This blog provides commentary on interesting geological events occurring around the world in the context of my own work. This work is, broadly, geological fluid dynamics. The events that I highlight here are those that resonate with my professional life and ideas, and my goal is to interpret them in the context of ideas I've developed in my research. The blog does not represent any particular research agenda. It is written on a personal basis and does not seek to represent the University of Illinois, where I am a professor of geology and physics. Enjoy Geology in Motion! I would be glad to be alerted to geologic events of interest to post here! I hope that this blog can provide current event materials that will make geology come alive.

Banner image is by Ludie Cochrane..

Susan Kieffer can be contacted at s1kieffer at gmail.com

Friday, January 16, 2015

Typhoon Mekkhala (Amang) and Pope Francis's visit to the Philippines

Typhoon Mekkhala at 2 p.m. Eastern Time Friday
3:00 a.m. Saturday local time in Manila
from CNN.COM
The image at the left was taken approximately six hours before Pope Francis is to fly into Tacloban (see location) to conduct a mass before tens to hundreds of people at 9:30 a.m. local time (8:30 p.m. Friday night ET). CNN is describing this as "likely to be a soggy, windy experience with a measure of peril." Between 13 and 15 cm of rain are forecast (Tacloban and Manila, respectively, more at places nearby). He is scheduled to hold a mass on Sunday morning that as many as 6 million people have been projected to attend, though flooding and landslides may make travel dangerous and difficult. As of this writing, Vatican officials have commented to the press.a
Projected rainfall over the next 48 hours in millimeters.
From the CNN article cited.
     According to AccuWeather.com, Mekkhala's trajectory is most likely to spend the weekend in the central Philippines spreading very heavy rain as it moves slowly to the west northwest. Landfall is likely in Samar, one of the areas hit hard by Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) only last year. Part of the Pope's schedule is to take him to the eastern Visayas to visit with people impacted by Haiyan.
     Although this is significant and disruptive rainfall, it is an order of magnitude less than the heaviest rainfalls recorded in typhoons. In August 2009, Typhoon Morakot dropped 2900 mm (114") in Taiwan three days. This included the highest, single-day regional record at 1403 mm (55 inches). The damage to infrastructure from flooding and slides was enormous.
    Such heavy rainfalls have not gone unnoticed by people who study earthquakes. Seven months after Typhoon Morakot dropped this rain, a M6.4 earthquake rattled Taiwan. According to Shimon Wdowinski and I. Tsukanov, as reported by Richard Lovett of National Geographic Magazine, heavy rainfall may be triggering these earthquakes. (Note: I could not find a peer-reviewed paper from them, only an AGU 2011 Fall meeting abstract#U53E-06). The M7.0 earthquake in 2010 in Haiti came 18 months after it had been deluged by two hurricanes and two tropical storms. There are difficulties in making correlations between events so far apart in time, and for which there are only a few data points:

  • 2009 Typhoon Morakot, M6.2 in 2009 and M6.4 in 2010
  • 1996 Typhoon Herb, M6.2 in 1998 and M7.6 in 1999
  • 1969 Typhoon Flossie, M6.2 in 1972

But, Wdowinski's analysis suggested that Taiwan's M6+ earthquakes were five times more likely to occur within four years after such storms than if the storms had no effect. Wdowinski suggests that is not the weight of the water that triggers the earthquakes, but the unloading of the crust by landslides and sediment redistribution from the land into the sea. This lightens the stress on the crustal rocks and, if a fault is near failure, makes it easier to slip, that is a typhoon alters the timing of an imminent earthquake. The AGU abstract says that mesh free finite element modeling and Coulomb failure stress analysis were used to calculate the increase in failure stresses at the hypo centers by 300-1500 Pa, ultimately triggering the earthquakes. The say that the statistical analysis indicated "a very low probability (1-5%) for a random earthquake occurrence process to give the observed typhoon-earthquake correlation.
    A slightly different model was proposed by Thomas Adar for the Himalayas. In the monsoon seasons, water flows from the Himalayas into the lowlands where its weight causes a slight bending of the Indian tectonic plate causing the edge of the plate to deform slightly. During the wet season, the bending offsets the tectonic strain on the fault caused by the plate motions and reduces the short-term risk of earthquakes. But, in winter, when the lowlands dry out, the plate unbends and the earthquake rate increases.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Indian Ocean tsunami--not 2004, but 1945

The Makran subduction zone showing the approximate
source of the earthquake (yellow) that caused
the 945 tsunami (inferred from seismogram and
coastal uplift). Sites with blue circles show locations
of tsunami fatalities. Red dots show locations of
survivors who were interviewed, and fractions
show the fraction of credible first-hand accounts
(denominator is total number interviewed). From the
article referenced in the text.
Eos, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union features an article in the December 23 issue by D.M. Kakar and others about the next-to-last devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean (on the 10th anniversary of the most devastating 2004 tsunami). Eos, by the way, is now freely available online to everyone at Eos.org, not just members of the AGU.
     Documentation of this earthquake and tsunami was hindered by the international instabilities of World War II and British India. This article is the result of an effort to find the aging survivors of the event and gather eyewitness accounts in order to improve tsunami hazard models and awareness. 
     The earthquake that caused the tsunami was M8.1 and centered west of Karachi (Pakistan) along the Makran subduction zone where the Indian Ocean plate is subducted below the Eurasian plate at a rate of about 4 cm/year. Estimated fatalities are between 300 and 4000, most in the areas of Pakistan, Iran and Oman shown on the map, but thirteen deaths in Bombay (Mumbai). Elders in Oman, Iran, Pakistan and India were interviewed. Most were children in 1945. Although many accounts were "hearsay", others contained details assumed to be real: "For example, the shaking in Ormara brought down a stone house that entrapped one eye-witness's recently married sister. The noisy approach of a wave in Pasni cut short the predawn Fajr prayer. The sea at Konarak entered a mosque and injured some who were praying there...."
     The authors of this article hope that the eyewitness accounts can be used to constrain models of tsunami hazards, and that the eyewitness stories will help educate those who live along the shores about tsunamis.