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Be Afraid

Here's a story from back in August that somehow seems timely:

If Cumbre Vieja volcano erupts, it may send a rock slab the size of a small island crashing into the sea, creating a huge tidal wave, or tsunami. . . . New York, Washington DC, Boston and Miami would be almost wiped out by the tsunami generated by the insecure rock falling into the Atlantic.
I'd really hate to have someone say of me some day that my death, along with that of millions of other eastcoasters, was made all the more tragic by the fact that it could have been avoided if only we'd built a warning system.

December 31, 2004 | Permalink


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You can be sure that there will be a major Hollywood movie about this very subject before there is an Atlantic warning system. In fact I'll bet a dime (maybe even a quarter) there will be a major Hollywood movie (or even better - a made-for-TV movie featuring washed up 70s disaster film stars - Tarantino could direct) about this very subject in the next two years.

Posted by: Green Dem | Dec 31, 2004 12:35:34 AM

If people out there want to put together a reasonable stipend for me, I will volunteer to keep my eye on this problem and let everybody know when and if this big rock lets go.

I figure all I would really need as far as technology goes is some sort of motion detector hooked up via satelite to a pager that I would wear on my belt at all times. And a vehicle. I would need a serviceable vehicle.

Posted by: cw | Dec 31, 2004 12:54:08 AM

Atlantic warning system? hah.

Pacific first. then more Pacific. then maybe more Pacific, then maybe Carribean, then some more Pacific.

Posted by: cleek | Dec 31, 2004 12:57:24 AM

"I'd really hate to have someone say of me some day that my death ... was made all the more tragic by the fact that it could have been avoided if only we'd built a warning system."

You won't hate much of anything after you're dead.

Posted by: Petey | Dec 31, 2004 1:00:22 AM

Speak for yourself, Petey.

Posted by: Dick Durata | Dec 31, 2004 1:13:29 AM

I'd really hate to have someone say of me some day that my death, along with that of millions of other eastcoasters, was made all the more tragic by the fact that it could have been avoided if only we'd built a warning system.

Of course there's the left's favorite person to blame for all disasters man-made and natural, President Bush.

Posted by: Al | Dec 31, 2004 1:35:44 AM

Oh, please, Al. He's only human. He can't be responsible for EVERY disaster, no matter how hard he tries.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw | Dec 31, 2004 2:04:50 AM

More on Cumbre Vieja (or, Armageddon The Hell Out Of Here):


With what seems to me to be remarkable savoir faire, Ward and Day (Geophysical Research Letters, 9-1-01) confirm the BBC story -- except that we can console ourselves that the 50-100 meter high part of the tsunami from such an event would only hit Africa. Britain and Spain would have a mere 5-7 meter tall tidal wave, while the US would only have a 15-25 meter tall one. Hardly anything to worry about.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw | Dec 31, 2004 2:07:13 AM

We have a warning system. . .and I just found out how efficiently it kicks in. A car was just hijacked and a child was kidnapped in my general municipal area, and boom, the History Channel's special on illegal drugs cuts out to a detailed Amber Alert. I hardly ever watch TV though . . .so perhaps my awe is misplaced . . . .which quickly points out the problem with the warning system:

1) it doesn't work if your tv or radio isn't on

2) it doesn't work if you're deaf

3) it doesn't tell you WHAT THE HELL TO DO


4) it's not a subsitute for being prepared.

Still, it's better than nothing or mediocre warning. The real problem with Matt surviving the aforemention falling slab is not his knowing when he has to flee to higher ground--it's his being prepared to do so quickly and efficiently, and ready to thgen survive with minimal help for a few days if nececessary. Is your Go Kit packed, Matt? Do you have multipe people to stay with inland, etc? Do you know how to get there without the public transport system? Etc. etc. At some level this is exactly the kind of thing the DHS should be busting some serious ass to make sure EVERYONE knows what to do and is ready to do it, but . . .well, yeah, y'all know the drill on that one. So in the meann time, I guess the rest of us have to go the extra mile to make sure we know what's a good thing to do and what's not.

Hey, I'm mildly unprepared, and I live in Earthquake country.

Posted by: Saheli | Dec 31, 2004 3:24:12 AM

As for me, My go kit would consist of one of these parachute ultralights and a bullhorn so I could heckle Matt as he tried to escape on foot.

Posted by: beowulf | Dec 31, 2004 3:45:58 AM

which quickly points out the problem with the warning system:

I've seen radios for sale that turn themselves on in the event of a weather alert.

Couldn't the old Civil Defense system be revived, updated, and internationalized, perhaps?

Posted by: The Dark Avenger | Dec 31, 2004 5:25:58 AM

There´s no substitute for living on the center of a tectonic plate.


Posted by: Grosbøl | Dec 31, 2004 6:42:27 AM

For *particular* events, like the Canary volcano, there is a warning system ... as soon as the volcano erupts, local news would record the event, and the east coast would hear about it within minutes.

It is large, spread-out undersea fault-lines that are difficult to monitor.

Posted by: Andrew | Dec 31, 2004 6:55:58 AM

Dennis Smith wrote an article in Tuesday's New York Times about this and the possibility of a catastrophic earthquake in the Mississippi River valley.

Posted by: Martey | Dec 31, 2004 7:55:10 AM

They put the alerts on the History Channel. What good id that? Nobody watches the History Channel.

Posted by: silent bob | Dec 31, 2004 8:26:32 AM

Right after an event such as the IO tsunami, there might be a burst of enthusiasm for putting such a system in place. But after 2 or 3 years, the public would get bored and some Proxmire would "discover" that "huge amounts" of money were being "wasted" guarding against an event that "never happened". Since I doubt more that 2 or 3 members of Congress ever took, much less passed, a statistics course, this will be seized on (by either Repubs or Demos as convenient) and trumpeted to the skys as "fraud and abuse". The program will then be killed.

Hell, we can't even keep the Earth Crossing Asteroid program funded, and that is something that there is clear physical evidence of having happened as recently as 1903.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Dec 31, 2004 8:43:29 AM

Instead of a warning system, why don't we just blow up (or something like that) the rock?

Posted by: Maestro | Dec 31, 2004 8:50:06 AM

Cranky, you have been in seclusion for the past four years, haven't you? Moynihan is so 'Pre-911', as we with-it people like to say - you can ask any republican whom you know what that phrase means.

We now have a lavishly-funded Department of Homeland Security to screw things up.

Posted by: Barry | Dec 31, 2004 9:04:20 AM

"Oh, please, Al. He's only human. He can't be responsible for EVERY disaster, no matter how hard he tries."

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw

And God knows he tries very, very hard. Some peole say that Dubya is lazy, but when you look at what the last four years has brought about, he's got an impressive record of accomplishments.

All evil, of course, but still impressive.

Posted by: Barry | Dec 31, 2004 9:08:12 AM

Please re-read. I said "Proxmire" - I believe he has been dead longer than Moynihan. However, in the technical community "to Proxmire" is to kill funding for a project using scare tactic publicity while simultaneously displaying a total lack of knowledge of math, science, and engineering principles.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Dec 31, 2004 9:11:56 AM

1. Evacuating the entire population of the Boston-Washington corridor is really really hard.

2. Figuring out what to do with them once their cities have been destroyed is really really hard.

3. Figuring out what to do with all of us once the centers of both our economy AND our government have been destroyed is really really hard.

Posted by: digamma | Dec 31, 2004 9:55:09 AM

From the article:
Global Geophysical Events, or "Gee Gees", as they are nick-named, are not being taken seriously enough, they say.

People aren't taking "Gee gees" seriously!? Now why on earth could that be?

Posted by: dbtm | Dec 31, 2004 10:35:18 AM

True. However, to Point 1, tsunamis are not hurricanes: every 100 meters that people move away from the shoreline will greatly increase the chances of survival. New Yorkers don't have to evacuate all the way to Pittsburg.

As to 2. and 3., human populations generally work their way through hard times. Being alive would seem to be a precondition however. I know I would prefer that option myself.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Dec 31, 2004 10:49:03 AM

The La Palma event will **NOT** Cause a major tsunami - this is fearmongering. The amount of energy released by the undersea earthquake is bmillions of time what a rock fall of a billion tons could ever produce - the former is driven by the force of movement of tectonic plates of quintillions of tons, releasing enough energy to displace the entire water column from seabed to surface.

The rockfall of La Palma would only release a tiny insignifcant fraction of that energy, and the resulting wave would only affect the top few meters of the ocean. The result is that the wave would damp out quite quickly.

There's no threat from La Palma and serious geologists and oceonographers have debunked it several times. Here is an example:


note that one researcher, a geophysicist at UC Santa Cruz named Steven Ward, has done a model which poredicts La Palma could cause killer tsunami, but I read his paper - while his math is sound, the assumptions he makes throughout are all carefully tuned to optimize his conclusion. Its telling that he preferentially references his own work for justification of the assumptions, rather than using other sources.

Ward's paper:

Heres another paper that takes the same question but arrives at an opposite conclusion, which suggests to me that there is plenty of room for disagreement. But the burden of proof is on the alarmists, lest we be chasing imaginary threats with limited resources rather than preparing for teh real ones.


Posted by: Aziz | Dec 31, 2004 11:13:00 AM

But at least most of the God-fearing Red States will be spared.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Dec 31, 2004 11:22:09 AM

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