Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Florida Woman swallowed by sinkhole in her backyard . . . Again

Call 911 and then throw the phone away.  It might sound like a ridiculous plan to get rescued, but for one woman in Florida her lucky phone toss led to her rescue.

The woman, Carla Chapman of Plant City, Florida was working in her backyard when she fell through the surface and into a sinkhole.  She had her cell phone on her, but the sinkhole created terrible reception and she kept getting disconnected when she tried calling for help.  Finally she got the idea to dial 911 and then throw her phone up out of the hole back into her yard where there would be a cleaner signal.

The gambit worked, the 911 call went through, and a police officer responded to her home, eventually finding Carla trapped in the backyard sinkhole.  Additional rescuers were summoned and they worked to get her free.

As an added twist to the story, this wasn't first time Carla got trapped in a sinkhole in her backyard.  In 2010 another sinkhole on the same property also tried to swallow her but she was fortunately rescued by a neighbor. 


Story sources:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Burma experiences 6.8 Earthquake

Burma (Myanmar to its BFFs) experienced a large earthquake in its backcountry today near its borders with Laos and Thailand. Initially reported as a 7.0M earthquake by the US Geologic Survey, the quake was later downgraded to a 6.8M.

The earthquake occurred in a  relatively remote and sparsely populated region.  The death toll hours after the quake was reportedly low: a child in Burma, and a woman in Thailand.  However, a Burmese official in contact with Western press has stated that there could be more casualties in the town of Tarlay, which lies close to the epicenter.  In Tarlay 10 men, and 13 women, were killed when buildings they were in collapsed.   According to the official, five monasteries and 35 buildings collapsed in the town as a result of the earthquake.

A 4.8M aftershock occurred approximately half an hour after the first earthquake, and then an hour and a half after that a 5.4M aftershock occurred.

No tsunami warning was issued after the earthquake as it was too far inland for it to generate a wave in the Indian Ocean.

The BBC and several other news sources were reporting that two 7.0M quakes struck the region, seconds apart, and each with a different depth.  However, there was only one earthquake in that particular time-period, and it occurred at a depth of 10km (6.2 miles).  The Geological Survey initially said the quake had a depth of 230 km (142.5 miles), but it later revised its estimate to say the quake was 10 km.  This change is probably what led to some of the confusion in reporting on the earthquake.

Updated to reflect new death tolls from the quake

California Coastal Tsunami Inundation Maps

The California Geologic Survey has made their coastal tsunami inundation maps available via a Google maps overlay.  There is also a KML overlay for Google earth

As noted on the map page, the overlays are not as accurate the state's official tsunami inundation maps, however the official maps are also available online, and are viewable as pdf files by clicking on the red boxes in the google maps overlay.

The Next "Big One" won't be easy to Predict

Following the earthquake and tsunami events in Japan, some US media outlets have been busy trying to drum up interest/fear that the victim of next "Big One" is going to be California.  Especially guilty of this is Simon Winchester, who wrote an article for Newsweek where he makes the assertion that earthquakes essentially create mirrors of themselves.  According to Winchester, Japan's recent megaquake was a reflection of the 2010 Chilean Earthquake.  Following his logic, and I use that term loosely, the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch, New Zealand earthquakes will be mirrored in . . . you guessed it: California .  The geophysicist community hasn't been quiet about their disdain for what is essentially a pseudoscience and fear-mongering fluff piece meant to sell copy, and luckily both blogging and mainstream media organization have been willing to run more scientifically grounded articles as a counter.

It would certainly be great if it were that easy to predict earthquakes, but as Susan E. Hough, seismologist for U.S. Geological Survey, pointed out in a CNN article, "pointing to any one corner of the Earth as the location of the next Big One is not a winning game. Take a map of the world's most active plate boundaries and throw a dart; where it lands is as good a guess as any."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rainy Weather Causes Mudflows on Indonesia's Mount Merapi

Residents of Sleman, in central Java, following mudflows into their village (source)
Just a follow up post on conditions around Indonesia's Mount Merapi, whose eruption I was writing on last year.

The Jakarta Post reports that recent heavy rains have sent a slurry of volcanic debris down the slopes of Mount Merapi over the weekend.  There has been no loss of life reported but 21 homes were buried in mud in the village of Sleman, and flood waters washed into the Argomulyo.  One family of three reportedly suffered burns, when they were late in evacuating, but these were likely chemical burns rather than thermal burns as mudflows of volcanic material can be slightly acidic.

Merapi is no longer erupting, but is still considered active, and the death toll since October now stands at over 350 people.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

UPDATED: Gulf of Mexico Sheen Determined to be Sediment from Mississippi

Update: The U.S. Coast Guard has run an analysis of samples gathered from the sheen and found that is contained "only trace amounts of petroleum hydrocarbons, oil and grease." The Coast Guard added that, "at this point, the dark substance is believed to be caused by a tremendous amount of sediment being carried down the Mississippi River due to high water, possibly further agitated by dredging operations.

NOLA was reporting that the US Coast Guard was now investigating multiple reports of new oil sheen 20 miles north of the location of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.  The newly reported sheen lay about 30 miles from the Louisiana coastline and the mouth of the Mississippi river.

Photographer: Jerry Moran  (
Some reports on the size of the sheen stated that it was nearly 100 miles long and 12 miles wide.  According to NOLA, Paul Barnard, an operations controller for Coast Guard Sector New Orleans stated that, "We haven't been able to verify that, and it would be very unlikely for an individual to be able to observe a 100-mile long sheen."

As of today, the Coast Guard has stated that the sheen is most likely silty material stirred up from a dredging operation on the Mississippi River.  For the sake of precaution, they are having the material analyzed as it did possess a rainbow-like sheen similar to that associated with oil spills.  The Coast Guard spokesman said that it is possible that whatever the material is that is causing the sheen had been trapped in the sediment of the Mississippi's river bed, but was released by the dredging operation.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cute Animated Video Explains Japan's Nuclear Reactor Situation

I really haven't touched on the specifics of the nuclear situation occurring in Japan.   This has been intentional on my part as analysis of events by "experts" in the field have been all over the board and I'm in no position to really delve into any sort of deep criticisms of what is being said.

That explanation out of the way, I just came across this video on reddit and had to share it.  It is a heavily simplified and animated explanation of what is occurring at Fukushima Daiichi.

Now, deconstructing a current event like a potential reactor meltdown into a pretty silly animation is something I consider to be pretty distinctly Japanese, and I don't know if it would be all that warmly received in the US.  But I do think that this method of presentation can be much better at explaining what is going on, and having it understood, than a talking-head scientist might be.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Nuclear Reactor Locations Compared to Global Earthquake Activity

Over on their site, has a created a custom google map showing the global distribution of earthquake activity with the locations of nuclear power plants superimposed. Based on data from the USGS,  averaging 175,000 4.5+ magnitude earthquakes since 1973, they've create a heatmap of global earthquake activity.  On top of that heatmap they've placed the location of  248 atomic energy plants.  With this I think people can get a better grip on how low the risk is to most of the world's reactors to seismic activity.  The above image is just a screen grab so head over to their site to look around at the map in more detail.

Japan Earthquake Swarm Animation

The Jumping Jack Flash blog (translation) made a Google Earth kml file (download) that creates an animation of the swarm of earthquakes that occurred around Japan between 6 March and 13 March 2011.

A quite well done video has been made of the animation, adding music and sound effects. 1 second in the video is equivalent to 1 hour. The animation starts on 9 March since the period between 6 March and 9 March was relatively quiet, seismically, around Japan. I recommend watching the video in full screen HD so that the dateline in the top left corner is readable.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mount Shinmoedake Volcano erupts in Japan

Mount Sinmoededake, which lies near the center of the southern island of Kyushu, woke back up again after a few weeks of rest.  The newest eruption occurred on 13 March, two days after the 9.0 earthquake struck to the north off the shore of Honshu.  The volcano had last erupted on January 19th after being dormant for 2 years. The eruption tossed a 2 mile high cloud of ash into the sky and forced authorities call for the evacuation of several hundred civilians around the radius of the volcano.

While it might be easy to find some correlation between the major earthquake and this eruption to do so would be pure speculation. At this point the tectonic and volcanic mechanisms of this eruption have not yet been looked into and serious research into the matter is probably months off at this point. Megaquakes (M8.0+) have been tied to volcanism in the past so it is a possibility here, but only time will tell.

Below are two videos of the ash plume. The second one is especially visibly striking, not only because of the glowing ash and lava bombs being tossed from the summit, but also because of he bolts of static discharge, sometimes called volcanic lighting or a dirty thunderstorm, caused by the eruption are clearly visible.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Additional High-Resolution Images of Sendai Region Post-Tsunami

Earthquake and Tsunami damage, Sendai Japan-March 12, 2011 (DigitalGlobe)
DigitalGlobe, a U.S.-based civilian operator of commercial remote sensing satellites, has released a few high-resolution images of the Sendai region following yesterday's devastating earthquake(s) and tsunami to their flickr feed.  They give a decent bird's eye view of a few locations that were damaged by the earthquake and/or hit by the tsunami.  Hopefully they will update their feed with additional images.

NASA Satellite Imagery of Sendai Tsunami Flooding

Responding in a timely fashion to events in Japan, NASA's array of Earth monitoring satellites have been manuevered into position to gather image-based data regarding yesterday's earthquakes and their resulting tsunamis.

The topmost of the two images (provided by NASA’s MODIS instrument which is mounted aboard their TERRA satellite) was taken on March 12, 2011, at 10:30 a.m. nearly a day after the 8.9 magnitude earthquake occurred.   The image shows much of Japan's eastern coast to be still inundated with flood waters from the tsunami. The coloring and cloud cover might make the image a little difficult to interpret, but the dark blue/black is water.  The shoreline, though mostly covered in water, is still partially visible as small strips of light green.

For comparison, the lower image of the same region was taken by the MODIS system on February 26, 2011.

Both images were composed using a composite of infrared and visible light, a technique that helps increase the contrast between muddy water and land. Plant-covered land is green, pale-blue/aqua colored land is snow-covered. The brown colored regions are the paved surfaces in the city of Sendai.

Live Seismic Data Tool

PBS Newshour has offered up this fancy tool to keep tabs on all of the seismic activity occurring around Japan.

I grabbed the following screenshot yesterday with the intention of posting about this then, but got distracted by shiny things and wandered off.

You'll likely notice the largest of the orange circles a little right of center on the map.  That was the epicenter of yesterday's 8.9/9.0 earthquake.  You'll also likely notice the relatively concentrated group of yellow circles near the mainshock's epicenter.  Those are the foreshocks -- smaller seismic events preceding a larger earthquake.  Most large scale earthquakes -- those 7.0 magnitude and above -- tend to have foreshocks events associated with them.  However, foreshock activity is not always guaranteed to be associated with a large scale earthquake.  Foreshock activity also can occur within a rather wide time-frame before the mainshock occurs.  Foreshocks can occur mere minutes, days, months or years before a mainshock.  Also, it is difficult to classify a foreshock event from a stand earthquake until after a mainshock event occurs and correlation can be the events established.  As such, determining whether any particular seismic action is a foreshock for a larger earthquake in the future is not the most exact science at present.

Friday, March 11, 2011

200-300 Bodies Recovered near Sendai, Japan

The now bent tip of Tokyo Tower (source)
Police in Miyagi Prefecture have reported to the press that between 200 and 300 bodies of people who appeared to have drowned have been recovered near Sendai.

Several hundred people (NHK is saying 500) are now reported as missing.

I am also now getting estimates for the height of the Sendai tsunami: between 7.5 and 10 meters in height (24 to 33 feet)

Tsunami Reaches Hawaii; Not as strong as Expected

(Source: abcnews)
The first waves associated with the tsunami generated by the 8.9 magnitude earthquake off of Japan to reach Hawaii are far weaker than expected.  Local news in Hawaii reports that waves are only about a foot higher than usual.

Kauai was the first island hit early by the wave, and it quickly swept passed the other islands in the chain.  However, bigger waves are still expected to follow.

8 sets of tsunami waves expected along the coast. The first set of tsunami waves began reaching Oregon's coast between 7:00 and 8:00 AM local time (roughly within the time-frame of this post), and currently the twitter-sphere is reporting no damage.   KATUNews is reporting that water at Cannon Beach is pulling back, indicating that the tsunami is coming in there.  Waves up to 6 feet in height are still being projected. The tsunami is expected to hit Los Angeles around 8:30 a.m. local time, but a larger follow-up wave is expected two hours later when the tide is higher.

8.9 Earthquake Largest in Japan's History

Fires rage in the town of Yamada in northeastern Japan after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake.
( Yomiuri, Reuters / March 11, 2011 )

The largest recorded earthquake in Japan's recorded history struck on 11 March 2011 at 05:46:24 UTC/ 14:46 local time (March 10 2011 21:46:24 PST/). The quake struck about 130 kilometers off the coastal city of Sendai, generating a massive tsunami wave that tore into the surrounding coastal region.   A series of strong fore and aftershocks have also been hitting the region with numerous 5.0 and 6.0 earthquakes occuring since the main quake (see: USGS 7 day record).

At the time of this post I am getting information that around 100 people are believed dead and scores are missing. Given the magnitude of this event it is likely these numbers will rise. A tsunami warning was posted for much of the pacific basin, including the entire Pacific coast of North and South America from Chili up to Alaska. In the eastern Pacific those warnings have now been lifted for some areas such as Taiwan, and Australia.

Earthquakes are common in Japan due to its position near a series of highly active tectonic plate boundaries.

Tsunami tearing into Sendai

Whirlpool forms near a port in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture

Fire and explosions rock the Cosmo oil and gas refinery north of Tokyo.

VĂ­deo taken by a Japanese family in Sendai as the earthquake hits.  Just as a note: DON'T RUN OUTSIDE WHEN THERE IS AN EARTHQUAKE.  Find a table, a doorway, a bathtub, etc. and hunker down.  This goes against our basic survival instincts, but running outside, especially in an urban environment can expose you to falling glass or other debris.

Excellent video covereage by Tokyo Broadcasting System Live News Feed.  (Japanese Language)