Love in the Time of Ebola

By photosearth / May 28, 2015

Love in the Time of Ebola

Love in the Time of Ebola

Overpopulation, ecosystem loss, climate change, and Ebola itself are all growing exponentially. The human family must come together now to stop Ebola in West Africa or risk a global pandemic that could potentially kill billions – even as we commit post-Ebola to solving the disease’s root causes of rainforest loss, poverty, war and inequitable overpopulation.

Deep ecology essay by Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet | MORE: Read how Ebola Is Ecosystem Collapse | ACT to Demand More Doctors and Hospital Beds NOW | Ebola Newsfeeds from EcoInternet on Web, Twitter, and RSS

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is doubling every 20 days, killing 70% of those infected. We are approaching a total of 10,000 official infections, though the actual number is almost certainly much higher. At this rate of growth, we can expect 10,000 new cases a week in December, with a far greater chance of the disease spreading internationally. It is clear that if Ebola is not stopped in Africa in the coming months, it will never be kept from Europe, America, and the rest of the world.

Despite some success containing the disease at its periphery, all who love the human family and Earth understand that avoiding a global pandemic depends upon the international community marshaling resources and rushing into the Ebola maelstrom to decisively stop it at its source. Efforts from the US military sending troops for logistical support, Cuba sending doctors, and Doctors Without Borders taking the lead in treatment and stopping infection are commendable but are too little and haphazard.

We have under two months to stop the deadly Ebola virus from – well, going viral. We must stop bickering, roll up our sleeves, and rush into the fire. Doing so will require massive amounts of aid, as only 1/3 of the initial $ 1 billion necessary to fight Ebola in Africa has been raised. Western democracies have plenty of money to wage perma-war but apparently meager funds and few doctors to avoid global pandemic. This is a shocking betrayal of international security by the world’s nations, and must not be tolerated. (You can take action with my organization EcoInternet to demand more Ebola aid.) [1].

Ebola’s real threat lies in its exponential growth and virulence, unleashed by overpopulated, sick ecosystems. As long as Ebola rages in Africa, no one in the world is safe from the threat of global pandemic.

Political Partisanship, Conspiracy Theories, and Scientific Denial

The poor initial response to a few Ebola cases in the United States is largely a result of public health budget cuts, anti-science partisans, and an inability to focus upon non-military threats to our security after a decade of war. It has been interesting to see politicians who deny climate change science and call overpopulation a myth act qualified to instruct us on Ebola epidemiology.

It is deeply irresponsible for scientifically illiterate people to pick and choose truth, as well as to spread conspiracy theories for political advantage. In addition to the current Democratic administration’s continued displays of incompetence; the anti-science, anti-intellectual bias of the GOP and the Tea Party in particular is partially responsible for poor Ebola (and climate change) responses.

It is un-American (a term I do not throw around lightly) – when the United States and the world are faced with the risk of an Ebola pandemic – for political partisans to be primarily concerned with scoring points rather than with honest policy needed to minimize human suffering and perhaps avert civilization’s collapse. The gravest threat of Ebola spreading in the United States comes from conspiracy theories, political partisans, and anti-science haters.

Having an opinion based on superstition, limited experience, and indoctrination is not the same as spending a life studying to become a scientific expert, thus earning the right to speak truth authoritatively. With Ebola, as with climate change, we must either listen to the experts or face the threat of willful ignorance leading to our own ruin.

For example, few understand the profound scientific implications of a disease that spreads exponentially. To illustrate, if a small patch of lily pads grows exponentially by doubling in extent daily to cover a pond in 30 days, on what day is the pond half covered? Day 29! On day 26 just over 6% of the pond is covered, and the situation looks manageable. Exponential growth sneaks up on you, and when the problem becomes clearly evident, it is too late. Overpopulation, ecosystem loss, climate change, and Ebola itself are all growing exponentially.

I do not believe calling America’s reaction to Ebola “panic” is accurate or fair. The shockingly deadly emerging disease grows fast and kills violently, and once established, it spreads widely. Thus concern and fast action are prudent. The greater revelation has been how the United States has been exposed as a deeply self-absorbed society – worried about the latest iPhone app, celebrity antics, and dumping buckets of cold water on their heads while showing or even flouting a lack of interest toward the global environmental decline and poverty which have led to Ebola and threaten global ecological sustainability.

We know how to stop Ebola. Rapid quarantine (or voluntary isolation) and rapid, close tracking of those who were in contact with infected individuals are key to breaking the cycle of exponential growth. The current epidemic in Africa will not play itself out until on average each Ebola patient spreads the disease to less than one other individual. Fighting Ebola and ensuring that conditions no longer persist for further disease outbreaks requires money from governments. It should not be up to business leaders and celebrities to foot the bill.

Long-Term Root Causes

Ebola is what we can expect when inequitable overpopulation destroys ecosystems, leading to abject poverty, perma-war, and disease. The best ecological science indicates that Ebola existed at low levels in intact rainforests, only emerging as forests were overwhelmed by over-population and as people resorted to eating bushmeat, bringing people into contact with infected blood. It would be hard to custom-build a prime habitat more encouraging to disease organisms than the one in western Africa: overpopulated humanity crowded together in destitute conditions, leading to hunger and weakened immune systems, with impoverished communities arrayed across vast, ecologically weakened regions.

Ebola is a brutal reminder of the consequences of ignoring scientific truths on ecology, public health, and overpopulation – all multiplied by climate change. My recently published peer reviewed science journal article entitled “Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse” found that when more than 66% of a bioregion’s ecosystems are lost that rapid environmental deterioration followed by collapse ensues. [2] West Africa has lost 90% of their natural ecosystems and Ebola is thus part of the natural responses one can expect as ecosystems collapse. In a globalized world we cannot continue to ignore such deteriorating social and ecological conditions and expect to avoid more Ebola-type crises.

Ebola has been worsened by militarization and massive spending on war – both in Africa and by Western democracies – as governments have turned a blind eye to non-military threats to security, slashing budgets for public health, anti-poverty measures, environmental preservation and reclamation, and community development. Pervasive economic inequity also contributes to Ebola. The disease is fed by poor socio-economic conditions: according to the World Bank over a billion people live in extreme poverty on less than $ 1.50 a day, while 300 individuals live as opulent oligarchs, having as much wealth as half of the planet’s people.

Perhaps no Ebola causative factor is more troubling – or more insistently denied – than overpopulation. West Africa is one of the most obviously overpopulated places in the world, and those that deny the part that plays in the Ebola crisis are in denial of basic science. Hunger and illness are pervasive, women are not well educated to control their own lives and fertility, and the result has been a nearly constant state of war.

West Africa’s current population of 317 million people continues to grow 2.35% annually – meaning it is doubling every 25 years. The subsistence needs of these masses have already destroyed the vast majority of West Africa’s forests, causing poverty, war, and ultimately Ebola. Those denying that the growth of human numbers from 1 to 7 billion in 130 years while overwhelming natural ecosystems poses a problem are not paying attention and betray both their captivity to indoctrination and their ignorance.

I have recently begun writing [3] and speaking [4] more about overpopulation – along with the ramifications of ecosystem loss  – highlighting and communicating how both are the root causes of biosphere collapse. Yet let me be clear: to note West Africa’s profoundly overpopulated landscapes and depauperate ecosystems is not to wish death or depopulation on anybody. It is merely to point out ecological truth that is self-evident to those who observe carefully and think freely.

Post-Ebola, we must rid ourselves of the ridiculous notion that permanent poverty, inequitable overpopulation, rainforest loss, and continual war in Africa do not affect us all. Otherwise, we can expect more Ebola-type crises as these forces of ecocide overwhelm the biosphere.

Love in the Time of Ebola

Please have empathy for human suffering in West Africa as thousands (and perhaps soon millions) face painful, vicious death from Ebola. No humane person wishes such a fate upon anyone. And even as we come together to rush to put out the Ebola fire, it is vital we address the disease’s root causes before they become a global emergency in their own right. We show our love for the world by justly and equitably addressing these ecological and social crises before they kill us all.

Let us hope that the initial spread of Ebola in the United States is over. Clearly the fledgling outbreak has caused a massive increase in awareness of the danger posed by Ebola, if not yet of the outbreak’s underlying causes, and how similar crises can be avoided. At the very least we have had good practice in tracing and isolating those who have come into contact with the virus and in treating the disease, which will prove crucial in dealing with many more infections before humanity stops the epidemic in Africa.

Besides preparing yourself and your family to weather a possible Ebola pandemic, the single biggest thing you can do to stop Ebola at its source in West Africa – thus avoiding a global pandemic – is to donate to Doctors Without Borders. [5] Please avail yourself of Ebola newsfeeds [6] from EcoInternet, which is committed to communicating ecological aspects of Ebola and stopping the disease and other manifestations of ecosystem collapse at their source. Finally, in times of Ebola, climate change, poverty and environmental collapse, make sure that whoever you vote for supports and respects science.

In order to avoid global pandemic, the human family must show it loves each other and our shared Earth more than consuming stuff and political partisanship. A better, more just and equitable world is possible if we choose to address converging social and ecological crises. We earn the right to continued existence by coming together to beat Ebola in Africa, while committing to solving the disease’s root causes of rainforest loss, poverty, war, and inequitable overpopulation.

### ENDS ###

[1] Ebola Is Ecosystem Collapse, More Doctors and Hospital Beds Needed NOW. EcoInternet Action Alert, October 4, 2014.  With background essay “Ebola a Symptom of Ecological and Social Collapse” by Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet, October 1, 2014.

[2] Barry, G. (2014), “Terrestrial ecosystem loss and biosphere collapse”, Management of Environmental Quality, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 542-563.

[3] On Overpopulation and Ecosystem Collapse – essay by Dr. Glen Barry, EcoInternet. May 17, 2014.

[4] Too Many Humans; Not Enough Biosphere. Dr. Glen Barry Interview on 95bFM.

[5] Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders

[6] Ebola is Ecosystem Collapse newsfeed and blog at and Twitter newsfeed at


Seismology and Resilient Infrastructure: An Interview with Domniki Asimaki

By photosearth / May 28, 2015


News Writer:
Jessica Stoller-Conrad

Domniki Asimaki

Credit: Lance Hayashida/Caltech Office of Strategic Communications

Building homes and other solid structures on a dynamic, changing earth can be a very big challenge. Since we can’t prevent an earthquake or a tsunami from happening, scientists strive to understand the impacts of these forces, and structural engineers try to build infrastructure that can survive them. And that intersection is where the work of Domniki Asimaki comes in.

Asimaki, professor of mechanical and civil engineering in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, is interested in the behavior of geotechnical systems under the influence of forces such as wind, waves, and seismological activity. Using this information, she hopes to make predictive computer models that can lead to the design of an infrastructure that is resilient to natural and man-made hazards. The effects of natural forces on man-made structures can also help in the cost-effective design of infrastructure for sustainable energy harvesting such as offshore wind farms—a promising green energy solution.

Born in Greece, Asimaki earned her bachelor’s degree from the National Technical University of Athens before heading to MIT for both her master’s and doctoral degrees.

Although Asimaki only joined the Caltech faculty in August, she has been thinking about moving to Pasadena since her first trip to campus a decade ago. Recently, she spoke about her work, her hobbies, and what it’s like to finally be at Caltech.

The Caltech Fleming cannon


What will you be working on at Caltech?

I am interested in the response of soils and foundations to dynamic loading, with emphasis on earthquakes. The work exists at the interface between civil engineering and earth and atmospheric sciences. Specifically for seismic loading, my research is trying to translate the output from simulations done by seismologists into input that engineers can use to design stronger structures.

In general, geotechnical engineering is an old field. Now we know a lot more about how soils behave, and that extends from the foundations of a house to the foundations of a bridge to nuclear reactors to dams. But that knowledge has been disconnected from advancements in earth sciences, and this gap has, in turn, hindered the integration of these advancements into structural design practices. I think it’s an area of opportunity.

How does this work provide a link between the scientists and structural engineers?

Traditionally, structural engineers designed buildings using empirical data—like actual data from a previous earthquake. Today, with more than half of the global population concentrated in areas prone not only to major earthquakes but also to severe droughts and more extreme climatic events such as sea-level rise, there is an ever-increasing need to improve these empirical models, incorporate new, sustainable construction materials, and to build stronger, more resilient urban environments. I think the big promise of seismological modeling is that rather than using empirical data to make decisions about which ground motions buildings should be designed against in the future, we can actually run real earthquake scenarios in a simulation.

This can help provide a real prediction of the shaking against which the structural engineers can design buildings—provided, among other things, that seismologists have information about the soils on which their structures are built. And that’s the gap that I’m hoping to fill.

How does this work translate to the harvesting of wind energy?

There is growing interest in offshore wind farms to be used as a source of sustainable energy, but since it’s still pretty new, we don’t have domestic experience about the best way to build these wind farms. We want to understand how the foundations of offshore wind turbines behave under the mix of forces from the rotor, from the waves, from currents and tide, from wind—regular wind or hurricane wind—and how all of these different types of dynamic loading affect the behavior of the foundation. We also want to understand how the behavior of the foundation, in turn, affects the stability of the wind turbine’s performance and capability to harvest energy.

The UMaine-developed, patent-pending, VolturnUS floating concrete hull technology can support wind turbines in water depths of 45 meters or more, and has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of offshore wind. Photo by Jplourde umaine.


This specific application of my work is a fascinating direction for me. It is an opportunity to ask why design models work and how can we maximize performance capabilities and minimize cost. People like myself with an engineering background, but also with scientific curiosity, can work in areas like this and set the performance and design standards from scratch. But because the energy-harvesting industry is just starting out, we need to make it innovative while still financially feasible.

We have a lot of seismology expertise at Caltech. Was that a factor in your decision to come here?

It’s a big part of my research interest, and so Caltech has always been the place that I felt I should be. It is a unique place in the sense that it’s small enough so that different disciplines are closely connected. And there’s a role that I can play, bringing research programs together. It has all the key players that I need in the same space, and it provides a great opportunity for us all to work together and build a seamless research continuum, from seismology to resilient infrastructure monitoring and design.

Are there any other reasons you’re looking forward to living in Southern California?

Because it’s gorgeous! I’ve never had the opportunity to have such nice weather, which is good because I love to swim, and the pool here is beautiful. I actually went to the pool on campus on the second day that we moved here. I hadn’t even started yet, and I said, “I’m new faculty. I promise. I can prove it.” And the guy who runs the show there, John Carter, was nice enough to give me a visitor pass so I could swim.

Do you have any other outside interests?

I love to cook. Elaborate cooking, from traditional Greek to exotic Asian cuisine and lots of other things. I am adventurous in my cooking but very traditional at the same time because I make everything from scratch. To graduate from MIT was a little easier than to graduate from a Greek mother.

Caltech News tagged with “earthquakes”

The Fells in Newbury, New Hampshire

By photosearth / May 28, 2015

Basheer Tome/Flickr. From The Nature Conservancy.

The Fells, also known as the Hay Estate, was originally the summer home of John Milton Hay, a 19th-century American statesman. It is located in Newbury, New Hampshire, on New Hampshire Route 103A, 2.2 mi (3.5 km) north of its junction with New Hampshire Route 103.

A Slice of the Fells – Middlesex Fells Reservation. Join me for a walk through Middlesex Fells – a beautiful wooded area bordering Melrose, Malden, Medford, Winchester, and Stoneham.


EcoInternet Achieves Non-Profit Status, Needs Your Support

By photosearth / May 27, 2015

The biosphere is lifeDear Earth loving colleagues,

I am thrilled to report that EcoInternet has gained 501c3 non-profit status, and as such you donations may be tax-deductible (backdated to March 2014). Never has there been a better time to support EcoInternet’s unique brand of biocentric advocacy than now at:

This good news reflects EcoInternet’s continuing ascent as we renew our legacy – since 1989 – as the leading innovator of using the Internet for deep ecology science, thought and action. Yet EcoInternet will be hard-pressed to continue our efforts – described by others as visionary – unless we are able to raise $ 10,000 by the end of the year.

Consider the following ecology successes we have achieved together over the past year and then please donate :

* With your financial support, I published a peer-reviewed scientific journal article proposing loss of terrestrial ecosystems as a tenth planetary boundary and establishing in the science literature the need to maintain 66% of land as natural and agro-ecological ecosystems. If you haven’t yet read this in-depth scientific basis for protecting and restoring old-growth forests, it is a must read that has been well-received and is generating much buzz, and is linked at

* Together we continued to innovate in use of the Internet for deep ecology activism by being the first environmental action platform to integrate the option for tweets within online protests, such as at our current climate alert at Virunga’s mountain gorillas, Tasmanian forests, and old-growth forests the world over are safer – and an ecologically rich climate change policy message is propagating – because of our action alert successes over the past year.

* Our 7 year campaign to get major NGOs and the Forest Stewardship Council to stop logging old-growth forests, falsely claiming it is sustainable, achieved major progress as our pressure led to Greenpeace and FSC announcing new limits upon certification of old-growth forest logging. Our protest tweets and emails flowed in from all over the world as they voted! First our efforts were mocked, then vilified, and then were successful.

* Something special is happening on EcoInternet’s twitter accounts at and over two dozen others lead the way in environmental social media. Together we are building an unprecedented global deep ecology action network featuring the most comprehensive newsfeeds, deep green thought, and action opportunities. You really must check it out if you haven’t.

* And let’s not forget our web sites including our new home page at and all of our award-winning portals including and We are in the process of updating our curated search engines using big data technologies, as we plan to comprehensively organize green knowledge in service to environmental sustainability (more on our future plans soon).

* EcoInternet was re-registered as an organization, with a new mission , and granted 501c3 non-profit status. We migrated our servers to the cloud and began a transition to Linux open-source technologies. A new board and accounting systems are in place. And before the end of the year you can look forward to a surprise announcement regarding our future home in the rainforests.

EcoInternet is completely reorganized and we are ready to roll, with your support , towards global ecological sustainability!

After a year of substantial revamping, it is absolutely vital that EcoInternet refresh our coffers to pay for servers, band-width and stipends. I appeal to you for a tax-deductible donation, whatever you can afford, at

You, the Earth, and EcoInternet will be glad you did. Thank you for your continued support. And a very happy holidays and New Year to you as well.

For Earth and warm regards,

Dr. Glen Barry
President and CIO

P.S. The amount EcoInternet is trying to raise – $ 10K – is very small compared to the excesses of big NGOs. Clearly our lean efforts are having an impact far beyond their resources, and are worthy of your support today!


Don L. Anderson

By photosearth / May 27, 2015

News Writer: 
Kathy Svitil

Don L. Anderson, the Eleanor and John R. McMillan Professor of Geophysics, Emeritus, passed away on December 2, 2014. He was 81 years old.

Anderson’s work helped advance our understanding of the composition, structure, and dynamics of Earth and Earth-like planets. He was a pioneer in the use of seismic anisotropy—variations in the velocities of seismic waves as they move at different angles through materials—to study Earth’s interior, which allowed him to help discover and explain the boundaries of the planet’s mantle.

In 1981, Anderson codeveloped, with geophysicist Adam Dziewonski, the preliminary reference Earth model (PREM), a one-dimensional model representing the average properties of Earth, including seismic velocities, attenuation, and density, as a function of planetary radius. PREM continues to be the most widely used standard model of Earth. Anderson, a former president (1988-1990) of the American Geophysical Union, is the author of the textbook, Theory of the Earth, a 1989 reference on the origin, composition, and evolution of Earth’s interior. A completely updated version, New Theory of the Earth, was published in 2007.

Born in Frederick, Maryland, on March 5, 1933, the son of a schoolteacher and an electrician, Anderson received his BS in geology and geophysics from Rensselaer Polytechnic University in 1955. He worked for Chevron Oil Company from 1955 to 1956, the Air Force Cambridge Research Center from 1956 to 1958, and the Arctic Institute of North America from 1958 to 1960.

His service with the Air Force took him to Greenland, where his job was to determine how thick the ice had to be to support aircraft that were in trouble. “The Air Force wanted their pilots to land disabled planes on the sea ice, but the conventional wisdom at the time was that they would break through the ice and the crew would freeze to death,” Anderson recalled in a 2001 oral history. Anderson and his colleagues found that, in fact, aircraft can land very easily on ice that is not very thick: “Even if the ice won’t support the plane while it’s sitting there, it will allow a plane to taxi long enough for the pilots to get out and then the plane can sink through the ice, or the wheels can poke through the ice. Our job was to study ice strength, and whether you could determine how strong it was before you landed so you would know where to land.” The project continued after Anderson entered graduate school at Caltech (MS ’59, PhD ’62), where he studied geophysics and mathematics.

Upon his graduation from Caltech, Anderson was hired as a research fellow; he became an assistant professor in 1963, associate professor in 1964, and professor in 1968. Anderson was the Eleanor and John R. McMillan Professor from 1989 until his retirement in 2002.

From 1967 to 1989, Anderson was director of Caltech’s Seismological Laboratory.

A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, Anderson was also the recipient of the Emil Wiechert Medal of the German Geophysical Society, the Arthur L. Day Medal of the Geological Society of America, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the William Bowie Medal of the American Geophysical Union, and the Crafoord Prize at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

In 1998, Anderson was awarded the National Medal of Science and was cited for his “immeasurable influence on the advancement of earth sciences over the past three decades nationally and internationally.”

A full obituary will be posted at a later date.

Caltech News tagged with “earthquakes”

Using Radar Satellites to Study Icelandic Volcanoes and Glaciers

By photosearth / May 27, 2015

News Writer: 
Kimm Fesenmaier

This Landsat 8 image, acquired on September 6, 2014, is a false-color view of the Holuhraun lava field north of Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland. The image combines shortwave infrared, near infrared, and green light to distinguish between cooler ice and steam and hot extruded lava. The Bárðarbunga caldera, visible in the lower left of the image under the ice cap, experienced a large-scale collapse starting in mid-August.
Credit: USGS

On August 16 of last year, Mark Simons, a professor of geophysics at Caltech, landed in Reykjavik with 15 students and two other faculty members to begin leading a tour of the volcanic, tectonic, and glaciological highlights of Iceland. That same day, a swarm of earthquakes began shaking the island nation—seismicity that was related to one of Iceland’s many volcanoes, Bárðarbunga caldera, which lies beneath Vatnajökull ice cap.

As the trip proceeded, it became clear to scientists studying the event that magma beneath the caldera was feeding a dyke, a vertical sheet of magma slicing through the crust in a northeasterly direction. On August 29, as the Caltech group departed Iceland, the dike triggered an eruption in a lava field called Holuhraun, about 40 kilometers (roughly 25 miles) from the caldera just beyond the northern limit of the ice cap.

Although the timing of the volcanic activity necessitated some shuffling of the trip’s activities, such as canceling planned overnight visits near what was soon to become the eruption zone, it was also scientifically fortuitous. Simons is one of the leaders of a Caltech/JPL project known as the Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) program, which aims to use a growing constellation of international imaging radar satellites that will improve situational awareness, and thus response, following natural disasters. Under the ARIA umbrella, Caltech and JPL/NASA had already formed a collaboration with the Italian Space Agency (ASI) to use its COSMO-SkyMed (CSK) constellation (consisting of four orbiting X-Band radar satellites) following such events.

Through the ASI/ARIA collaboration, the managers of CSK agreed to target the activity at Bárðarbunga for imaging using a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR). As two CSK satellites flew over, separated by just one day, they bounced signals off the ground to create images of the surface of the glacier above the caldera. By comparing those two images in what is called an interferogram, the scientists could see how the glacier surface had moved during that intervening day. By the evening of August 28, Simons was able to pull up that first interferogram on his cell phone. It showed that the ice above the caldera was subsiding at a rate of 50 centimeters (more than a foot and a half) a day—a clear indication that the magma chamber below Bárðarbunga caldera was deflating.

The next morning, before his return flight to the United States, Simons took the data to researchers at the University of Iceland who were tracking Bárðarbunga’s activity.

“At that point, there had been no recognition that the caldera was collapsing. Naturally, they were focused on the dyke and all the earthquakes to the north,” says Simons. “Our goal was just to let them know about the activity at the caldera because we were really worried about the possibility of triggering a subglacial melt event that would generate a catastrophic flood.”

Luckily, that flood never happened, but the researchers at the University of Iceland did ramp up observations of the caldera with radar altimetry flights and installed a continuous GPS station on the ice overlying the center of the caldera.

Last December, Icelandic researchers published a paper in Nature about the Bárðarbunga event, largely focusing on the dyke and eruption. Now, completing the picture, Simons and his colleagues have developed a model to describe the collapsing caldera and the earthquakes produced by that action. The new findings appear in the journal Geophysical Journal International.

“Over a span of two months, there were more than 50 magnitude-5 earthquakes in this area. But they didn’t look like regular faulting—like shearing a crack,” says Simons. “Instead, the earthquakes looked like they resulted from movement inward along a vertical axis and horizontally outward in a radial direction—like an aluminum can when it’s being crushed.”

To try to determine what was actually generating the unusual earthquakes, Bryan Riel, a graduate student in Simons’s group and lead author on the paper, used the original one-day interferogram of the Bárðarbunga area along with four others collected by CSK in September and October. Most of those one-day pairs spanned at least one of the earthquakes, but in a couple of cases, they did not. That allowed Riel to isolate the effect of the earthquakes and determine that most of the subsidence of the ice was due to what is called aseismic activity—the kind that does not produce big earthquakes. Thus, Riel was able to show that the earthquakes were not the primary cause of the surface deformation inferred from the satellite radar data.

“What we know for sure is that the magma chamber was deflating as the magma was feeding the dyke going northward,” says Riel. “We have come up with two different models to explain what was actually generating the earthquakes.”

In the first scenario, because the magma chamber deflated, pressure from the overlying rock and ice caused the caldera to collapse, producing the unusual earthquakes. This mechanism has been observed in cases of collapsing mines (e.g., the Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah).

The second model hypothesizes that there is a ring fault arcing around a significant portion of the caldera. As the magma chamber deflated, the large block of rock above it dropped but periodically got stuck on portions of the ring fault. As the block became unstuck, it caused rapid slip on the curved fault, producing the unusual earthquakes.

“Because we had access to these satellite images as well as GPS data, we have been able to produce two potential interpretations for the collapse of a caldera—a rare event that occurs maybe once every 50 to 100 years,” says Simons. “To be able to see this documented as it’s happening is truly phenomenal.”

Additional authors on the paper, “The collapse of Bárðarbunga caldera, Iceland,” are Hiroo Kanamori, John E. and Hazel S. Smits Professor of Geophysics, Emeritus, at Caltech; Pietro Milillo of the University of Basilicata in Potenza, Italy; Paul Lundgren of JPL; and Sergey Samsonov of the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation. The work was supported by a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship and by the Caltech/JPL President’s and Director’s Fund.

Caltech News tagged with “GPS”

ALERT! Protect Woodlark Island’s Pacific Rainforests and Indigenous Forest Gardens from Corrupt Logging

By photosearth / May 26, 2015

Loggers threaten habitat of adorable Woodlark cuscus

Loggers threaten habitat of adorable Woodlark cuscus

TAKE ACTION to protect Woodlark’s special Pacific lowland island rainforests.

Non-profit EcoInternet needs to raise $ 5,000 to continue operating – please donate now.

Woodlark Island – a small Pacific Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG), covering some 80,000 hectares of biodiverse rainforest, and containing a largely intact Pacific culture practicing agro-ecology in forest gardens – is again threatened with ecocide and cultural genocide. Imminent industrial rainforest logging on Woodlark Island, as well as a planned gold mine, will endanger the island’s flora and fauna, destroy unique intact lowland island rainforests causing environmental upheaval, and result in drastic and negative cultural change and worsened and permanent poverty. In 2007-08 EcoInternet successfully spearheaded an international campaign that protected Woodlark Islands rainforests and peoples from oil palm development (Mongabay heralded the successful campaign). We are called once again to demand no industrial clearing of Woodlark’s rainforests and recognition of indigenous land rights. PNG’s continued well-being and community advancement depend critically upon ending industrial old-growth forest logging to base development upon standing old forests. EcoInternet campaigns against illegal logging in Papua New Guinea and globally have been successful for decades and need your assistance.


Fred Raichlen

By photosearth / May 26, 2015

News Writer: 
Douglas Smith

Fred Raichlen

Fred Raichlen, professor of civil and mechanical engineering at Caltech, in an undated photo.
Credit: Caltech Archives

Fredric (“Fred”) Raichlen, professor emeritus of civil and mechanical engineering at Caltech, passed away on December 13, 2014. He was 82 years old. Raichlen was an expert on the mechanics of tsunamis, the waves created by underwater earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other geologic events.

Most waves propagate through the water at and just below the surface. A tsunami is fundamentally different. Because it is driven by a movement in the earth’s crust, the wave extends from the seafloor all the way up to the surface. As the tsunami approaches land, the transition from deep to shallow water concentrates the wave’s energy. The local topography off- and onshore focuses the onrushing wall of water, and utter devastation can follow. (The tsunami caused by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake reached six miles inland in some places and killed more than 18,000 people.)

Raichlen’s wave-tank experiments enabled him to develop three-dimensional computer models of how tsunamis originate, propagate through the open ocean, and eventually run up on land. He simulated the run-up in a tank 31 feet long by 15 feet wide that was big enough to hold a scale model of an entire harbor. These experiments allowed him to design features such as breakwaters to protect a specific port or to determine where not to site vulnerable structures such as railroad tracks and oil tanks. In other experiments he determined how fast different regions within a wave move as the wave breaks, which in turn allowed him to calculate the force of the wave’s impact. He also investigated the effects of the waves on floating structures such as ships moored in the harbor.

Raichlen earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Johns Hopkins University in 1953, and his master’s and doctoral degrees at MIT in 1955 and 1962. He came to Caltech as an assistant professor of civil engineering in 1962, and he was promoted to associate professor in 1967 and to professor in 1972. In 1969, he became one of the founding faculty members of Caltech’s doctoral program in environmental engineering science. He was appointed professor of civil and mechanical engineering in 1997 and professor emeritus in 2001.

Raichlen was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and in 1994 he received the American Society of Civil Engineers’ John G. Moffatt–Frank E. Nichol Harbor and Coastal Engineering Award.

The funeral will be Thursday, December 18th at 11:30 a.m. at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.

A full obituary will be published at a later date.

Caltech News tagged with “earthquakes”

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