Tuesday, October 22, 2013

2013 Reading, Books 94-96

94) Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire.

Wow, that was fun. Not to mention smart, sexy, hilarious, and adventurous, and generally everything you'd look for in the best kind of escapist read. If you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, read this book. Though McGuire has her own strong voice, there's a similar sensibility at work.

For the rest of my reading in the past ten days or so, I went with nonfiction of the "We're doomed! DOOMED, I say!" variety:

95) The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels, by Brian Fagan.

This book started out fascinating, with an account of how various ancient civilizations interacted with their shifting rivers and coastlines, and then turned depressing as it reached the modern era, where population growth crowds more and more people against coasts where rising sea levels lead to increased floods and deadly storm surges. I happened to read this during the waning days of the government shutdown, when it honestly looked my country was going to default on its debts and drag the world economy down with it for no good reason, which made it extra depressing. I try to feel optimistic about the world I'm bequeathing to my daughter, but sometimes it's hard.

96) Full Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest, by Sandi Doughton.

I meant to go with something nice and light for my next book, but somehow ended up with "Oh God, Oh God, we're all gonna die," Local Edition. (It's due back at the library in a few days, so I needed to get to it.)

I moved to Seattle from the all but seismically dormant eastern half of the country in 1999 (grew up in Alabama, spent a good chunk of my 20's in Philadelphia), and experienced my first earthquake, the 6.8 Nisqually quake, in early 2001. It was scary, for sure, but did relatively light damage for its magnitude because its epicenter was so deep. We get that type of high-6/low-7 magnitude quake every few decades here, and up until very recently scientists thought that was the worst the Northwest had to worry about.

But then scientists started noticing signs of violent coastal upheaval (sand layers carried far inland by a tsunami, "ghost forests" of trees that had clearly been killed together when the ground beneath them heaved) and paying attention to Native American oral histories that hinted at a massive quake and flooding less than ten generations back. Eventually they used tree-ring analysis of the ghost forests to show that the trees had died between the 1699 and 1700 growing seasons, and found a record of an "orphan tsunami" that struck Japan on January 26, 1700. Between the local evidence in the landscape and the size of the tsunami that made it all the way across the Pacific, the 1700 quake is estimated as between 8.7 and 9.2. Very comparable to the 2011 Tohoku quake, in other words. Evidence suggests major subduction zone quakes of this type every 200-500 years.

To add to the fun, scientists also observed evidence of shallow faults all around the region, including the Seattle Fault, which cuts right through the south end of the city. These faults slip very rarely--the last Seattle Fault quake was over 1000 years ago--but are capable of producing a 7.0 or so that would do far more damage than our "usual" sort-of-big ones because it's a shallow fault. Think something similar to the 1995 Kobe quake.

So, the Northwest's worst-case scenarios are pretty damn bad. A repeat of the 1700 quake and tsunami would probably have a lower death toll than Tohoku because our coastal population density is lower, but it could easily rival the 1900 Galveston Hurricane for the deadliest natural disaster to strike the US--and it's by no means certain Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver wouldn't sustain severe damage of their own from the distant, sustained shake of a 9.0 off the coast. When our cities were built, no one even knew such disasters were a possibility, and as a region we're less prepared than Japan, either in terms of building codes or public awareness and education. But living in Seattle as I do, the Seattle Fault is my true doomsday scenario. We are SO not ready for a Kobe-equivalent quake here.

Still, this book didn't depress me as much as my last read, I think because it's such a local disaster. Even living here, I'm less spooked by "The Northwest could be DOOMED!" than "Mankind could be DOOMED, and it's our own short-sighted, over-populating, carbon-emitting fault!" After all, we're at least trying to understand the seismic hazards and mitigate them. I hope I never live to see either of our Really Truly Big Ones--not least because of the non-zero chance I wouldn't live to see anything AFTER that!--but if I do, I'll get through and rebuild. Like people do.

No comments:

Post a Comment