scientific facts and a global view of the world's energy needs. The reader is left shocked by the massive destruction caused when a natural disaster causes a man-made one of nearly equal proportion. However, the purpose of Meltdown!
is not to shock the reader, but to make him think. Yes, this was a terrible disaster, but what are the alternatives? Can the world's energy needs be powered by solar? by wind? by coal? by oil? No, they can't - at least not now. The readers of Meltdown!
(recommended for ages 11-17) will be the decision makers of the world within a few short years. Meltdown!
will challenge them to see that the world's problems do not always have easy answers.
This seems to be the time of year that teachers are assigning many biography and nonfiction reading assignments. If this were on my shelves now, I would be recommending it highly, though sadly, many teachers will likely dismiss Meltdown!
as a book report choice because of the number of its pages, 64. (This gives me a meltdown, as minimum page requirements give me "Minimum Rage.")
This should be required reading, offering an easily understood lesson in nuclear energy, a factual account of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster caused by the massive Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, and extensive references and supplemental materials.
Teachers, check the Fred Bortz website
for great resources including news stories, videos, and classroom connections.
Due on shelves March 1, 2012 - in time for the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.