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U.S. less prepared for quake

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Assessing the fragility of the solid earth beneath our feet

By Kirsten Peters

Geology has surely been in the news lately, with the price of petroleum moving relentlessly upward, a threat to global economic recovery because oil is so central to industrial society the world around.
But now matters are suddenly worse.
Even geologists like myself, used to the ferociously destructive power of earthquakes, have been taken aback by the tragic news from Japan. The largest seismic event since earthquakes were first measured in that nation, near an 8.9 on the Richter scale, has clearly devastated sections of the northeast coast, and major aftershocks will rock the region for at least days to come.
The epicenter of the massive quake was under the sea, and a tsunami was immediately triggered by the event. The word “tsunami” has replaced what older readers may remember as a tidal wave, a name that was highly misleading because tsunami have nothing to do with the tides.
The name tsunami is Japanese, a fact that shows Japan has been plagued by earthquakes and tsunami for as long as Japanese civilization has existed.
Tsunami are usually caused by movement of the solid sea floor, a lurch either up or down, that sends an enormous body of water on the move. The water packs a great deal of energy, like an enormous sledgehammer.


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