Doomwatch for Sunday, 7 March 2021

Busy global map this morning … lots of earthquakes, four tropical systems …

Screen shot from Enki “Doomwatch” system under development …

Zooming in to just off shore from New Zealand, with hundreds of earthquakes along the Kermadec Trench boundary between the Pacific and Australia plates, just off the coast of New Zealand. Three of these were over magnitude seven, one being a magnitude eight that triggered tsunami watches as far away as Hawai’i … each icon represents an event that caused shaking at the surface (sea floor mostly in this case), most of these are M5 or greater events, the red aeras are areas where if you were standing you would have felt it:

That’s a lot of quakes. Click any graphic to embiggen …

That green swath and tropic storm symbol? That’s Cyclone Niran, which reached the equivalent of Category Five intensity before sweeping just offshore from New Caledonia, causing extensive damage across those islands (NZ Herald article).

Models estimate total economic impacts at just under $1 Billion USD. Before anyone asks, the earthquakes and cyclone are unrelated – although tropical cyclones have been associated with earthquakes due to the pressure of the storm surge causing a rupture, or in some cases infiltration of extensive rains perhaps triggering the earthquake. This is an area of ongoing research.

The other cyclones are well offshore, Cyclone Habana in the mid South Indian Ocean is a powerful Category Four (120kt) storm. The Southern Hemisphere season has been pretty active this year with several very strong storms. Naturally some are saying it is climate change related – and that’s very possible. Unfortunately our historical data sets for that region are spotty at best, so the arguments have to be largely theoretical. I hope to do a post on this at some point soon.

On the COVID front, the numbers continue to go up in some places, down in others, causing mood and behavior swings that means the pandemic continues to oscillate and travel in “waves.” Additional vaccines are being approved and distributed, based as much on politics and economics as efficacy and logistics. I find the “news” coverage in the US depressing on this topic (and, again, the real time death counters that CNN is running are misleading, BOGUS fear mongering – it takes weeks to get solid data on mortality). In any event, in big picture terms little has changed in terms of what the average person should do: continue with masking in public (despite what Texas and Mississippi are doing), distance as appropriate, if you are eligible and it makes sense for you specifically from a medical perspective get the vaccine, get it (in other words, balance the consequences of COVID, which are severe, with the unknowns and any specific vulnerabilities you might have, and your personal situation regarding risk – both higher and lower).

I had a great question come in from a reader about the difference between emergency use authorization (EUA) and the standard review and approval process. There is a big difference between “Authorization” and “Approval” in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) world. Here is a discussion with a former FDA official on the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health site. The short version is it is the difference between “might work and shouldn’t hurt” and “has been shown to work with acceptable side effects.” For the vaccines, the main differences are that the threshold for effectiveness is not the same as for an approved vaccine, and most importantly the long term side effect studies and studies on potential interactions and co-morbidity (reactions, impact on fetal or child development, and so forth) are not as extensive and have not had time to collect data. As I noted previously, there is a big difference between making a theoretical argument on those topics and saying “there is no evidence” based on a few months of results, and saying “we tried it, watched for five years, and there were no observed effects.” Given the medical and socioeconomic impacts of COVID, the FDA has made the calculation that the risk of being wrong about adverse reactions and efficacy is outweighed by the benefit of quickly getting a handle on the pandemic. I think they are mostly right about that (with a few reservations I’ve expressed previously). Again, for a lot of people, getting vaccinated makes sense. But everyone should understand the process and risks, free from either blind cheer-leading or paranoid fear mongering.

Second M7 earthquake off of New Zealand; magma moving under Iceland?

This one further offshore to the northeast …

No significant tsunami expected from this one either. Normally there are about 15 Magnitude 7 or higher earthquakes in a year. In this case, the two lie along the Kermadec Trench, a plate boundary between the Pacific and Australia plates:

By Mikenorton – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In other “Mother Earth Hates Us and Wants Us To Die” (and, seriously, who can blame her) news, there has been a number of earthquake swarms under the Reykjanes peninsula. There is an increasing likelihood this is magma moving around and the Krysuvik volcano …

this is what an EQ swarm looks like; © Veðurstofa Íslands

… which is now code orange …

© Veðurstofa Íslands,

If you are planning a trip to Europe this year, keep an eye on this since if it blows the ash could shut down air traffic over the North Atlantic and Western Europe.

Major #Earthquake in #Greece

Major earthquake in Greece this morning (5:16am ET), just after noon Greece time, with multiple aftershocks that are still ongoing …

Earthquake just after noon 3 March 2021 in Greece

The quake was felt all over central Greece as well as in Macedonia, and Albania. It is likely there is extensive structure damage in the the area in purple on this map and economic impacts will likely exceed $2 Billion ($2.7 is the current estimate). Fortunately there are few major cities in the area of most likely damage, the largest being Larissa, a city of just over 160,000 people. So far fortunately no reports of injuries or deaths. Damage reports are coming in this morning US time, mostly of structural damage …

Sound Tracks for the Apocalypse

Since absolutely no-one has asked, here is a sample of what I listen to while working. I hope you find it an interesting mix … A lot of recent listening has been to metal bands from northern Europe. As an intro, hard to go wrong with Nightwish, Amorphis, Delain, or Within Temptation. Nightwish has had three lead singers – fans get in to flame wars over who is best, but each is good in their own way and worthy to listen to (even there is no doubt as to who is best, as this live clip proves 😛 … be sure to hang in there for the finale at the 9 minute mark):

After Forever, Floor Jansen’s previous group, disbanded but it has some great songs out there – “Equally Destructive” is a go to song for climate change, and “Discord” is just a great song. Look for other songs she’s done with various groups or solo – amazing vocalist and range.

I suspect that my two current second-most favorites (favorite is below the fold) are Amorphis and Sabaton. Amorphis has a variety of songs ranging from very heavy growls to near ballads. Here’s something in the middle …

Some people who don’t know any better think the Swedish metal band “Sabaton” glorify war. They’ve obviously never actually listened to most of the lyrics – even the songs that emphasize the heroic aspects of the military and war have an underlying message of “WTF was this really for?” that anyone who has lived that life will recognize. In any event, the song “En Livstid i Krig” (a Lifetime of War) is unmistakable. Here it is in Swedish …

… but as an accommodation to the few folks out there who don’t understand Nordic languages 😛 , here is a version in English. I think the Swedish lyrics are more poignant, it’s worth listening and have a translation of that version handy even if you don’t understand much. Sabaton’s music is a lesson in history, and they are fantastic live. Be sure to hack off Joakim and listen to “Swedish Pagans” from Wacken 2019 – this version with Tina Guo on Cello :O ! (it’s one of their most popular songs, and it’s a running joke that it’s never on the playlist and he hates it, but somehow gets played at every concert).

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#Fukushima Followup

There are reports that water levels in both the Unit 1 and Unit 3 reactors at the wrecked Fukushima Nuclear Plant are falling as a result of additional damage from the earthquake a few weeks ago. (Nobody really knows what is going on in Unit 2, the sensors are offline.) This is Not Good(tm), since that water is essential for keeping the damaged reactors cool during the long decommissioning process, and it indicates further damage to the primary containment system. This is requiring Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO, the owners of the reactors) to pump in more water to try to keep levels up. That means even more contaminated water coming out that has to be captured and stored or otherwise dealt with, and there just isn’t any place to put it. TEPCO received preliminary permission to slowly release the contaminated water offshore (to allow for dilution), but there is fierce opposition both by local fishermen and the international community and a final decision has not been made. The problem is, that decision might well be moot with this new damage: they will have to do controlled releases, because it’s about to get out of control. And, given the roughly 1.4 million gallons already stored, any additional quakes could result in a massive uncontrolled release. It’s a classic difficult decision: do you accept small harm over a long period of time from the slow releases, or risk massive catastrophe of an uncontrolled failure while you figure out something smarter to do.

Here’s an AP article with some comforting quotes from TEPCO officials …

FILE – This Sept. 4, 2017, aerial file photo shows Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant’s reactors, from bottom at right, Unit 1, Unit 2 and Unit 3, in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan. The utility operating a wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant said Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, it has detected cooling water levels at two of its three melted reactors have fallen over the past few days apparently due to additional damage done to its reactors from a powerful earthquake that shook the area last weekend.(Daisuke Suzuki/Kyodo News via AP, File)

Cold Hard Cash: #cost estimate for the big freeze in #Texas

I’m starting to see a few estimates on the cost of this episode in the media, for what it’s worth here’s the Enki estimate … there is probably going to be on the order of $30-35 Billion in physical damage across the Southwest and Midwest, mostly in the form of water damage from busted pipes, of which about $20 Billion or so will be covered by insurance, making this a big but not catastrophic event for the suits. The economic hit on the other hand is probably another $40 to $55 Billion, making this a $80 to $90 Billion dollar episode when you roll together the physical damage, economic impact, and government budget hits. When you consider that a few hundred million dollars of mitigation efforts (efforts that were recommended as far back as 1989) could have prevented maybe all but about $10 Billion of that, not to mention all the human suffering and even loss of life, there should be a serious reconsideration of priorities and some well deserved finger pointing …

Still snow on the ground in the midwest as of Saturday afternoon …

The Facebook algorithms run amok?

I just had the following comment blocked from FB for violating community standards for hate speech, in reply to a comment that Fox News was blaming renewables for the Texas outages:

And CNN is blaming climate change. It’s no wonder ‘Muricans! are so ignorant.

I’m assuming this was some automatic thing, but if one of you reported it I would appreciate you sending me a note so we can discuss …

I filed an appeal with the following commentary:

It is not clear to me what about this comment constitutes “hate speech.” This reply was in response to a user comment who was attacking a particular news outlet. In context it was a perfectly reasonable political commentary, and the term “ignorant,” meaning per the dictionary “lacking knowledge or awareness in general”.

If the term “ignorant” is automatically considered hate speech in all contexts, I’m astonished, and would be happy to provide you with dozens of academic citations and surveys that show that the American People are woefully uninformed (dare I say “ignorant”) regarding the basic facts of science, engineering, and world events. The primary reason for this lack of knowledge is the entertainment driven “news” media that values dramatic, politically driven conflict and sound bites over content and information.

The term ‘Murican!’ is widely used to refer to Americans in general and the overly nationalistic, jingoistic worldview that permeates Fox News viewership. By pointing out that CNN is guilty of the same thing in reverse, and the juxaposition of the term ‘Murican!’ with CNN viewers, it was designed to trigger the thought that perhaps they aren’t as different as their supporters would like to believe. In this case, combining these two terms seems perfectly reasonable and was not an attack on any individual, but on the media that has placed the American People in the position of “lacking knowledge or awareness in general.”

About the #Texas #Outages

Lots of misinformation and spin going around about the ongoing wave of power outages in Texas. The TLDR is that 1) the systems in Texas are not properly protected from winter weather that it should be able to handle; 2) it’s mostly a natural gas problem; 3) the fact that a nuclear plant is offline, and renewables (wind, solar) are also offline due to weather isn’t helping. Here are some details …

Another wave of cold weather sweeping into Texas, Thursday Morning, 18 Feb 2021

The Texas grid -managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas or ERCOT – has around 84 Gigawatts (GW) of power available to it; winter peak demand is expected to be 67GW, and the peak demand earlier this week hit 69GW according to ERCOT. On Tuesday 16GW of renewables and 30GW of “thermal” sources (mostly natural gas) were offline. The biggest problem is that the natural gas system wasn’t able to handle the weather.

Yes, it is cold – but we have had colder events in the past. My quick-look analysis shows this is maybe a 1 in 15 year event, in the southern part of the state 1 in 25 or so. For “lifeline” infrastructure like the power grid, it should be able to handle a 1 in 50 event with intermittent outages. In 2011 there was a cold weather event that caused widespread outages. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) wrote a report about it with recommendations on how to address the problems. The report is pretty blunt, saying

The experiences of 1989 are instructive, particularly on the electric side. … investigated the occurrence and issued a number of recommendations aimed at improving winterization on the part of the generators. These recommendations were not mandatory, and over the course of time implementation lapsed. Many of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011. … However, in many cases, the needed fixes would not be unduly expensive.

This 2011 report also points out “On the gas side, producers experienced production declines in all of the recent prior cold weather events.” and “It is reasonable to assume from this pattern that the level of winterization put in place by producers is not capable of withstanding unusually cold temperatures.

The report describes the causes and impacts of storms in 1989, 2003, 2011, and others. The 2011 report executive summary states:

This report makes a number of recommendations that the task force believes are both reasonable economically and which would substantially reduce the risk of blackouts and natural gas curtailments during the next extreme cold weather event that hits the Southwest.

Needless to say, this wasn’t done. Therefore it would seem that what happened in Texas this week was completely foreseeable, and not some freak of nature, but a direct consequence of natural gas providers and the electric utilities not taking recommended actions to protect the grid from infrequent – but not rare or terribly unusual – weather events.

Commentary: A lot of commentators and sources like those on Fox News with an ax to grind are saying that this is because the wind and solar sources are offline. True, that isn’t helping, and the increasing reliance of the grid on these sources will over time be problematic on a lot of levels. Likewise, CNN is actually blaming climate change! That too is a bunch of bull crap, even though anthropogenic climate change is a serious problem we need to deal with. But the simple truth is that the blame this time is firmly on natural gas providers being too cheap to winterize their equipment against an eminently foreseeable event. This can be attributed in part to deregulation, the way the capital markets work, and the prioritization of quarter over quarter profits against overall system reliability. There are other complexities here, such as the move to NG based electricity production to speed the shutdown of coal fired plants (a move pushed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that is much more complex and less effective than policy planners want to admit). In short, this is an economics and political problem, not an engineering or mother-nature-sticking-it-to-us problem.

The bottom line is that for lifeline infrastructure like electrical power, the current system is unacceptable. The problem is, given the politics and economics, it isn’t going to get any better, and while not responsible for this particular disaster, the push for the “Green New Deal” and elimination of nuclear and fossil fuel based energy production will make it worse, just as the push to deregulate set up the current situation.

PS – for some great discussions about the energy industry, follow Art Berman’s twitter feed and if you’re in that world his blog and consulting resources are invaluable.