Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Naples: It's Pompeii II (on Mega-Disasters)


In January 2004 the Discovery Channel showed the lumpy film "Pompeii", to reenact the 79 AD mega-disaster -- an event with widespread advertising, even in the Washington DC Metro. (The July 25 2006 entry on this blog discusses that film.) Tonight (Nov. 27) The History Channel mega-disasters series "The Next Pompeii" related the possibility that Naples, to the northwest of Mount Vesuvius (Pompeii and Herculaneum had been to the SE) could be a mark for a mega-eruption.

Vesuvius eruptions can be "Plenian" "sub-plenian" and "strombolian". The largest (plenian) can end in pyroclastic flows (like Mt. St. Helens or Pinatubo) where the ash mushroom cloud collapses under its own weight, leading to the "surge" at 200 mph that incinerates everything in its path. If an eruption of the "Bronze Age" eruption occurred with a SE wind, it could blow the cloud and potential cloud over Naples. Up to 3 million people could be at risk.

There was a sub-plenian eruption around 1664 and a smaller eruption in 1944, when the Allies rescued the residents of a town of San Sebastian.

In the 1990s, the government started paying residents to leave, in order to make a potential evacuation easier. The program was resumed in 2003. There is an observatory on Vesuvius that purports to be able to anticipate a major event with about a week's notice, but this might not prepare for the largest events. Significant eruptions from Vesuvius may occur on an average of every 64 years.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Hallmark Channel's "Pandemic" -- a novel avian influenza


On Nov. 4, 2007, the Hallmark Channel took advantage of the extra hour from the clock fallback and aired the three hour TV film “Pandemic” from Larry Levinson Productions and director Armand Mastroianni, who had directed “Robin Cook’s Virus” in the 1990s.

The film seems like a “two’s complement” to ABC TV’s “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America” which I discussed on this blog July 25, 2006. The film is a stereotyped TV disaster movie, in which the script is rigged to provide the public with a lot of information in the dialogue, and therefore, despite all the activity in the film, the movie seems a bit lifeless.

Nevertheless, the movie offers some more ideas about bird flu. This time, the virus is not H5N1 but a variant that the film calls H7N3. (In fact, in the script there is some question as to whether this is really avian influenza or just some other novel zoonosis or pandemic.) And the outbreak starts very suddenly with an index case, a college age young man hiking and diving off the Australian case discovers some dead birds. (In practice, it’s pretty unlikely it could start this way.) Pretty soon, he becomes sick himself on the plane back to LA, coughing up blood, and passes away on the plane. You guessed it, the passengers are quarantined, the whole city is quarantined, and martial law gets declared. But the other interesting thing is the antidote: in the film, the researchers figure out how to make a pseudo-vaccine from patients who have recovered from tuberculosis. The T-cells contain proteins that somehow prevent the new virus from attaching to lung tissue.

Another interesting similar film “Outbreak” came from Wolfgang Petersen and Warner Bros. in 1995, about a monkey virus. Also, "V for Vendetta" (2006) made allusion to bird-flu-like epidemics (maybe government planted). Stephen King's "The Stand", which filled out four two-hour TV segments in 1995, was a lot more effective.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

L.A.'s Killer Quake - Mega Disasters, History Channel


This program, "L.A.'s Killer Quake", the latest in the History Channel's mega-disaster series (Nov. 20, 2007) imagines what would happen if there were a 7.5 magnitude earthquake along the Puenta Hills Fault (a thrust fault, compared to the San Andreas Fault which is a strike-slip fault), which runs right under downtown Los Angeles.

The program traces the history of earthquakes and building codes in L.A. There was a 1933 earthquake near Long Beach, and then a big quake in 1971. The largest was the Northridge quake on January 17, 1994 and everyone says that this was not "The Big One." A quake along the Puenta Hills Fault happens about every 1000 years, and it is not known when the last one was. The largest earthquake ever in California was in a rural area in 1857, and the San Francisco 1906 quake destroyed the city.

The program covered modern technology to isolate new buildings from quakes, and some older buildings can be retrofitted with reinforcement. Nevertheless, a large Puenta Hills quake could kill thousands and cause $250 billion damage and leave several hundred thousand homeless, a housing catastrophe bigger than Hurricane Katrina's. The ultimate scenario is that the earthquake happens while Santa Ana winds are blowing, stoking uncontrollable fires over the entire region dwarfing what just happened in October of this year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Oil Apocalypse: Mega-Disasters -- History Channel


This ("Oil Apocalypse") is certainly one of the most sobering entities in the History Channel's Mega Disasters series. But this disaster is manmade. It is an economic and political unraveling (in the fictitious scenario here the year is 2012), leading to depression and possibly nuclear war, as demand for oil outstrips the ability of oil companies to provide it, especially after a postulated Al Qaeda attack on a major oil terminal in Saudi Arabia. The problem is made worse by the sudden increase in oil consumption by consumers in developing countries like India and especially China, after decades of doing without under (at least in China) totalitarianism. During the depression society unravels and becomes a "Mad Max Thunderdome" world ruled by motorcycle gangs whose bikes run on ethanol.

This scenario has been explored before with CNN's "We Were Warned" which postulates this scenario starting in 2009. The Red Envelope film "A Crude Awakening" also explores this, but more from just the mathematics of oil production peaking.

Again, this problem is related to but somewhat separate from global warming. If enough oil were generated (through other sources like oil shale or tar sands) the emission of greenhouse gases would continue. It's also true that other sources of oil like Venezuela and Nigeria have political stability problems.

There is some attention to hybrid cars and a discussion of the problems with hydrogen fuel cell cars.

The show mentiosn the book by Matthew Simmons, "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy".

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

History Channel: Inner Planets, more indirect warnings about megadisasters


The History Channel series The Universe, while surveying the solar system and other astronomy matters, at least provided another warning about possible megadisasters with the Nov 6 broadcast of "Mercury and Venus: The Inner Planets."

The first half hour was about Venus, and covered the well known runaway greenhouse effect that has risen temperatures on Venus to almost 900 o F. There are clouds of sulfuric acid and lighting that does not reach the ground. The insinuation is that a runaway carbon dioxide (and methane) greenhouse effect could happen on Earth.

The second half hour dealt with Mercury, and the most ominous portion concerned asteroid crater, and especially the Coronas Crater, that created a small mountain in the middle. A similar asteroid (10 miles), if it hit the earth in Arizona, would case the submersion of one fourth of the United States, and the rising of a mountain off Madagascar.

On Nov. 20, the program was "Saturn: Lord of the Rings" and the coverage of Titan, with an unlimited supply of hydrocarbons (if they could be brought back) was striking visually. The dynamic surface is like a pudding, and the sky has a twilight smog, and the lakes and rivers consist of liquid hydrocarbons.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Science of the Ten Plagues (Short with "The Reaping") -- another mega-disaster report?


Warner Brothers has included a ten minute short “The Science of the Ten Plagues” as a History Channel-style documentary accompany the horror feature “The Reaping” (Village Roadshow / Dark Castle, written by Carey and Chad Hayes), in which a scientist (Hilary Swank) investigates events in a small bayou town (“Haven”) that imitate the ten plagues in Exodus.

The documentary gives an analysis of the Santorini Volcano in the Mediterranean, which may have set off a chain of events in Egypt amounting to a History Channel mega-disaster, resulting in the freeing of the Jews under the leadership of Moses in Exodus. Even the parting of the Red Sea could be earthquake related. The most controversial plague could be the slaying of the first born, which could have occurred because they slept lower to the ground and got chlorine gas from the volcano. The documentary shows chlorine burns from a volcano in Iceland in the 1970s, and is more horrifying that the horror movie feature itself.

The feature film actually starts with a methane-style gas disaster intoxicating and then killing victims in Concepcion, Chile, from some ocean-oriented earthquake-generated emission.

The filming apparently spanned the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina in the region (much of the movie obviously was filmed in wetlands and bayous), and this may have delayed WB's distribution somewhat. It also provides a certain irony.

So, anyway, one can read The Bible, not just from the idea of spiritual inerrancy, but as a warning of natural disasters that can occur again in the future.

So in 1954 did Cecil B. DeMille make a mega-disaster VistaVision movie with “The Ten Commandments” (Paramount)? It seems so. There is a 2006 remake for ABC by Ronald Dornhelm.

The History Channel, on Nov. 6 2007, aired a "Mega Disaster" show called "Super Swarm" about locust or grasshoppers swarms, such as the gigantic Rocky Mountain locust that move north in the nineteenth century as a biological storm a mile thick. The desert locust in North Africa is similar and could cover 20% of the earth's land mass, and the Central American locust (with nymphs) could move north to the US with global warming.

Of course, Universal's "Evan Almighty" (2007, dir. Tom Shadyac) is a "warning" about about a sudden Biblical flood after drought, and is a pretty good satire on taking Biblical commands literally. Although, the actual mega-disaster turns out to be man-made here.