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Published on Wednesday, October 24, 2012 by Common Dreams and October 25 by Truthout.
“Man”made earthquakes April 5, 2012Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in earthquakes, hydraulic fracturing.
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A paper will be presented by US Geological Survey geoscientists at the upcoming meeting of the Seismological Society of America meeting that asserts the following: the injection of fluids into the earth’s crust in the pursuit of natural gas has caused a spate of earthquakes from the southeastern U.S. to the Rockies.
The Keystone XL Pipeline Project: Extremely Unskillful? November 9, 2011Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Buddhist concepts, climate change, Dalai Lama, earthquakes, fossil fuel, fracking, hydraulic fracturing, Jack Kornfield, Keystone XL Pipeline Project, tar sands.
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The Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion (Keystone XL), operated by Calgary-based TransCanada, is the southernmost geographical component of the Keystone Project that will carry crude oil derived from Alberta, Canada tar sands through Saskatchewan, across Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma to southern Texas where it will be refined along the Gulf of Mexico. In a recent interview TransCanada CEO Russ Girling commented
“We never expected to be the lightning rod for the development of the Canadian oil sands. At the end of the day we build a conduit from A to B.”
What’s wrong with this attitude? The idea that this complex enterprise can be reduced to as simple a notion as connecting two points by a line can only arise from a profoundly confused mind. Here’s some geoscience in the service of clarity.
This View of Earth: A Call to Attention September 8, 2011Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Buddhist concepts, Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, disasters, earthquakes, Larry Rosenberg.
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This piece is cross-posted at Shambhala SunSpace
It’s been an eventful couple of weeks here on the eastern edge of the North American continent, despite the fact that we are situated in the middle and therefore relatively stable portion—speaking tectonically—of the North American lithospheric plate.
I felt the 5.8 magnitude Virginia quake on August 23 while sitting in a flimsy camp chair perched on Precambrian bedrock just inches above the ground surface in western Massachusetts. As readers of reports after that quake will know, the old and rigid rocks of the east coast of North America propagate seismic waves very efficiently so this geologic event was felt hundreds of miles away from the epicenter.
Just a few days later, the approach of and preparations for Hurricane Irene truncated the opportunity to marvel at the fact that Earth shook in surprising places. These were two different kinds of earth events: the earlier one a phenomenon of the solid earth possibly rebounding from the melting of Pleistocene ice sheets and the latter, a spectacle produced by the interactions of hydrosphere and atmosphere in the Anthropocene. They had in common the vast spatial scales that are an every day matter for planet Earth. Fortunately casualties among the living were few and we can be grateful for that. Nonetheless this planetary activity serves as a reminder that the earth is alive, and like any living being, deserves compassionate attention.
Aropos of these events, I recently finished a one-day sit with Larry Rosenberg at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center. Larry’s instructions, very helpful on the cushion, are useful to me now as I reflect on the earth’s dynamism in preparation for my introductory earth science course. Seasoned meditators will relate to Larry’s instructions: to be present rather than to wallow in an unchangeable past or become lost in an uncertain future.
His words have a direct geological analog in the famous saying by James Hutton, considered the founder of geology, the earth shows “no vestige of a beginning,–no prospect of an end.” Hutton penned the words in an attempt to convey to a populace yet unacquainted with radiometric dating what he believed to be the vastly ancient age of Earth. But after sitting with Larry, I also read Hutton’s statement as an invitation to be present in the moment. The Earth’s past is indeed unchangeable and it’s future uncertain. All we can do right now is pay close attention to the communications we receive from this living planet.
Japan in my thoughts March 17, 2011Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in disasters, earthquakes, geology, Japan, Tsunamis.
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For those of you interested in the science of earthquakes and tsunamis, you may be interested in this recent piece from Scientific American. It features an interview with my colleague Greg Valentine, geology professor and director of the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York Center for GeoHazards Studies. Also, if you would like to follow developments in the science of tsunamis, I recommend my colleague Brian McAdoo’s The Tsunami Project: Transdisciplinary Approaches to Disaster Risk Reduction.
The Science of Earthquakes and Tsunamis March 15, 2011Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in earthquakes, geology, Japan, science, U.S. Geological Survey.
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For those readers interested in the geoscience behind the events in Japan, I can recommend CoreCast from the U.S. Geological Survey; this episode provides an informative interview with USGS geophysicists Bill Ellsworth and Eric Geist on the mechanisms of the earthquake and tsunami.
The Japan Earthquake: Healing After Trauma March 14, 2011Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in disasters, earth community, earth system science, earthquakes, geology, Japan, science.
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I just returned from a weeklong spring break field trip in West Texas with my geology students to news of the 8.9 (now upgraded to 9.0) magnitude earthquake, and related 30-foot tsunami, nuclear reactor explosion and meltdowns, and oil refinery fire in Japan. In the El Paso airport on March 12, I picked up a copy of The Wall Street Journal to find out more about the events. The images of buildings, boats and other transport vehicles tossed willy-nilly by seawater—like toys swept aside by a frustrated child—took my breath away; they impressed on me yet again the spatial magnitude of Earth’s powerful forces.
I appreciated the clear rendering of the mechanisms of the quake and consequent tsunami— subduction of the Pacific plate beneath this outpost of the North American plate with massive uplift of the seafloor and displacement of voluminous amounts of seawater. Reporters for the Journalcontextualized the historic proportions of the seismic event (the fifth-largest recorded earthquake in the past century and the biggest in Japan in three hundred years); they lauded the country’s high degree of earthquake preparedness.
What struck me most, however was the extensive coverage of the economic implications of the quake for the global economy and speculations about how quickly life in and beyond Japan could get back to normal especially in terms of industrial and technological production. Of course I realize that business and financial news is that paper’s focus, nonetheless, I’d like to take the opportunity offered by this recent cascade of events to highlight a lesson that I think the Earth offers about reactions to stresses that can traumatize all living beings.
As readers of this blog know, I’m a seeker of Earth dharma—examples of Earth processes that resound with the wisdom of dharma teachers. For me, this recent temblor echoes teachings related to the devastating effects of the build-up of stress on a body and mindful approaches to healing.
In this seismic event, a locked fracture at the juncture of two lithospheric plates caused strain to accumulate in the rocks beneath the sea near the east coast of Honshu, Japan. It was released catastrophically as images of demolished landscapes and towns continue to show. As one geophysicist put it, “the rocks cracked under the pressure.”
I find it impossible not to take this as a metaphor for the effect on the human body of stress accumulated over the long-term and extract from it ideas about the delicacy of healing after such crises on earth. I’m sure others must have the same impulse but I feel especially inclined to it just coming off this field trip which took me to, among other places, Carlsbad Caverns (in New Mexico, just over the Texas border).
The moist, cool, subterranean world of Carlsbad Caverns beneath the rugged, desert landscape is an unparalleled realm of colossal chambers and extraordinary cave formations (known to geologists as speleothems). Formed a few million years ago by the dissolution of parts of a much older reef—the remains of sponges, algae and other marine invertebrate organisms that lived during the late Paleozoic—and then decorated beginning around 500,000 years ago, drop by drop, with crystals of calcite, steep passages connecting horizontal levels provide access to the Earth’s shallow interior.
While walking along the dimly lit paths through the caverns, I pointed out to one my medical school-bound students, “popcorn” speleothems precipitated so as to resemble, in my view, the alveoli of human lungs.
She marveled at the formation along with me. Then, further down the trail commented, “I feel like I’m walking inside the body of the Earth.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
Upon learning of the Japan quake, President Obama said at a news conference, “Today’s events remind us of just how fragile life can be.” Ostensibly sturdy, our Earth and all living beings on it are really quite delicate. The Prime Minister of Japan asserted that the current situation is the most severe crisis the country has faced since World War II and one that, in his words, will require people to join together in order to overcome the catastrophe. I agree that people will need to cooperate with one another but I think also that the current situation requires honesty (what is happening at those damaged reactors?) and patience. Is a focus on the possible effects of the catastrophe on the global economy a compassionate first response?
This portion of the Earth and the people who live there have experienced what my colleague David Applegate, senior science adviser for earthquakes at the U.S. Geological Survey has called a “low probability, high consequence” event. Foremost among my responses to the crisis, fresh from my recent intimate encounter with the Earth, is the wish that all living beings effected by this trauma be healed over the course of time.
The Earth trembles Down Under February 24, 2011Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Buddhist concepts, disasters, earthquakes, geology, science, Sylvia Boorstein.
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This piece is cross-posted at Shambhala SunSpace.
When asked in an interview for Third Age, what is mindfulness, Sylvia Boorstein answered, “The practice of mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in every moment of one’s day. It’s the balanced recognition of the truth of the moment.” I find this comment especially relevant in the aftermath of the magnitude 6.3 earthquake on the South Island of New Zealand that has caused havoc in Christchurch since it occurred on February 21.
The images of crumbled buildings, the injured and dead, remind me to pay attention to the truth of the moment: human tenancy on Earth is tenuous. The latest news reports state that at least 76 people died in this event — a small number when compared to the thousands hurt and killed after the January 2010 Haitian quake or the April 2010Yushu quake in Southern Qinghai. Nonetheless, this devastating aftershock of the magnitude 7.1 earthquake in New Zealand on September 3 reminds me that the earth behaves consistently and, as in words attributed to historian Will Durant, “civilization exists by geological consent subject to change without notice.”
As I have written previously for this blog, earthquakes occur at lithospheric plate boundaries, the relatively flexible seams that connect pieces of essentially inflexible crustal material that constitutes the Earth’s surface. New Zealand seismicity is associated with deformation as the Pacific and Australia plates interact. When the Earth’s rigid crust moves, energy stored in crustal rocks is released and the rocks rupture. But the Earth’srigid crust always moves.
Rates of lithospheric spreading and convergence — science-speak for the pace at which continents and ocean basins get torn apart or crash together — on the order of centimeters per year are perhaps so slow that human beings don’t notice the relentless motion or the associated smaller magnitude releases of energy. Other living things, however, are more sensitive than we. In southern Guangxi province of China, the director of the earthquake bureau reports that as they pursue the elusive goal of earthquake forecasting scientists monitor the behavior of snakes.
In the first half of this month, Earth has experienced at least 8 (February 2) and as many as 26 (February 4) earthquakes each day! Usually only the bigger ones involving human casualties and economic losses get reported. By paying attention to what the Earth tells us daily in myriad ways via varied processes, seismic and otherwise, human beings can, in Sylvia’s words, recognize the truth of the moment — all life on this planet is fragile.
The Earth Strikes Back? May 1, 2010Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in climate change, earthquakes, volcanic hazards.
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A former student of ours in the Vassar College Department of Earth Science and Geography, Ian Saginor, has a nice editorial on CNN, “Are Earthquakes Getting Worse? No!”
After Yushu, Hindered by Doubt April 19, 2010Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in contemplative practice, disasters, earthquakes, geology, Iceland, mountain building.
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This piece is cross-posted at Shambhala SunSpace.
With the earth functioning for me as an object on which to meditate, or at least as a source of teachings that resonate with Buddhadharma, doubt is the hindrance that shakes my ability to use earthdharma to cultivate equanimity in light of the April 13 earthquake in Qinghai Province, China. Scientific understanding of earth processes has enhanced my capacity to access Buddhadharma, but at this moment it’s hard for me to regard the earthquake dispassionately and simply as a manifestation of the earth’s dynamism and propensity to change.
It’s true that this earthquake occurred because of the sideways slipping between two lithospheric plates—the same kind of motion that caused the 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake I’ve previously written about for this blog. The eastern Tibet Plateau is a geologically complex region where the Indian and Eurasian lithospheric plates converge; you can picture what’s happening in the earth’s crust there by imagining the configuration and forces that result when you eject a seed from between the thumb and pointer finger of your left hand, the Tibetan plateau being the seed.
Enormous forces are at work there. The Indian plate is moving northward, toward the Eurasian plate—your thumb and forefinger in my analogy, respectively—at a rate of 46 millimeters per year. It’s that convergence that drives the uplift of the magnificent Himalaya at a rate of 10 millimeters per year to form what we geologists refer to as “the roof of the world.”
I know with my geoscientist’s mind that the 6.9 magnitude temblor likely reflects the interplay among the major tectonic (mountain building) forces along the Kunlun fault system that runs approximately 300 kilometers north of the epicenter of the seismic event. This tremor is one of the largest known quakes within several hundred kilometers of this location; one with similar magnitude occurred nearby in 1738.
Regardless, my scientist’s heart feels the vicissitudes of pain and loss when I read that hundreds of people have been killed and thousands injured and buried under debris, many of them peaceful ethnic Tibetan farmers and herdsmen like those I encountered on excursions in Qinghai province in the summer of 2008, just after the devastating Sichuan earthquake. I experience the unpleasant feeling tone that accompanies my geoscientific knowledge. And my heart doubts what my head grasps.
I’ve been asked often in 2010 if the frequency of earthquakes is increasing. My mind comprehends that although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reports that quakes of magnitude 7 or greater have remained essentially constant. I accept the partial explanation that, according to the USGS, in the last two decades we have been able to locate more earthquakes because of vast, improved and rapid global communication systems and the higher number of seismograph stations in the world than ever before. These conditions cause a 21st-century population that is already quite concerned about environment and hazards to learn about these earthquakes as they happen. Historical records suggest that we should expect annually one great earthquake (above 8), 15 major quakes (7-7.9) and 134 tremors of 6 to 6.9 magnitudes. By this accounting, the year 2010 has offered no greater seismic hazard than usual.
I try to see this latest earthquake as evidence of cyclic impermanence and Earth renewal. Still, my scientist’s heart aches. I set down my pen to sit so that I might cultivate both compassion in my heart for the living beings of that region, and equanimity that can help me along the path of using geoscientific insight to reduce suffering.
- His Holiness the Karmapa on the Yushu earthquake
- Want to help post-earthquake relief efforts in Tibet? Check out our “Helping Tibet” page
- UPDATES: 6.9 earthquake in China/Tibet border region kills hundreds; homes and schools devastated; damages, casualties at Thrangu Rinpoche’s monastery reported; Dalai Lama statement; how to help
This entry was created by Jill S. Schneiderman, posted on April 18, 2010 at 11:14 am and tagged China, Death & Dying, Environment, Science, Tibet. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.
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