Afghanistan Earthquake 21 June 2022

There was an earthquake on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border overnight. While not especially strong (M5.9), the combination of poor construction and economic distress from decades of war means this will be a disaster far out of proportion to what the raw numbers will show. Here is the impact zone …

click to enlarge.

The computer models indicate casualties are on the order of 3000, with approximately 1000 of those killed. Initial reports are of 920 deaths (BBC article), so that seems the right order of magnitude. On paper, economic impacts should be on the order of $100 Million USD. And here is the first indication of why the usual metrics don’t work: The problem with Afghanistan at the moment is that the economy is essentially dysfunctional. GDP and economic metrics just don’t work. Economic sanctions and the impounded resources and frozen aid programs resulting from the return of the Taliban to control of the country means that something like a third to half of the country cannot meet basic food needs. So like many disasters, this is a failure of governance as much as natural forces.

Unfortunately this earthquake will likely result in a tremendous amount of additional suffering that will almost certainly drop off the media radar given the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, pending domestic turmoil over US Supreme Court decisions, and it being an election year.

#Earthquake near Stillmore, Georgia

There was a magnitude 3.9 earthquake between Stillmore and Metter this morning at 4:05am. Here is what it looked like on the Enki seismograph in midtown Savannah …

click to embiggen. EQ is obvious, other stuff is noise from the city like air conditioners, traffic, etc.

While it was felt across South Georgia, it’s not likely it caused any major damage, although it wouldn’t surprise me if there were a couple of damage reports. It was felt as far away as Atlanta and Jacksonville. Here’s the map, computer model damage estimate < $1 Million although I’d be surprised if it is that high.

Stillmore earthquake preliminary map

This quake is in an unusual place. The sediments are deep, and we really don’t have a great picture of what is going on down there. Usually geologists write off this kind of thing as the earth readjusting to equilibrium from various stresses and strains. It does show that earthquakes can happen anywhere, not just on known faults (the key word being “known”). This one is number five on the list of strongest earthquakes in Georgia, which makes it unusual (the stronger events tend to be in North Georgia, associated with the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains, or near Savannah, associated with the fault complex near Charleston. From the early data seems quite shallow – 0.75km from the early estimates – but I don’t think I believe that (update – more data seems to indicate the depth was at 16km). Unlike the event in Poland back in April, there doesn’t seem to be anything on the surface, although there is a small man-made lake and earthen dam nearby.

A single seismograph can only compute how far away a quake is. It takes at least three stations to “triangulate” the quake location. The green band circle shows the minimum distance from our seismograph, the red the maximum. The orange “Hypocenter” marker shows the computed location based on 23 stations.

Another thing to note is the wide area over which this small quake was felt. That is because we have fairly solid rock, with wet mushy soil on top. This transmits seismic energy pretty well, unlike the highly fractured (from all the earthquakes!) rocks out west. A 3.9 near LA wouldn’t be felt nearly as far as one here is. If you’re interested in Savannah/SC Low Country Earthquakes, I did a blog post on it last fall (link). This morning’s event (probably) isn’t connected to the Charleston fault system.

We learn more after every earthquake, especially unusual ones. Will be interesting to see what comes out of further analysis on this one. If you felt this event, please go to the USGS site and fill out the “Did You Feel It?” form.

Doom stalks the Earth …

Lots going on, significant earthquake in Taiwan (M6.7), some damage reported as well as injuries. Impacts should be in the low hundreds of millions of USD.

Click any graphic to embiggen.

Severe weather in the US, a tornado ripped through New Orleans last night causing quite a bit of damage and at least one death. NWS Local Storm Reports are coming in across the region as the storm system moves west …

Today the much weakened system will be pushing east across Georgia/South Carolina and will be moving offshore this evening. It has lost a lot of energy but might still cause some strong thunderstorms, so keep your weather radios armed.

No convective warnings as of 10:30am ET …

And of course the Ukraine thing grinds on. Hard to know what to say about that, the level of propaganda all around is insane, and there is virtually no reliable information in the public realm. So trust no one, and stay tuned … I suspect we are in that dangerous period where things are moving to a new equilibrium, but the people who don’t want or realize that may act to blow up (literally in this case) that trend. Perhaps by early April we will know.

Major earthquake offshore from #Japan, #Fukushima risk

A 7.3 EQ has hit just offshore Japan, with reports coming in on damage and a possible tsunami. The warnings are for the tsunami to be on the order of one meter. Here is the ground motion estimate …

click to embiggen.

The scary thing is the risk to all those rusting tanks of radioactive water that have been accumulating since 2011 from the damaged reactor at Fukushima that nobody seems to know what to do with. It’s a lot – over a million tons of the stuff in well over 1000 tanks. There are controversial plans underway to slowly release it into the ocean after additional treatment.

Hopefully none of these ruptured in the shaking.

More later as things become clearer. Impact models are all over the place, mostly under a Billion USD but a couple of the 50 options came in between $1 and $3 Billion and the highest (that also had a more significant tsunami) spiked over $5 Billion.

About my position on Ukraine: what war is like

Have you ever been in a war zone?  Have you ever crossed the front lines in a major city, passing a pile of rubble with a child’s toy nearby, the decaying foot of a woman protruding, knowing from the smell and setting what lies underneath?  Have you ever visited a peaceful Christian village that may have lived under a dictatorship but was at least protected with families and a growing middle class, and later found it destroyed by a radical group our government trained, the people slaughtered, their daughters enslaved, all as part of an effort to overthrow that harsh but stable government?  Ever regain consciousness, wracked with pain, realizing you’ve been thrown through the air from a terrorist bomb that probably killed everyone around you?

I know damn well what war is like – I’ve been in them on four continents. And it haunts me.  If there is any truth in war it is that innocent people caught in the middle pay the highest price. War is something to be avoided – and that requires understanding why they start. Yes, there are circumstances where war is justified, but starting them – or triggering them by goading others in to them – should be a last resort, not just another policy option.  Avoiding wars – or properly prosecuting them if we have to – requires understanding the other side.

Understanding isn’t agreement. Understanding isn’t justification. Don’t doubt that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is catastrophically wrong.  But it is understandable when viewed from their perspective. Understanding that is essential to create good policy and solve problems.

Putin isn’t Hitler, and the comparisons to 1930’s Europe are way overblown on many levels.  It’s a dangerous and toxic analogy because once you invoke it there is no need for further discussion: the other side is evil and must be destroyed.  Make no mistake, Russia under Putin is oppressive.  But as far as I know Russia isn’t engaged in genocide, their ideology (while it does have Russian  supremacist elements) is primarily based on power and control of resources, not on some insane vision of a pure future based on the annihilation of other people.  The rhetoric has become increasingly disturbing all around, and this doesn’t help. Russia isn’t even engaging in human rights abuses and supporting dangerous ideologies that rise to the level of, say, our good friends Saudi Arabia. So stop it with the Hitler comparisons.

Russia and Putin sure as hell aren’t warm and fuzzy. My key point is had we conducted ourselves differently, I feel Russia would have evolved over time into a more open democratic society.  Putin and Russia had pursued a fairly pragmatic foreign policy until recent years – it didn’t become openly hostile and expansionist until pushed beyond red lines they stated well in advance. Again, by refusing to discuss and consider accommodations to Russia’s reasonable requests over the last 30 years, we created a situation where Russia felt it had little option but to upgrade an existing conflict (the conflict the West has been escalating against Russia actively for at least 15 of those 30  years) from an asymmetric low level conflict to a full blown kinetic shooting war.   In short, the war didn’t start last week, last year, or even in 2014. It started in 1991.

One map making the rounds … pulled from a pro-Russian site.

Some have said that I’m echoing Russian Propaganda (while themselves often echoing Western Propaganda). Well, if the Kremlin says the sky is blue that doesn’t make it wrong; If something is true, it is true, and the fact that the West is dismissive of it is potentially a reason behind the aggression. That doesn’t justify the aggression, but it makes it understandable. I probably do overplay the Russian point of view – even when I disagree with it – because I am so frustrated it is not given the attention it deserves because even if we don’t believe, they either do, or are using it as a negotiating tactic, and if we don’t address it the problems can’t be solved. As one example, reflexively saying “there are no Nazis running Ukraine” just because Russia is exaggerating their role denies the fact that Eastern Europe hasn’t ever really come to terms with that past, and in fact there are some pretty unsavory elements who need to be rooted out. That’s not justification for the invasion – but it is an indictment of our policies that supported and encouraged groups like Right Sector and Azoz.

This all boils down to understanding and developing sane policies in a very dangerous and unstable world, especially understanding why those who do things we don’t like do them. Figuring out why people they act the way they do – and realistically assessing our responsibility and role in creating conditions that contribute to those actions – is an utterly essential part of that process.

Twenty years on: a tale of two wars

Heat signatures/fires probably related to fighting near Kherson, Ukraine.

During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I was able to post commentary and analysis from what many seemed to think was a fairly neutral position, pointing out how and where US policy was right and wrong in how we got there, and the mechanics and flow of the invasion. I posted links to various sources, both pro and con, as well as original analysis based on satellite imagery. It got a fair amount of praise from those who opposed the war (who thought it was a little “pro war” but fair) and those against (who implied I had “anti war” sentiments but provided a good service). It even broke a couple of stories well before the popular media. Although there were of course the occasional trolls, rarely did any of the critics resort to insults or wild accusations. Most people asked civil questions and the discussions were interesting.

What a difference 20 years makes! The Internet was a much smaller place back then, and society was less angry. When I pointed out that Saddam Hussein had started as a US ally and reformer, and that the evolution from that to despotic dictator and enemy was in part (maybe significant part) due to US policy miss-steps, no one ever accused me of being his supporter. Yet, if I point out that from his perspective, Russia and Putin have valid reasons for doing what they are doing in Ukraine, and that we bear significant responsibility for this tragedy, I am accused of being a Putin Lover and purveyor/victim of misinformation.

The biggest problem is the media environment. The US media was hijacked by the government and corporate interests a long time ago. The Pentagon and CIA spent a lot of money and resources studying how they lost control of the narrative over Vietnam. Those ideas were put in to practice by one of the (then) young officers involved in those studies who had risen to the highest levels by the time of the first Gulf War – Colin Powell. They were a spectacular success; the news media was totally co-opted through the use of tactics like embedding, selective background briefings and leaks, providing “warheads” (“former” military officers and intel agents) who have taken over expert commentary and even reporting in some cases, and so forth. The consolidation of the media and, with the advent of CNN, the change of news divisions from prestige, public service loss leaders into profitable business units dependent on engaging viewers and advertising revenues completed the transition from journalism to stenographers for the US Government or large corporate viewpoints on most subjects.

Now with Fox News and the proliferation of internet sources, you can easily find a source that matches your worldview without challenge. Fox in particular helped blur the line between news and commentary, and the advent of advocacy journalism on the left means neutral news reporting – always at risk – is now firmly a thing of the past. So today the vast majority of people who are engaged in online discussions are far too secure in their own information bubbles. Rather than think through and consider their possible preconceptions and try to understand the other side, they lash out and assume the worst about anything and anyone that contradicts their worldview in the slightest way. Rather than present reasoned arguments, ad hominum attacks and dismissal based on personality or source rule the day. Humility in the face of a complex situation with decades, even centuries of convoluted history is totally absent. As is self awareness, and considering critically actions by all actors in context.

Functioning as an independent part time commentator in that environment is almost impossible. So I’m going to scale back public analysis and comment on the subject of Ukraine and other geopolitical issues. It’s not that I’m thin skinned – I relish a good, fact based discussion of contrary views since it helps sharpen arguments and we all learn from it and evolve our positions. I’ve certainly changed positions on some subjects based on feedback. The problem is that in today’s environment it has become just too stressful and time consuming to try to moderate, respond, and keep discussions on a civil and rational level. Even with the support of my honored Patreons I just can’t keep up (I still have a “real” job, which as noted funding has declined so I no longer have as much flexibility as I used to anyway). So I’ll do what so many have asked, stick to natural disasters, with occasional commentary on the information/news dynamics and misinformation/propaganda problem (but no longer suggest sources – it seems you aren’t supposed to even *look* at anything that might contradict your worldview, even for the purpose of criticizing it!).

The biggest threat and problem is this: information dynamics, geopolitical stresses, resource limitations, and other issues have overwhelmed our systems of governance. It is clear our leaders are no longer capable of guiding our society – and society is so fragmented and delusional it is rapidly becoming dysfunctional. Democracy simply isn’t possible without some kind of shared values and basis for decision making. These have eroded to the point of collapse. I fear hard times are coming, and our leaders and the societies that select/support them are incapable of dealing with the difficult circumstances to come.

Earthquake in #Haiti yesterday

There was an earthquake in Haiti yesterday, continuing to add to the misery in that often forgotten country on our doorstep. At least two dead and dozens injured

click to embiggen.

I’m not seeing much in the US media about this. I guess Joe Biden’s latest SOB gaff, or the latest horse race political analysis, or the insane situation in Ukraine buried the story. It’s hard to know what to say about Haiti and the situation there other than to sigh in despair.

Brief note on the Tonga eruptions

An undersea volcano near the island of Tonga (named Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai if you are curious) has erupted sending ash, debris, and a small tsunami over the island. Residents heard the boom of the eruption. While there have been tsunami warnings across the Pacific (including Japan, Australia/New Zealand, and the US West coast). Japan has seen four foot waves. Waves at Hawai’i have been small, and waves hitting California and Mexico should be under a foot, but there may be strong currents and higher surges in places. Here is what it looked like from the Japan Meteorological Agency’s Himawari satellite …

#Earthquake swarm off of #Oregon

There is an ongoing swarm of earthquakes off of the coast of Oregon, with over a dozen M5+ events over the last day. The shaking hasn’t been felt onshore …

click any image to embiggen.

The theory of Plate Tectonics is the basis for our understanding of Earth’s geology. How that theory was developed, and the verification of it through cold war submarine hunting, is an amazing story of science and technology. The Pacific Northwest is a complex and interesting area, with three tectonic plates mashing together (or in the case of the Pacific and Juan de Fuca plates, spreading apart). The subduction zone where the North American Plate is riding over the top of the Juan deFuca plate is the cause of the volcanoes in Oregon and Washington, including the infamous Mount Saint Helens. Here is a USGS graphic showing the general situation:

USGS Diagram of Cascadia region.

As can be seen the swarm is along a section of the boundary between the Juan de Fuca and Pacific plates where the plates are grinding against each other rather than spreading apart (in geological terms, a transform boundary rather than a divergent boundary). Transform boundaries tend to produce earthquakes, so this swarm isn’t terribly unusual, although the number above Magnitude 5.0 is more than we normally see.

While this swarm isn’t a threat, it is a reminder that the Pacific Northwest is a geologically unstable area, and destructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are always lurking just under the surface.

Major M7.5 earthquake in Peru

There was a major earthquake in Peru this morning (Sunday, about 5:52am ET). Fortunately it was in a sparsely populated area, and was at least 100km deep, which seems to have limited the damage. Economic impact estimates are all below $50 Million, the mean of the TAOS/EQ models is $4.4 Million with many of the ensemble estimates below $1 Million USD. Here is the impact map …. given the depth and magnitude, it was actually felt all over Ecuador and Peru.

Click to embiggen.