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Bending and shaking: Live Earthquake Blogging

by ThatBritGuy Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 10:39:29 PM EST

The UK has just had a relatively small one, which I felt - barely - some 150 miles away.

After an ambiguous creak, the giveaway was realising that my inner ear was telling me I'd just been moved - which is not usually something you expect to feel indoors, especially not when the house is moving around you, and which was a queasy experience I'd prefer not to repeat.

The magnitude was around 5.3 or so, epicentre near Market Rasen, which is about fifteen miles north of Lincoln - a bit less than half way up the UK, near the eastern coast.

There's likely to be some light structural damage around the area, possibly including lost power, which won't be revealed until daylight tomorrow, but it doesn't sound as if there are any casualties.

So - quite the non-event, almost...

...Except that it's given me an appreciation of what a proper earthquake must be like. The UK - and Europe - are still very mildly seismically active, as the Red Puma network shows. The UK occasionally rattles and wobbles slightly, but a cataclysmic mag 7 or 8 is almost vanishingly unlikely here.

Not so much elsewhere in the world. As always, news stops being impersonal when you experience it for yourself, even if it's only in a very attenuated way.

I think I'm going to be much more likely to donate to survivors after this. It's not hard to imagine the roof literally falling in on your head after a much bigger quake, and I really wouldn't want be on the wrong end of that experience without some possibility of external aid afterwards.  

I was fast asleep so I don't know if it would have been felt in Cardiff.  It does remind you of how potentially vulnerable you could be.  Having gone through a flood that consumed my entire village a number of years ago, it really brings it home.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 02:40:59 AM EST
We haven't had a big one here in a while, but it's something that I live in vague fear of.  Construction standards are so poor here that buildings sometimes just fall down on their own, and they have had big tremors here in the past.

We sometimes feel seismic activity here from as far away as Greece.  There was 6+ magnitude quake there on Valentine's Day, and I heard people could feel it here, but I was in a car at the time so didn't feel it myself.  But a year or two ago I did feel a quake of similar magnitude that also hit Greece; suddenly the building was swaying all around me, it felt like I was on a ship at sea....

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 03:59:04 AM EST
I was still up reading when it shook. I'm in North Norfolk and the winds were quite strong last night and at first I tought it was a strong gust and that the beech tree across the road had come down.

Later I thought it might have been a quake as I  remembered my experience of a minor one in Greece in the early 80s.

Eats cheroots and leaves.

by NeutralObserver on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 06:55:50 AM EST
This is why I'm much more comfortable living on the East Coast in America and a major reason for why I have no great desire to go anywhere near places like San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Hurricanes I can deal with:  board up the house, get canned food and a few gallons of water, etc.  It's been an annual routine as long as I can remember.  With hurricanes, you control your own destiny to at least some degree.  But earthquakes?  Just...no.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 11:00:21 AM EST
I lived in the Bay Area - you get used to it after a while. I've slept through bigger earthquakes than the one in the UK.

They also had a minor one a few weeks ago in the Middle East. At least we know what caused that one. From Ha'aretz, Feb 20:

Shas MK Shlomo Benizri blamed gays Wednesday for the earthquakes that have shaken the region in recent months, telling a Knesset plenum debate on local authorities' earthquake preparedness that government action on homosexuality would do much to prevent the tremors.

Benizri said the government should not make do with reinforcing buildings, but should instead pass less legislation that encourages homosexuality and other "perversions like adoptions by lesbian couples."

Are there idiots like that in the U.K. as well?

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 05:18:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's absolutely astonishing.

"Why do earthquakes happen?" said Benizri. "One of the reasons is the things to which the Knesset gives legitimacy, to sodomy."

"A cost-effective way of averting earthquake damage," he added, "would be to stop passing legislation on how to encourage homosexual activity in the State of Israel, which anyways causes earthquakes."

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Thu Feb 28th, 2008 at 04:29:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I just don't know what to say. This is one of the sadder days in my life as geologist.

I'm going to weep now.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Feb 29th, 2008 at 02:28:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
although the structures out here are pretty solid. Living in rural Pakistan, for example, I'd be much more worried.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 05:46:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Doesn't "living in rural Pakistan" means living in a ground-floor house, with no natural gas ducts around ? What's the risk of an earthquake there, beyond the earth literally cracking under you ? (of course, supplies afterwards could get worrying if the roads are cut)

The real risk is in urbanised poor countries, with cheap multi-storey buildings, and high population densities...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Feb 28th, 2008 at 04:25:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm referring to this quake in which many people died after being crushed by collapsing buildings - buildings utilizing mediocre construction techniques in comparison to what is found in Japan and the west coast of the US, for example. The issue you reference is the same thing.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Feb 28th, 2008 at 01:41:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Uh, the northeastern part of the US is not exactly a safe haven. There have been plenty of earthquakes in the area, and many of the buildings are unreinforced masonry. All those big old mill buildings are going to just fall down one of these days...


by asdf on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 09:19:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Okay, fair enough, although I don't live in New England.  It's not really a fair comparison on the preparedness of buildings in New England and Cal, though.  I assume the buildings in New England are generally a good bit older than those in California, and they're not accustomed to large earthquakes like folks out West.

Bit scary seeing those maps on the geology of the New York area.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Feb 29th, 2008 at 08:30:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The 5.4 quake that hit near San Jose last fall was centered about 25 miles from me. That was my first quake, and it was fairly scary (and it caused almost zero damage). Had the power gone out I probably would have screamed like a little girl.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 05:49:46 PM EST
by The3rdColumn on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 08:50:45 PM EST
Bit late, sorry.

I live very near to the epicentre (about 25km away), and was awake at the time. Pretty much straight away it was clear that it was an earthquake, and reasonably strong at that. I felt rather schocked intially, especially as there seemed to be a bang at the beginning and it felt stronger than the last (in 2002). But after about five or ten seconds, I felt that it wasn't going to get any stronger (don't know whay I felt this, just did), and I started actually enjoying the feeling of being shaken.

After it had stopped, it occured to me that it could, possibly just, be an explosion, as there a a number of refineries and chemical plants relatively nearby. I went upstairs and spoke to everybody who had woken up and looked out the windows. But there was no smoke or flames on the horizon, so it was a stupid worry really. Oddly, roadworks started outside my house today, so the earth has been shaking all day.

However, I don't think my experience has helped bring earthquakes in general into my understanding as a life-threatening thing. I mean, they are explicable, and I know that they can and do kill many people. But the sheer meaninglessness of an earthquake is difficult to process, if not impossible, when it causes death and destruction. I can only guess that it feels very emptying, as there is no reason with which we can replace our loss, and really no closure. Losing somebody, or even something, in that way must be very individual as each person seeks their own reason and understanding where none exists.

Member of the Anti-Fabulousness League since 1987.

by Ephemera on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 10:19:38 PM EST
Having experienced dozens of quakes ranging from tremblors to lethal, i'd like to add to the psychological understanding of the effect of quakes.

Most people believe reality is real, as exemplified by the firmness underfoot.  When the firmness underfoot melts away, so does the perception of reality.

In the SF bay area, small quakes are omnipresent, with little effect other than subconsciously.  But all of the big quakes, say greater than 5.8, cause little studied psychological effects.  But it's in the big ones where it finally becomes obvious.

After the '89 jolt, the typical total quiet of the water and weather took hold.  There were huge, drunken parties in the streets everywhere i went.  Kind of a celebration of survival.

After the first exhilaration wore off, the level of general depression was astounding.  My amateur analysis was simply that most people can't handle their basis of reality being destroyed.  (In a real earthquake, that's what happens, as there is no longer a ground to stand on.)  i noticed that other natural disasters had less mood swing attached.

It's one thing when your house shakes a bit.  It's quite another when your base of reality no longer exists.  and you don't forget, as you've seen everything happen in slow motion.

Aside:  i was in the parking lot tailgating at Candlestick Park in '89.  i happened to have turned away from the stadium when the quake hit.  i watched in awe as thirty rows of car roofs swelled and ebbed like the giant waves at Mavericks.  i knew instantaneously what was happening, and rode the wave just as if i was surfing. When it was over, i continued the tailgate party like everyone else.  It took about 10 minutes to digest what had just happened, and i started to wonder about where my son might be.  It took the first white faces descending from the upper deck of the stadium to bring me back to reality, and i split quickly.  on the drive home through back streets of SF i realized how huge the damage as going to be.  (It was 7.1 if i recall.)

When i realize it would take less than a 6.0 to devastate anywhere in Europe, where we just normally ride through a 5.8 or even 6.0, i get concerned.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Feb 28th, 2008 at 04:05:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Crazy Horse:
When i realize it would take less than a 6.0 to devastate anywhere in Europe, where we just normally ride through a 5.8 or even 6.0, i get concerned.
There's no need to be concerned because Europe is not a seismically active as the Pacific Ring of Fire.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Feb 28th, 2008 at 04:50:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Migs, there was already slight damage here from a German quake 4.something.  We all know it's not as seismically active here, but we also know that that just decreases the frequency.  the point is that buildings in Japan or on the west coast are built for the frequency, but those standards don't exist in northern Europe.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Thu Feb 28th, 2008 at 04:55:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My point is that buildings are built to withstand the likely hazards. So you can expect the same amount of damage from a "typical" earthquake in Germany as in California. It's just that the "typical" earthquake has a different intensity so things are more earthquake-proof in California than Germany.

It's a case of bringing risk down to roughly the same tolerable level, in different circumstances.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Feb 28th, 2008 at 04:59:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I'd be very surprised to learn that anything in Sicily has been built to survive a "typical" earthquake (7.5 in 1908).
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Feb 29th, 2008 at 02:16:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hence the scare quotes around "typical".

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 29th, 2008 at 03:44:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
even when seismology is not my strongest suit, but I have the same suspicions of gk. Modern Europe has lucked out so far.

Previously, we've touched upon about earthquakes in Switzerland. Historically we also know about Italy, both in the  south but also north (Friuli, Umbria) and even Portugal (which I don't really understand at first glance). The only European country which has to deal with major earthquakes at a fairly regular basis is Greece.

Anything above 7.0 Richter scale with an epicentre nearby a major city may well give abhorrent chaos in countries where modern architecture has not been previously tested by a big quake. I'd suspect some hazard evaluation should be available at the seismological services in each country, but I already have a PhD to finish...

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Feb 29th, 2008 at 02:53:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Lisbon Earthquake had its epicentre quite far from Lisbon.

How strong have the earthquakes been in Switzerland? Magnitude 4?

There are earthquakes in the Alps, but the major plate boundary (responsible for the Lisbon earthquake) is in the Southern Mediterranean (which explains Turkey, Greece, Southern Italy and Southern Spain).

Though there is this:

Plate tectonics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Not all plate boundaries are easily defined. Some are broad belts whose movements are unclear to scientists. One example would be the Mediterranean-Alpine boundary, which involves two major plates and several micro plates.
I still think if Germany were at all likely to have a magnitude 7 earthquake, it would have a fair number of magnitude 6 earthquakes, and construction would be earthquake-proof enough to sustain no damage from a magnitude 5 earthquake.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 29th, 2008 at 03:43:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Whoops, missed a pic:

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 29th, 2008 at 03:45:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To find out what the recorded seismicity in the Basel area, I'd recommend you to here. You need the latitude and longitude of the area in question. The university server is slowing down - otherwise I could've done it right away.

The Basel earthquake has been estimated with a intensity of IX, which can probably be correlated to a Richter scale (or the more accurate Seismic Moment). I found a hazard analysis on Basel here wherein they write:

Earthquake Scenarios for the City of Basel

The calculated scenarios are an intensity VII - VIII earthquake and one of intensity IX. These represent the expected value with return period of 475 years generally used in building codes, and the intensity of the earthquake in 1356.

Meaning, the building codes do no provide for earthquakes the magnitude of the 14th century Basel quake, and the estimated damage is considerable (Fig 1). How likely is it that we'll have another one? Don't know, but the very fact that one happened should bear caution - it's a known unknown. If stress can build up in that region to such levels, it can happen again.

The simplification of the plates in the picture works as a first approximation concept - there is no nicely defined 8 pixel line, especially when it concerns converging plates which is a very messy process. The idea one would get from the picture above when focussed on the African-EuroAsian plate margins is completely wrong. One would have to zoom in on the Mediterranean, start here.

Yes, most of the tectonic action is concentrated at a particular zone and you're correct that the majority of the major earthquakes will be centred around the Mediterranean countries. The uncertainty is: what's the extent of major seismic event towards the north? For now, we know at least Basel, and the north of Italy, can be affected. Although, for Basel, it's not clear to me if it's because of plate convergence to the south or by normal faulting as a response to crustal loading.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Feb 29th, 2008 at 06:17:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's see...

To address the original comment, Germany doesn't appear on Wikipedia's List of deadly earthquakes since 1900.

Portugal had a magnitude 7.8 in 1969 which killed 13 people (both the earliest and strongest on the list for Portugal, which suggests a gap in the data).

Spain has one in magnitude 5.3 in 1997 which killed one person.

The strongest on the list for France was a magnitude 4.2 which killed one person in 2001. The weakest and earliest is a 3.5 in 1983, also killing one.

Switzerland is not on the list, and neither is Austria.

Italy has 31 earthquakes on the list. The earliest is a magnitude 6.8 in 1905, killing about 1200 people. The weakest is a 4.2 in 1987, killing 2. The strongest is a 7.2 in 1908, killing 80 thousand.

Greece has 39. The earliest and strongest is a magnitude 8.2 in 1903, killing 2. The weakest is a 4.6 in 1978, killing 1. The deadliest is a 7.2 in 1953, killing 600.

Japan has 74 earthquakes on the list. The earliest is a 7.0 in 1900. The strongest is an 8.4 in 1933, killing 3,000. The deadliest is the 1923 Kanto Earthquake, magnitude 7.9 killing 140 thousand.

The US (excluding "minor outlying islands") has 29. The earliest, strongest and deadliest is the 1906 SF earthquake, 7.8 killing 1200 people.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 29th, 2008 at 05:29:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The earthquake region affecting Germany is the intra-plate rift Rheingraben = Rhine valley rift, especially its section near Cologne (Kölner Bucht).

The most powerful recent quakes were

  • in 1756 at Düren (6.2, two dead)
  • in 1951 at Euskirchen (5.7-5.8, no dead)
  • in 1978 at Onstmettingen (in Baden-Württenberg, 5.7)
  • in 1992 at Roermond/Netherlands (near both Belgium and Germany, 5.9-6.1, no causalties)

The last two deadly quakes were in 1878. Though no 7.0, 6.4 is thought possible near Cologne.

However, I recall reading an article by some geologists critical of the ruling assumption that the central part of the rift zone shifts in a 'lubricated' way -- that assumption is unproven, and that would imply the possibility of strong earthquakes with a low frequency. I.e., what the USA had at New Madrid in 1812 (incidentally the strongest for the contiguous states in recorded history), and China at Tangshan in 1976. Such low-frequency events are definitely missing from risk calculations, especially for high-rises, which haven't been around for long.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Feb 29th, 2008 at 06:27:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
earthquakes. No major earthquakes have occurred since 1908 in Italy, none in Spain, Switzerland or Austria. I didn't know about the 1969 one in Portugal, although 11 of those deaths apparently happened in Morocco. Notably, Portugal began designing earthquake resistent buildings after 1755.

We know that large magnitude events have occurred prior to the 20th century. Has modern architecture (eg. flats and office blocks) in these countries withstood a direct hit of major earthquakes? No - because they're untested. There were no major events in this time period. And Messina was bad enough.

Developments and architecture work on hindsight, retrospection and, worse, amnesia - not foresight. I've used the housing planning in England's river stormbeds during last year's floodings as example of that. I don't believe it's really that different for earthquakes.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri Feb 29th, 2008 at 06:58:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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