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An exciting series of lectures given at the last AGU meeting on the Tohoku earthquake explain a great deal about the tectonic plate interactions that led to the quake along with measuring its magnitude and studying its behaviour which was unusual compared to past large earthquakes.  The Tohoku earthquake was a multi-segment earthquake and while earthquakes occur frequently in this region of Japan, the thrust of this earthquake was entirely unexpected and was characterised by a number of large slips.

There is also a history lesson here.  The tectonic environment of the Tohoku quake was similar to the mysterious, historic 1907 Sumatra Earthquake (7.6 mag).  Although it is difficult to say what happened exactly based on seismograms that were left, the 1907 Sumatra Earthquake may also have been a megathrust event like Tohoku. Read more

The sharpest amongst you will have noticed that I have fallen badly behind with blogging.  Unfortunately I have found myself so busy from dawn into the evening that reserving time to blog has been a struggle.

So to try to address that here are some notable talks that I have attended in the last two days:

Thorne Lay gave a really excellent keynote talk on great earthquake ruptures in the age of seismo-geodesy – an event that was perhaps slightly marred by extreme over-crowding in the room, and some slightly heavy-handed treatment by the convention centre staff of those without a seat.  Thorne’s thesis was that the combination of high-resolution (both in terms of time and space) geodetic measurements and excellent seismological data is starting to allow us to really get an understanding of the nature of great (i.e. M>8 earthquakes).  Nonetheless, he emphasised that every great earthquake of the last decade (and he noted that this has been a period of a high rate of large events) has generated a scientific surprise.  I guess we will start to really understand earthquakes when this is no longer the case.  The component that I found most interesting was a set of observations about coupled earthquakes – i.e. events where one seismic shock triggers another, sometimes with quite a different fault mechanism.  There seem to be more of these than one might expect. Read more

Words alone can’t express the immensity of the AGU Meeting.  It is a truly spectacular event.  So here is the first of a couple of posts featuring photos of different parts of the meeting to give a sense of the atmosphere.

I’ll start with the poster hall, which I think is really the backbone of what AGU is about.  It allows researchers to communicate with each other directly about their research.  The poster is a gift of science (like the scientific paper) that communicates scientific knowledge and usually provides a stimulating visual representation of the research. Read the rest of this entry »

The environmental and economic problems of climate change are both universal as well as specific to different parts of the world.  This requires effective communication about climate change science that has the potential to inform people’s understanding on both a national and local scale.  Climate science communication is a strong theme of this AGU Meeting.  I attended a several poster sessions as well as sessions on innovative ways to communicate how the Earth’s climate changes over time, but also ways to engage young people in schools allowing them to actually do climate change research themselves — a truly exciting prospect.  One example is having students build their own pyranometer for measuring incoming sunlight at the Earth’s surface (insolation) and doing experiments.

There is a range of opportunities available.  NASA is one of the frontrunners in communicating climate science in the US, providing flashy forms of web interactivity that can be used to inform young people and adults alike about climate science.  There are a few sites by NASA that I learned about and would recommended to anyone interested in how to communicate climate science to a broad audience.

NASA Global Climate Change

Eyes on the Earth

Visualization Explorer

I also learned that in the US there is a great deal going on in terms of communicating the impacts of climate change, especially in Boulder, Colorado home to the National Center for Atmospheric Research and National Snow and Ice Data Center.  I was able to chat with some of the people from these organisations as well as NASA who are developing ways to communicate climate science that will likely influence how people view climate change in the US.  There is also the economic and policy side of things.  Not only do we need citizens who are better informed about climate science, but that are also aware of its economic implications.  In conversations about climate change, it is often the economic argument that trumps the rest, this is partially why international climate change meetings such as the one happening now in Durban, South Africa are incredibly difficult in terms of coming to a general agreement on emissions reductions.

Read the rest of this entry »

The American Geophysical Union Meeting is an immense science conference, the largest of its kind in the world.  Taking place in the multilevel citadel known as the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco, it lies within the city’s technological landscape and seedy urban environment.  I was fortunate enough to catch the first session of a press conference on the Tohoku earthquake that devastated Japan early this year, in particular its most destructive secondary hazard – the tsunami – that slammed into the east coast killing tens of thousands of people and causing catastrophic damage.  Not surprisingly much attention is being given to the earthquake and tsunami at the conference.  The first press conference on the disaster focused on technologies that were in place to track the tsunami, but also public risk perception of tsunami events in Japan, which needless to see seem alarming in regards to preparing for future tsunami events in Japan.

Prior to the tsunami in March of this year, there were four DART buoys in place along the coast of Japan.  Three of them were owned by the US, while the other one was monitored by Russia.  These buoys allowed researchers to see the tsunami 30 min after it first occurred and empirical observations matched modelling of the tsunami according to Dr Eddie Bernard from the Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory in Seattle, Washington.  The buoys take measurements from the sea floor, detecting the changes in the weight of the water above it.  Bernard thinks that solely reporting tsunami wave heights is insufficient for evacuating populations before a tsunami strikes, instead there should be ‘flood forecasts’ that can inform people about the levels of flooding that will likely occur, but this will vary depending on where people live along the coast line.  Also, Bernard argues that flood forecasting cannot be done without the information available from DART.  ‘An earthquake shakes the earth for four minutes and a tsunami crashes the Earth for 12 hours’, he said.

‘For the people who deal with this along the coastline for 12 hours, any additional information you can provide them as soon as possible, whether it’s five minutes, 40 minutes or 50 minutes, would have been very useful’. Read more

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