Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New York Earthquake: Mega-Disasters, History Channel


The last time a significant earthquake hit the New York City area was 120 years ago. In American history, there have been destructive earthquakes near Boston and near Charleston, SC.

The program ("New York Earthquake") examines the geology of the region, and the behavior of Atlantic quakes. Liquefaction is a serious threat, as much of extreme lower Manhattan is built on landfill. (I lived in Greenwich Village in the 1970s at a little less than 100 feet above sea level). The City has 1000000 buildings, and 1500 of them could collapse in a magnitude 6 quake. There could be catastrophic damage to the subway system and water mains. Buildings in extreme lower Manhattan might topple slowly as did those in Kolbe, Japan. The damage would greatly exceed that of 9/11. The inflexible construction of many brownstone buildings in non-earthquake-conscious NYC is also a major peril.

The wildfires in Southern California are turning into a Mega-Disaster on the date this show aired (Oct. 23, 2007).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Alien infection from comet dust (History Channel, Mega Disasters)


Mega Disasters: Alien Infection.

The History Channel tonight (Oct. 16, 2007) posited another version of the bird flu scare. The basic theory is that a disease like this could be seeded by comet dust, probably accumulate East of the Himalayas, settle when there are sunspots, get picked up by birds and then transfer to man. Scientist Chandra Wiksamasinghe discussed the theory of panspermia, the seeding of life from the cosmos by comets. The possibility of life on Mars is presented (with recent discoveries about aquarian channels on the Angry Red Planet -- they didn’t mention the 1996 meteorite from Mars landed in Antarctica) and the danger of bringing material back is also discussed. Life on Mars or in comet dust samples can be tested for with PCR.

The 1918 Spanish flu is discussed, with the emphasis on how it struck down the young and healthy, with lungs filling with fluid and feet and legs becoming cyanotic. The immune system went into overdrive. It seems to have been a bizarre virus. The connection with today’s avian influenza in southeast Asia was not well presented. One very interesting historical fact is that the epidemic appeared almost simultaneously in Boston and Bombay, decades before air travel was common, an observation that could support extraterrestrial origin.

The last few minutes of the film presented the hypothetical course of an explosive epidemic of H5N1 bird flu or something similar. (Get real? Does Chandra really believe H5N1 itself came from comet dust? He says that SARS could have.) . There is some sloppy discussion that suggests that both bacteria and viruses together could travel on comet dust and be spread explosively in an epidemic. H5N1 is a virus, not a bacterium.

The concept reminds me of the 1971 film The Andromeda Strain (mentioned) based on Michael Crichton’s book, directed by Robert Wise. In that movie the five scientists go through “body analysis” and then the photoflash chamber, with almost complete body depilation (on camera once) before admission to the Project Wildfire lab. Will hospital infection control ever reach these measures? No man would become a surgeon.

The History Channel film on an avian influenza epidemic was discussed Sept 15 here:

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Mega-Disasters: Methane Explosion (History Channel)


On Tuesday October 9, 2007 The History Channel presented “Mega-Disasters: Methane Explosion.” (or "Methane Eruption"). The one-hour show documented a theory by Northwestern University professor Gergory Ryskin to the effect that at a few times in geologic history (particularly 250 million years ago with the Permian Mass Extinction) methane (C-H4) may have bubbled out of the oceans from some stagnant areas and then been ignited by lightning, producing a global firestorm. In fact, the bubbling could cause huge tsunamis comparable to those from the largest volcanic landslides.

Other scientists question the theory. It takes a huge amount of methane at once to produce an explosive mixture, which can happen only over a large area of stagnant ocean, probably filled with frozen methane hydrates at the bottom. Methane hydrates are a form of ice with embedded methane molecules surrounded by water in odd ring structures. It forms only at very great pressure and low temperature at great depths. Methane hydrate crystals will burn despite the water content (and so would vapor with a high enough concentration of methane); it seems to be a real covalent compound and not just a colloid. That could make an interesting high school chemistry laboratory experiment (under supervision of course).

There was a geyser of carbon dioxide at Lake Nyos in Cameroon, released by volcanism, with the carbon dioxide sliding down and killing villagers and animals.

Release of methane from hydrates could cause extreme global warming. This may have happened 55 million years ago with the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum.

The History Channel also had a show on Jupiter, whose weather is an extreme blowup of earth’s, as well as a detailed discussion of Europa and the possibility of life under its global icecap

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hawaii Apocalypse: Mega-Disasters, History Channel


Today, Tuesday October 2, 2007. The History Channel presented a 45 minute film in its Mega-Disaster series, "Hawaii Apocalypse", focused on how much of the Big Island could be destroyed by an eruption of the shield volcano Mauna Loa. There are several other volcanoes on the island, including the smaller Kilauea, and more than one can erupt at once.

A really large landslide from Mauna Loa could create a tsunami, which could devastate Honolulu in half and hour, and conceivably could reach the US West Coast with 300 foot waves, although quakes capable of generating these are supposed to happen only every 100000 years. (A similar threat may exist with volcanoes in the Canary Islands in the Atlantic, which could conceivably cause landslides and subsequent large tsunamis that reach the US East Coast -- see July 25, 2006 on this blog.) Mauna Loa and Kilauea erupted simultaneously in 1984. A really large eruption of Mauna Loa may happen every 200 years.

The program ends with a simulation of the damage that could occur to the Big Island from a large eruption.

I visited Hawaii in 1980. Car rental agreements normally don't allow driving up Mauna Loa, but I did drive up Haleakala on Maui, at 10000 feet. A friend went on a birding trip on the slopes of Mauna Loa in 1990.