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.

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