A note about the disaster games – they are not supposed to be easy

Just a little background and info about the disaster games in general – they are not supposed to be necessarily easy to “win”. There is not a simple progression of tasks involved to get to zero loss of life or zero building damage or costs. This is why I want you all to try playing your game at least a couple of times so you can see if you learn the types of strategies needed to mitigate the losses. This makes them more like real life, which is kind of the point. While playing one of the games, you might be faced with making quick decisions based on several different lines of data you are not immediately familiar with. In real life when working with monitoring, forecasting, and risk assessments – you might be encountering similar things. You might have to deal with quickly changing data that is informing you about how the event is evolving, and how much impacts there are – and make decisions based on limited or even faulty data.

In the end, you might feel a little frustrated with the games, but they are designed to be challenging. Although they are not perfect and they can be a little buggy, it is the best thing out there to give you all at least a little experience about the unpredictable and constantly changing realm of forecasting and mitigation while a model disaster is unfolding.

Pacific Ring of Fire: Unusually busy or business as usual?

I ran across a couple of rather sensational, fear-mongering type articles this week referring to the Alaska earthquake, as well as a “rash” of volcanic activity – all occurring around the Pacific Ring of Fire. In addition to the more “sensational” events, like the eruption in Japan at the ski area, California also had a few earthquakes, including an offshore M5.8 near Eureka. I wanted to make this post to try to put things into perspective. This is a very tectonically active region in the world. In contrast with relatively stable craton regions in the interiors of continents (like Canada’s mid west to eastern regions), The Pacific is lined with tectonic plate boundaries (as you likely learned with Unit 2). Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are rather routine events if you look back through geological time. Even really big events (like M8 to 9 subduction zone earthquakes) happen more frequently than people might realize. I ran across the following article from the BBC that tries to help put things into perspective. The best part about the article for me is the following quote by one of the geophysics researchers they highlight: it is “not referred to as the Ring of Fire because it sits there doing nothing”.


USGS Did You Feel It? Reporting

I wanted to make a quick post for you all about a program the USGS has to gather reports of felt earthquakes as a function of distance away from the epicenter. Did You Feel It?  https://earthquake.usgs.gov/data/dyfi/

These reports are really useful because they can help scientists determine how severely people felt the shaking from an earthquake. They are useful for constructing intensity maps using the Mercalli Intensity Scale, which is a subjective and scaled measure of how people experienced an earthquake, and reported damage: https://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/mercalli.php

I encourage you all to use this tool because, not only does it help scientists who are trying to assess hazards and mitigate the effects of earthquakes, it is also fun! You can look up a variety of past maps made using this tool on the Did You Feel It Website.

EOTW #1 – The Magnitude 7.9 Kodiak Earthquake

The first Event of the Week assignment will focus on an event that truly was of this week! The magnitude 7.9 Kodiak earthquake happened early in the morning of January 23rd, shaking people awake across south central Alaska and resulting in a tsunami warning that prompted evacuations of many from coastal towns and cities. The earthquake has also sparked the interest of the media, and resulted in some fearful reactions because of other earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occurring around the Pacific rim recently.

Below are a couple of maps from the Alaska Earthquake Center content page about the event: http://earthquake.alaska.edu/magnitude-79-offshore-kodiak-evolving-content-page

This earthquake prompted tsunami warnings to go out to many along coastlines in the Pacific, including California. Tsunami can travel very fast, 500 MPH (about as fast as a commercial jet) so especially for local communities, timely warnings are critical. In this case, fortunately, only a very small tsunami resulted.  An interesting article by ABC News describes how difficult it is to issue timely warnings while scientists are still gathering data quickly and before they may have all the information they need: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/alaska-quake-shows-complexity-tsunami-warnings-52560219


For this assignment, do the following tasks and then make a comment to this post with your summary:

  1. Read about the science behind the earthquake from the USGS Earthquake Hazard Program: https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eventpage/us2000cmy3#executive
  2. What kind of earthquake fault produced the event? (Strike slip, normal, or reverse/thrust fault?)
  3. Why was there only a very small tsunami produced?
  4. Choose one of the three articles below and read it thoroughly. Then pick one thing new that you learned about geology, hazard assessment, mitigation (ie evacuation in this case) that you did not know before:

New York Times Article about the event: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/us/earthquake-tsunami-alaska.html

ADN article about evacuations: https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/2018/01/23/orderly-evacuations-prevailed-in-alaska-coastal-cities-after-7-9-earthquake-set-off-tsunami-alarms/

New York Times article about how difficult it can be to forecast tsunami: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/climate/alaska-earthquake-tsunami-forecast.html

Meet your Instructor!

Hi all!

I’m excited to be back teaching GEOS 380 again this semester! This is a pretty different type of course and I hope you each get a lot of general knowledge, practical skills, and critical thinking skills out of it.  A little about me:

I am a Professor at UAF in the Geosciences Department and Geophysical Institute. I teach and do research on volcanoes. Through my 20 years of working for the Alaska Volcano Observatory, I have hands on experience with and a keen interest in hazards, monitoring, mitigation, and societal impacts. I came from California, completing my PhD in Geophysics at UC Santa Cruz. I traveled up to AK for two things: wilderness and volcanoes!

When I was a student at Santa Cruz, I experienced firsthand how destructive and disruptive hazardous phenomena can be. I lived through the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, which entailed surviving in an urban setting for almost a week without running water, telephone, electricity, or public transportation. Grocery shelves were bare because the roads into and out of town were covered by landslides for a couple days. Although our situation was not nearly as grim as faced by others in disaster areas around the world, it made a huge impression on me and I have never looked at hazards the same way since.

I approach this course with the intent to learn alongside you. Last time around, I learned so much from the excellent research and discussions performed by students in the course. I am looking forward to the same this year. My own personal learning goal for this semester is to dive a little deeper into vulnerability, resilience, and how communities around the world can mitigate loss of life and many millions to billions of dollars in lost property. The severe storms of 2017 that impacted Houston, Puerto Rico, and other locations in the US and around the world really should be a wake-up call for us and I hope people make significant improvements in preparedness as a result.  I would like to better learn how to convey the importance of knowledge and preparedness in a compelling, but simple and clear way to my family and friends who live in risky areas of our country.