July 20, 2008
Elaine Meinel Supkis
A big breakthrough in the dark art of trying to predict exactly when an earthquake might hit. The triple junction of intersecting plates off of the coast of Oregon had a series of medium-large shakes today. This is a danger signal. The stresses along all of the West Coast are very great now, it has been a long time since the last major rearrangement of the landscape where all these plates grind against each other. And the deterioration of the North Pole continues, the great flip of north and south polar orientation is near at hand. And there is yet another theory about plate tectonics and how this operates.
Over the years, I have noticed that the biggest zone for rearranging the landscape where there is plate subduction or cross-tension points usually are at the 10 km level. All of the quakes this last three months where the Juan de Fuca/North American and Pacific plates slam into each other, the Juan de Fucas plate being the biggest loser, are not slowing down but increasing in violence. Here is my article from just 4 months ago, concerning this clash of the Titans:
Several things jump out from this chart: the massive number of earthquakes in the tri-focal point off the Oregon coast is moving relentlessly southwards towards the dangerous San Andreas fault system on land. Also, two 4 mag earthquakes occured in Nevada which is offset to the east, and Baja California where the San Andreas continues. Both of these were at only 5 km deep which is very shallow. Not as shallow as the 4 mags that hit Canada and the most geologically dangerous place on earth, Yellowstone Park. This mighty caldera is matched only by the super giants in Sumatra.
There now have been over 20 4+ magnitude quakes along the Pacific/Juan de Fuca/North American subduction zone juncture. This is very significant activity. Before the Great Boxing Day Quake, we saw a series of such 4 mag quakes along that subduction zone. The fact that these events are happening along a long line is very, very troubling. It means this is not a local adjustment and then all is well. It means that the entire length is under tremendous stress. The fact that these quakes are fairly uniform and at the same level is a sign that this sector will suddenly move. The quakes are NOT moving anything right now, this is like when we shove something until it snags on a rough spot on the ground so we redouble our pushing and it suddenly shoots forwards.
Several months ago, scientists were amazed and frankly, worried when they saw an amazing 'swarm' of earthquakes in this particular battleground. Then nothing seemed to happen. So everyone goes about their business. I remember Mt. St. Helens: the mountain quaked and shook for months and as the months passed, people became less and less afraid. The government even decided to take down the road blocks and let the tourists back in. People became so used to the mountain shaking, they discounted it. Soon, it became 'normal'. The, suddenly, with some very significant shudders over a very short time frame, the volcano disintegrated and killed a number of visitors and people living nearby.
This is similar also to the series of small-to mag 5 quakes in Indonesia before the Great Boxing Day Quake. By then, I was checking the IRIS website every few hours, expecting the worst. So it is here: since we are seeing lots of activity in a very important subduction zone that has been very quiet for a long time, this means we are seeing something big brewing. This whole subduction zone area is also home to the some of the bigger, still active volcanoes in the lower 50 states. Alaska and Hawaii are alway quite active. But the periodic actions of the Pacific Northwest is much nearer to huge population centers as well as being able to affect distant geological and population centers.
I am certain that whatever is going on there, it isn't something that will be resolved quietly. The tremendous forces acting on this small triangle is immense. We saw with the Boxing Day Quake, how a big section of the plate shot forwards very suddenly, with catastrophic effects. The recent Sichuan quake is not a subduction plate event but the opposite: the collapse of a section of the lithosphere which causes a 'tear' along a section that is surrounded by mountain building activity. More about that later.
Scientists have connected plankton blooms that occur in subduction plate zones with earthquake events. This is another clue for predicting earthquakes. Just like before a thunderstorm, many creatures can also sense an impending earthquake's manifestations.
Unlike many dangerous geological or celestial events, earthquakes strike literally with no warning. We can see that a part of the planet is being disturbed greatly yet when the Big Quakes happen, they always come suddenly. For putting a time frame on all this is impossible so far. For example, the chance that the middle section of the San Andreas will blow out, big time, is rising each year. We know it will happen. We know it will be very bad. But giving it a date due is impossible.
MANILA, Philippines - On the eve of a supposed magnitude-8 quake "predicted" by a Brazilian psychic, Malacañang reiterated its appeal to the public Thursday to remain calm saying such occurrence cannot be scientifically predicted.
In a radio interview, National Disaster Coordinating Council deputy administrator and deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez Jr said at this time, no scientific instrument can be used to predict an earthquake.
Earlier, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) director Renato Solidum Jr had dismissed the prediction saying there is no scientific basis for the prediction that a magnitude-8 quake will occur this Friday.
"Wala tayong makinarya para ma-predict ang lindol (We have no machinery that can predict when and where a quake will strike)," Golez said in an interview on dzXL radio.
This is an example of scaremongering. There is NO way any human can accurately call a quake. If we all throw out various dates, one or another might make a match. But there is no accuracy or science here. This 'psychic' was irresponsible as well as deluded. The Philippines is hammered by earthquakes and volcanoes as the mighty Australian Plate madly shifts northwards faster than any plate on earth. It is, geologically speaking, flying northwards, wrapping around Southeast Asia as India, a part of this massive plate, already is digging deep into Asia with tremendous force, raising the biggest mountains on earth.
From India all the way across the Pacific regions and most of Asia including Japan, everyone experiences catastrophic geological events of the worst sort thanks to the dynamism of Australia. Because of this movement, the Pacific plate is shoved violently into North America which is why the sector facing all this violence is the most geologically active part of North America. We have no idea why Australia is many times more active than any other plate. All we know is, this activity has a tremendous impact for thousands of miles north of this plate that was once part of the Antarctic plate.
ScienceDaily (July 10, 2008) — Using remarkably sensitive new instruments, seismologists have detected minute geological changes that preceded small earthquakes along California's famed San Andreas Fault by as much as 10 hours. If follow-up tests show that the preseismic signal is pervasive, researchers say the method could form the basis of a robust early warning system for impending quakes.
"We're working with colleagues in China and Japan on follow-up studies to determine whether this physical response can be measured in other seismically active regions," said Rice University seismologist Fenglin Niu, the study's lead author. "Provided the effect is pervasive, we still need to learn more about the timing of the signals if we are to reliably use them to warn of impending quakes."
As probes become deeper and more sophisticated, as geologists assemble more and more data, they see more things that were once hidden. Geologists are the ultimate planetary masters just as astronomers are the celestial masters. The knowledge they painstakingly assemble is amazing and important. Not only do we exploit the geology of this planet to a huge degree, we can't survive for more thousands of years if we don't figure out how the planet operates. Geologists are not nearly rewarded enough for their toil which sometimes can be deadly when studying volcanoes, just for example. We should all honor and respect them.
This latest probing of the earth and the discovery that there are changes before massive earth-resets, using this possible information means geologists can set up stations at places they know there will be massive earthquakes like the middle sector of the San Andreas or this quaking triangle off the coast of Oregon. Even 20 minutes of warning is 20 minutes to clear out of dangerous places. We have air raid sirens warning us of tornadoes or WWIII nuclear attacks. We can use this same system if there is a way to see if there is an earthquake brewing.
Of course, a problem is panic. People may want to do irresponsible things rather than simply go outside and away from buildings or into doorways or under stout tables, etc. I have been in earthquakes. In one, I was frying eggs and flipping them. When the quake hit, I flipped the egg onto the floor. Only then, did I realize I was in danger.
The reason you are sitting where you are right now may be because Pangaea, the most recent supercontinent to gather together all the world's landmasses together, ate itself nearly 300 million years ago.
Convection in the Earth's mantle shifts the floating continental plates around, eventually driving them together into supercontinents every few hundred million years. We know supercontinents eventually break up again, but it is not clear how they do this.
The new theory has it that, as Pangaea's southern coast moved northward, the ocean began to close up. Eventually, the continent's southern continental shelf was subducted beneath the northern coast.
The theory predicts that the land in Pangaea's centre would have compressed, explaining the Iberian-Armorican Arc, a twisted mountain range that is known to have stretched from modern-day Turkey up to the UK and then down to Spain.
Meanwhile, the rest of the pie would have stretched to breaking point, allowing surrounding oceanic plates to move into the gaps. This explains why a number of ancient rifts, including ones that can be visited today in Norway and Madagascar, were once arranged radially like the spokes of a bicycle.
This is rather interesting. I have written about the nature of depressions that are surrounded by mountains which are raised by either subduction events or clashes of two continents. The idea that the lithosphere can collapse is a fairly recent one. It probably explains why so many of the earth's depressions like Sichuan, the Central Valleys of Chile and California exist, for example.
The continents are actually quite prone to falling apart because the base upon which they rest can suddenly collapse.
The discovery that a segment of the ocean floor, not just the lithosphere but the whole thing, fell away suddenly into the depths of the mantle, is an eye-opener indeed. This event happened where the earth's plates are moving apart but I suspect this is the wrong imagery. Perhaps the better idea is to think of the split that runs the entire planet from the Artic to the Antarctic plate is a serious crack in the earth.
If we visualize this crack, it opened approximately 200 million years ago. The ground began to fall and a rift valley opened up and this was no ordinary rift valley. Many of these open up all the time all over the earth. This one was very long and very deep. The rift in Siberia at this time opened up and out poured the greatest lava flow that we know of. Because of this, Siberia grew thicker and bigger.
But North America, South America and Africa began to split apart and instead of lava flowing in huge amounts, a teeming rift valley was born. And when the oxygen levels collapsed, causing the greatest extinction on earth at the end of the Permian, many of the survivors lived in this epic rift valley. What tremendous changes in the climate and earthquakes, tsunamis and other events happened when this mighty rift valley deepened and deepened until a line of linked lakes fed by water pouring off the sides of the ever-higher cliffs and then one day, the ocean came roaring into this rift, totally severing these three continents?
Since then, material from the mantle has been flowing out of this gigantic crack. The continents aren't gliding along, they are not floating, they are being pushed apart by the epic forces of the inner energy of the planet. Perhaps the weight of the oceans are pushing down and thus, like a toothpaste tube, forcing lava upwards.
But this collapse of the whole seabed is interesting because there are obviously some very powerful forces at work and I think this is happening all over the planet, not just underwater!
Here is another old article about why parts of the lithosphere collapse:
One thing about wanting pet theories to work is to look at one or another aspect. Then the puzzle seems to 'fit'. But always, when arranging a theory, one has to look at all possible similar situations and see if they match in any way. The fact of this matter is, definitely something is at work with the Tibetan plateau, the fact that the center of the Tibetan highlands is an awful lot like so many other centers of massive mountainbuilding/continental collisions means there is something rather common about all these situations. Namely, they are all operating on the same principles.
I used a box of Jiffy mix yellow cake and baked it at 400 degrees. Then I let it cool rapidly and it collapsed very neatly. A fun experiment if you don't mind a cake raw in the center and over-baked on the edges.
In this case, I would suggest that when plates, both oceanic and continental, collide and one begins to climb over the other, it is like baking a cake, literally, since this friction and compression 'cooks' everything, the whole beings to rise until a critical point is reached and then the center collapses, leaving a classic ring of mountains around a depressed center.
Perhaps the mantle, after a lot of landmass piles up on top of it and it is compressed more and more, a section in the center breaks off and begins to sink. As this slips lower, the mountains around the developing sinkhole rise, sort of like if you press down on a pillow, the edges rise.
Today's article about Tibet is supposing all of Tibet rose very high and then the center collapsed, of course, the pillow pictures here were pressed down, not collapsed, but it does illustrate more clearly than the cake pictures, what a depression looks like, certainly, the action of infalling does displace material to the outside edges.
When writing about nature or science, we often look for descriptions and analogies that are easily visualized. Just like plate tectonics used the image of jigsaw puzzles to explain the interactions of continents and ocean beds.
And another article I wrote about rotating continents and their shapes:
I love to mess around in my kitchen so I ran there and began seeking things I could use as models representing continents floating on the surface of the earth. Digging around in one of the drawers, I found some plastic cookie cutters I used for many years, baking sugar cookies for the kids. To my immense joy, they make perfect continents!
I happen to agree with Professor Johnson on this matter: the continents all rotated due to the way convection works. Their queer shapes are often more like the galaxies we see around us. The shape of South America and Africa can be easily explained if one is looking at them as organic entities, spinning in the morass of the upper mantle. Europe and Asia have been warped by crashing into each other so we can't deduce much from their present shape. I would bet India was shaped like Africa or South America before crashing into Asia.
I am betting Australia will gain a more spiral shape as it rotates into Asia. Some geologists think it will move to Alaska but that presumes a straight line and I think Mother Nature hates straight lines, she prefers curves, being female (ahem). The convection that roils underfoot is less potent than a billion years ago, of course. We can see from the recent discovery of deep sea vents, the cracks in the earth's crust lead straight down to some extremely hot and very active zones.
I was a child when geologists first began to accept the concept of tectonic plate movements. This field of study has traveled very far, very rapidly since then. When all the continents somehow moved towards each other due to the high level of convection in the younger earth, the effects were gigantic just as the effects of the mad-cap, high-speed Australian plate is creating massive effects across half of the planet.
Now off to another favorite topic here: the magnetic poles will do a sudden switch on us and we have absolutely no idea how this will impact modern technology. I would suggest, it will have a huge impact. The polarity of things is important! Never has this happened with so many creatures on this planet using electricity and all sorts of computer systems, etc. I shudder to think about the possible bad effects. But scientists can already see disturbances!
Rapid changes in the churning movement of Earth's liquid outer core are weakening the magnetic field in some regions of the planet's surface, a new study says.
"What is so surprising is that rapid, almost sudden, changes take place in the Earth's magnetic field," said study co-author Nils Olsen, a geophysicist at the Danish National Space Center in Copenhagen.
The findings suggest similarly quick changes are simultaneously occurring in the liquid metal, 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) below the surface, he said.
The swirling flow of molten iron and nickel around Earth's solid center triggers an electrical current, which generates the planet's magnetic field.
The decline in the magnetic field also is opening Earth's upper atmosphere to intense charged particle radiation, scientists say.
"It is in this region that the shielding effect of the magnetic field is severely reduced, thus allowing high energy particles of the hard radiation belt to penetrate deep into the upper atmosphere to altitudes below a hundred kilometers (62 miles)," Mandea said.
This radiation does not influence temperatures on Earth. The particles, however, do affect technical and radio equipment and can damage electronic equipment on satellites and airplanes, Olsen of the Danish space center said.
I remember the panic over the Year 2000 due to careless computer coding. This is not a coding problem but a hardware problem that will possibly impact coding on every level. We know that computers are very sensitive to magnets, for example. Well, the entire earth is one big magnet. Will this affect the sun? Or is it running in tandem with the sun? We know so little about these things, our ability to see and understand all this is very recent, very recent!
Seeing how incapable people at the top are with coping with simple banking problems due to the abuse of the number 'zero', we fear that even with smart scientists telling us important things, they will probably be ignored. After all, plenty of people ignore geologists.