TIME Natural Disasters

How Human Activity Is Causing Earthquakes Across the United States

Eight states in the South and Central U.S. are experiencing rapid earthquake growth partially as a result of oil and gas activity

The Rock may be about to star in the earthquake disaster movie San Andreas, but it turns out California is no longer the leading state for quakes. Oklahoma had more than 500 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater in 2014. Quakes in the Sooner State are now hundreds of times more common than less than a decade ago.

And Oklahoma is not alone. Eight states in the South and Central U.S. are experiencing rapid earthquake growth as a result human activity, according to a new report from the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

“These earthquakes are occurring at a higher rate than ever before and pose a much greater risk to people living nearby,” said Mark Petersen, a USGS official.

The man-made Oklahoma earthquakes are a relatively new phenomenon, the consequence of oil and gas drillers who have taken advantage of the fracking revolution injecting billions of gallons of wastewater underground. The increase in earthquake activity began in 2009, but the Oklahoma state government only acknowledged the role of oil and gas activity for the first time this week.

US Earthquake Map USGS
Courtesy of United States Geological SurveyA map of earthquake activity in the United States shows areas with suspected man-made earthquake activity marked with enclosed black lines.

Energy producers often need to dispose of polluted waste underground to prevent contamination of freshwater. Researchers have suggested that the disposal of drilling wastewater deep underground may increase the stress on fault lines as far as 6 miles away, and subsequently trigger earthquakes.

Thus far, most of the Oklahoma earthquakes have been relatively small. But recent research suggests that bigger quakes may be on the horizon as a result of the reactivation of a 300-million-year-old fault line in the middle of the country, according to a study published Thursday.

The damage caused by even a moderately-sized earthquake in Oklahoma would likely be greater than in a state like California–Oklahoma lacks the tougher building codes that are common in states accustomed to quakes. A 5.6 magnitude earthquake, considered moderate in most places that typically experience earthquakes, rocked the state in 2011. More than a dozen homes were destroyed, and two highways buckled.

The Oklahoma state government said this week that it will take action to prepare for more man-made earthquakes, and launched a website to explain the problem to residents.

Other states experiencing human-induced earthquakes include Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas, according to the USGS.

Previous research has suggested that fracking, a controversial process of oil and gas extraction that involves opening up fractures in shale rock deep underground, may be in part directly responsible for some of these earthquakes, but the USGS says that the process is only “occasionally the direct cause of felt earthquakes.” Wastewater injection is a more common cause.

Read More: Earthquake Insurance Becomes Boom Industry in Oklahoma

TIME Natural Disasters

143 Million Americans Are Now Living in Earthquake Zones, Scientists Say

A youngster walks past a parking structure that collapsed during Sunday's 6.0 earthquake in Napa, California August 25, 2014
Robert Galbraith—Reuters A youngster walks past a parking structure that collapsed during Sunday's 6.0 earthquake in Napa, California August 25, 2014

Nearly 20,000 schools may be exposed to ground shaking

Some 143 million Americans in the Lower 48 states are at risk of experiencing an earthquake — with 28 million being in danger of “strong shaking,” scientists claimed on Wednesday.

In a press release, researchers attributed the record numbers to both population migration, with ever more people moving to earthquake hot-zones on the West Coast, and a “change in hazard assessments.”

The data nearly doubles the 1994 FEMA estimation of 75 million Americans who could potentially experience tremors during their lifetime, according to a collaborative study from researchers at the United States Geological Survey, FEMA and the California Geological Survey.

The new report also calculated the potential financial loss from damages to buildings like schools, hospitals and fire stations. They said the average long-term cost is $4.5 billion per year with 80% of total being concentrated in California, Oregon and Washington.

“While the West Coast may carry the larger burden of potential losses and the greatest threat from the strongest shaking, this report shows that the threat from earthquakes is widespread,” said Kishor Jaiswal, the researcher who presented the findings.

Researchers identified 6,000 fire stations, 800 hospitals and nearly 20,000 schools throughout the Lower 48 they deemed “may be exposed to strong ground motion from earthquakes.”

TIME Natural Disasters

‘Isis’ Removed From UN List of Hurricane Names

It was replaced with Ivette

Don’t expect Hurricane Isis to hit anytime soon.

The U.N. has removed “Isis” from its official list of future hurricane names, deeming it inappropriate because of the rise of the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Reuters reports.

Clare Nullis, spokesperson for the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said it’s not unprecedented for the group to strike hurricane names.

“Names are knocked off the list, which rotates every six years, if they are considered inappropriate if they caused too much damage and too much death,” Nullis said.

She told TIME how the process works to take a name off the list: “There was consensus on this. These sorts of decisions are always taken by consensus, there is never a vote.”

The WMO Hurricane Committee has replaced the name Isis with Ivette.

 

TIME weather

At Least 2 Dead After Illinois Tornado

Among the hardest-hit areas was the small farming community of Fairdale

(FAIRDALE, Ill.) — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner confirms a second person has died in the northern Illinois community of Fairdale after tornadoes struck the region.

Rauner told reporters Friday in Flagg that two people had died. He was surveying damage in region.

Among the hardest-hit areas was the small farming community of Fairdale where one woman was killed. She was identified as 67-year-old Geraldine M. Schultz. Roughly a dozen other people were injured Thursday after at least one tornado swept through tiny Fairdale.

The second person has not been identified.

It’s an unincorporated town of about 150, about 80 miles northwest of Chicago.

TIME Papua New Guinea

Tsunami Warning Issued for Parts of Pacific After Earthquake

Officials issued a tsunami warning for areas of the Pacific as far north as Russia

(SYDNEY) — A powerful earthquake rattled the South Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea on Monday, prompting officials to issue a tsunami warning for vast swathes of the Pacific and as far north as Russia.

The magnitude-7.7 earthquake struck at a depth of 65 kilometers (40 miles), about 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of the town of Kokopo in northeastern Papua New Guinea, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said hazardous tsunami waves could hit coasts located within 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of Kokopo, with waves between 1 to 3 meters (3 to 10 feet) possible for Papua New Guinea.

Farther afield, tsunami waves of less than 0.3 meters (1 foot) could hit other Pacific island nations, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Hawaii, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Antarctica later Monday, the tsunami warning center said. The Japan Meteorological Agency, however, said there was no tsunami risk to Japan from the quake.

Officials in the capital, Port Moresby, were working to contact their counterparts in the outer provinces, but there had been no reports of damage or injuries within an hour of the quake striking, said Martin Mose, acting director for Papua New Guinea’s National Disaster Center. No one had reported seeing any tsunami waves, he added.

“The situation seems to be under control at this stage,” he said.

The quake caused strong shaking and knocked items off shelves in Kokopo, but had not prompted any immediate reports of damage, said Chris McKee, assistant director of the Geophysical Observatory in Port Moresby. A few people in the capital reported feeling the quake as well, he said.

By early afternoon, there were still no sightings of unusual wave activity and officials weren’t sure if a tsunami had been generated, McKee said.

“If there was a tsunami generated, it would have already impacted nearby coastlines,” he said.

Earthquakes are common in Papua New Guinea. The country lies on the “Ring of Fire” — an arc of earthquake and volcanic activity that stretches around the Pacific Rim.

TIME climate change

2014 Was the Hottest Year on Record

'Climate change is perhaps the major challenge of our generation'

2014 was the hottest year since temperature record keeping began in 1880, scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on Friday. The average global surface temperature hit 58.24 F (14.58 C), easily surpassing the previous record, set in 2005 and 2010, by 0.07 degrees.

“Climate change is perhaps the major challenge of our generation,” NASA scientist Michael Freilich warned in on a conference call. “Our changing climate presents us with vast opportunities as well as the potential for profound societal impacts.”

Every continent experienced record high temperatures in some area. Alaska, the west coast of the United States, Europe, Australia and Siberia were among the areas that saw particularly intense temperature rises. Other regions, like the U.S. Northeast, saw relatively low temperatures. Overall, the average global land temperature was nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher in 2014 than the average temperature in the 20th century.

Though a temperature rise of a few degrees may seem insignificant, University of Georgia meteorologist Marshall Shepherd likens the disparity to “the difference between a low-grade fever and one just a few degrees higher that can have an impact on the body.”

“If you are younger than 29-years old, you haven’t lived in a month that was cooler than the 20th century average,” he said in a statement. February 1985 was the last time where average global temperatures for the month were colder than they were for the 20th century on average.

Environmental activists and scientists used the announcement as an opportunity to counter claims that climate change has slowed or stopped in recent years. These claims cite data showing that temperatures have risen at a slower rate since the turn of the century than in past decades.

“Why do we keep getting so many record-warm years?” NASA scientist Dr. Gavin Schmidt asked in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s because the planet is warming. The basic issue is the long-term trend, and it is not going away.”

“Today’s news is a clear and undeniable warning for all of us—nations, businesses, cities, and individuals—that we need to cut climate pollution and prepare for what’s coming,” said Lou Leonard, vice president for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund, in a statement.

Gavin Schmidt described determining the cause of any temperature rise as a “complicated finger printing,” but said that it’s clear that greenhouse gases added to the climate by humans are a major contributor to the warming.

While last year’s record may be alarming in itself, scientists pointed out that long-term trends are equally alarming. Nine out of the ten warmest years on record occurred in the 21st century. “The key thing we’re talking about here is not just 2014, but the long-term trends,” said Schmidt on a conference call. “We may anticipate further record highs into the years to come.”

TIME weather

This Is What Hurricane Gonzalo Looks Like From Space

Tropical Weather
Alexander Gerst—ESA/NASA/AP Hurricane Gonzalo seen from the International Space Station as it moves toward Bermuda on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014.

The Category 2 storm is headed north this weekend

Hurricane Gonzalo smashed into Bermuda Friday, with winds reaching 110mph and waves approaching heights of 40 feet as the Category 2 storm swept northward, according to USA Today. Approximately 30,600 customers of Bermuda’s power company were without power as of late Friday night, while the National Hurricane Center warned of “a life-threatening storm surge.”

The storm is headed for the North Atlantic this weekend.

From space, Gonzalo is a massive, white vortex—but despite its size, it really looks quite serene. This photo comes care of Alexander Gerst, a European astronaut currently aboard the International Space Station.

 

 

TIME Natural Disasters

20 Million Set to Take Part in ‘Great ShakeOut’ Earthquake Drill

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate speaks during an event on earthquake preparedness Oct. 14, 2014 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate speaks during an event on earthquake preparedness Oct. 14, 2014 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.

At 10:16 a.m on Thursday, millions of people around the world will practice the "drop, cover and hold on" moves

More than 20 million people around the world on Thursday are expected to take part in the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills, an annual event that promotes earthquake readiness.

At 10:16 a.m. on Oct. 16, participants will practice the government-recommended “drop, cover and hold on” protocol, which involves getting on the ground, taking cover under a table or desk and holding on until the earthquake is over.

With 10.32 million people registered, California has the highest participation of any U.S. state or nation taking part. ShakeOut events are also happening inNew Zealand, Japan, Southern Italy and parts of Canada as well. More than 25 million people in total are participating in a ShakeOut event of some kind during 2014, according to the Great ShakeOut organization.

ShakeOuts started in California, where earthquakes are common, but soon spread to other states, and the drills are usually coordinated with local emergency services.

TIME Natural Disasters

The Most Beautiful Wildfire Photos You’ll Ever See

The fire near Yosemite National Park's most popular and iconic features is still only 10% contained

At first, you don’t see the fire and smoke raging near the most beautiful section of America’s most beautiful national park. Instead, the blaze that’s burned through 4,500 acres of Yosemite blends almost seamlessly into its natural features: the fire looking an extension of the sunset; the smoke appearing nothing more than a layer of fog above the valley floor.

Photographer Stuart Palley captured the wildfire when it first began spreading early this week. He says he always thought if there was a forest fire near Half Dome, the gray granite formation that’s one of Yosemite’s most popular and iconic features, it would make for a stunning photograph. So when he heard over the weekend about the growing fire, he drove seven hours to Yosemite from Los Angeles to shoot it overnight from the vantage of nearby Glacier Point.

While much of the west and southwest are experiencing some level of drought, roughly 80% of California is suffering from “extreme drought” conditions, and about 60% of the state is experiencing “exceptional” drought as little rainfall over the last two years have brought reservoir levels to 60% of their historical average.

According to reports, the fire appears to have recently slowed. Eight helicopters and roughly 400 firefighters have been deployed to fight the wildfire, which forced the evacuation of dozens of hikers in the area surrounding Yosemite Valley. But at last estimate, the fire was only 10% contained.

TIME Natural Disasters

Yellowstone ‘Super Eruption’ Could Blanket U.S. in Ash, Study Finds

USA, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1976). Region of geysers, Castle Geyser
C.DANI and I.JESKE—De Agostini/Getty Images Yellowstone National Park (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1976). Region of geysers, Castle Geyser

An eruption could blanket the east coast in a few millimeters and bury the Rocky mountains in several meters of ash

If Yellowstone erupted into a massive, ash-spewing volcano, how far might the plume travel across the continental United States? From coast to coast, blanketing every city in ash, according to an unsettling new study.

Geophysicists developed a computer model of a Yellowstone “super eruption” that would spew 330 cubic kilometers of volcanic ash into the sky. The resulting ash cloud, depending on wind conditions, would blanket the continental United States in ash deposits of varying thickness, according to the study, published late August in the journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.

New York and Washington D.C., would get a light dusting of ash measuring roughly one-tenth of an inch, while San Francisco and Seattle would get a heaping 2 inches. Billings, Montana, meanwhile, would have to dig out from a 70-inch pile up.

If the findings sound far-flung, so to speak, researchers point out that Yellowstone’s last massive eruption spewed ash over tens of thousands of square kilometers. Deposits from that eruption have been traced as far afield as Canada and the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately, the last time Yellowstone erupted on that scale was some 2 million years ago and counting.

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