It should give you pause for thought that, approximately, the percentage of Americans who think that Donald Trump would be a good president is the same as the number of people who think that the sun revolves around the Earth. It does not, in case you slept through class that day. Also, if you are on any social media site you’ve probably seen, as in been fucking inundated with, claims that you and all God’s chilluns can walk out tonight and see both Mars and the moon with the naked eye and that both will appear about the same size. In scientific terms, this is horseshit. Were Mars to get that close to us the gravitational effects would be terrifying. West coast of the US? Kiss it goodbye. You’ll be surfing in Reno. East coast? Welcome to deep sea fishing in West Virginia. Japan? We’ll miss you. United Kingdom? It was fun while it lasted. And so on around the world. This may also be a good moment to point out that the world is round. Who knows what other classes you slept through?
Okay, so the good news is that we still have seasons because we still orbit the sun and we’re not all going to die tonight.
Now the bad news.
Joe Fletcher reports that there are oil & tar sand pipelines under the Great Lakes that are aging rapidly and could cause the largest man-made disaster this side of Trump.
Beneath the Great Lakes, there is a ticking time bomb that threatens one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. That time bomb comes in the form of a pipeline owned by the Canadian company Enbridge.
The pipeline known as “Line 5” is the subject of a new documentary produced by Motherboard/Vice. The documentary uncovers what led to the creation of what could turn out to be one of the world’s worst man-made environmental disasters.
Motherboard correspondent Spencer Chumbley went to Michigan to investigate the situation, and the research is alarming. If just one of the pipelines ruptured, it would result in a spill of 1.5 million gallons of oil—and that’s if Enbridge, the company that owns them, is able to fix the pipeline immediately. UMich research scientist Dave Schwab says, “I can’t imagine another place in the Great Lakes where it’d be more devastating to have an oil spill.”
Enbridge, the company that runs the pipelines, insists they are safe. But Enbridge does not have a particularly inspiring record, with more than 800 spills between 1999 and 2010, totalling 6.8 million gallons of spilled oil. In 2010, its pipeline 6B ruptured in the Kalamazoo River. The nation’s focus was pulled by Deepwater Horizon at the time, but the Kalamazoo River spill became the nation’s biggest inland oil spill.
Just in case you’re curious, the odds of Enbridge being able to get to the rupture and fix it immediately, as surmised above, are pretty near zero. Also, here’s a fun fact, the pipeline was originally predicted to be safe for a maximum of fifty years ….. back in 1953. You can do the arithmetic.
Keep in mind that there aren’t 24/7 repair crews hovering in the Great Lakes just in case something happens. Enbridge would have to learn about the leak, find it, get equipment sent to the location and then pray like hell that the problem is no worse than a leak. Something like a cascading rupture (it starts in one place and keeps growing) could increase the damage by an order of magnitude.
Here’s the thing, if that bad boy blows the entire Midwest, that includes you Chicago, could be without drinking water for an extended period of time. The local aqua-culture, things like the fish we eat, would certainly be damaged beyond any immediate way to repair. None of that considers the effects that the toxins will have on shores and plant life.
Of course, in some parts of the U.S. God is going to kill everyone first before humans get the chance. Yeah, I’m talking to you Seattle. Kathryn Shulz, at the New Yorker, shares the happy thought that both Starbucks and Microsoft could be wiped out on the same day.
In the Pacific Northwest, the area of impact will cover* some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. Roughly three thousand people died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina. Almost three hundred died in Hurricane Sandy. FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million. “This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years,” Murphy says.
In fact, the science is robust, and one of the chief scientists behind it is Chris Goldfinger. Thanks to work done by him and his colleagues, we now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten. Even those numbers do not fully reflect the danger—or, more to the point, how unprepared the Pacific Northwest is to face it. The truly worrisome figures in this story are these: Thirty years ago, no one knew that the Cascadia subduction zone had ever produced a major earthquake. Forty-five years ago, no one even knew it existed.
Okay fine, tremors happen all the time. What’s so special about this beast? Well, in 1700 it shot a six mile wide wave that crossed five thousand miles of ocean in one day and wiped out a chunk of Japan. It also exterminated an entire Native population, say goodbye to Vancouver Island’s Pachena Bay people. As in all of them. The island they lived on sunk in minutes killing every man, woman and child.
So what will happen when this beast does its thing again. Possibly this year? Read on.
The first sign that the Cascadia earthquake has begun will be a compressional wave, radiating outward from the fault line. Compressional waves are fast-moving, high-frequency waves, audible to dogs and certain other animals but experienced by humans only as a sudden jolt. They are not very harmful, but they are potentially very useful, since they travel fast enough to be detected by sensors thirty to ninety seconds ahead of other seismic waves. That is enough time for earthquake early-warning systems, such as those in use throughout Japan, to automatically perform a variety of lifesaving functions: shutting down railways and power plants, opening elevators and firehouse doors, alerting hospitals to halt surgeries, and triggering alarms so that the general public can take cover. The Pacific Northwest has no early-warning system. When the Cascadia earthquake begins, there will be, instead, a cacophony of barking dogs and a long, suspended, what-was-that moment before the surface waves arrive. Surface waves are slower, lower-frequency waves that move the ground both up and down and side to side: the shaking, starting in earnest.
Soon after that shaking begins, the electrical grid will fail, likely everywhere west of the Cascades and possibly well beyond. If it happens at night, the ensuing catastrophe will unfold in darkness. In theory, those who are at home when it hits should be safest; it is easy and relatively inexpensive to seismically safeguard a private dwelling. But, lulled into nonchalance by their seemingly benign environment, most people in the Pacific Northwest have not done so. That nonchalance will shatter instantly. So will everything made of glass. Anything indoors and unsecured will lurch across the floor or come crashing down: bookshelves, lamps, computers, cannisters of flour in the pantry. Refrigerators will walk out of kitchens, unplugging themselves and toppling over. Water heaters will fall and smash interior gas lines. Houses that are not bolted to their foundations will slide off—or, rather, they will stay put, obeying inertia, while the foundations, together with the rest of the Northwest, jolt westward. Unmoored on the undulating ground, the homes will begin to collapse.
Across the region, other, larger structures will also start to fail. Until 1974, the state of Oregon had no seismic code, and few places in the Pacific Northwest had one appropriate to a magnitude-9.0 earthquake until 1994. The vast majority of buildings in the region were constructed before then. Ian Madin, who directs the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), estimates that seventy-five per cent of all structures in the state are not designed to withstand a major Cascadia quake. FEMA calculates that, across the region, something on the order of a million buildings—more than three thousand of them schools—will collapse or be compromised in the earthquake. So will half of all highway bridges, fifteen of the seventeen bridges spanning Portland’s two rivers, and two-thirds of railways and airports; also, one-third of all fire stations, half of all police stations, and two-thirds of all hospitals.
Certain disasters stem from many small problems conspiring to cause one very large problem. For want of a nail, the war was lost; for fifteen independently insignificant errors, the jetliner was lost. Subduction-zone earthquakes operate on the opposite principle: one enormous problem causes many other enormous problems. The shaking from the Cascadia quake will set off landslides throughout the region—up to thirty thousand of them in Seattle alone, the city’s emergency-management office estimates. It will also induce a process called liquefaction, whereby seemingly solid ground starts behaving like a liquid, to the detriment of anything on top of it. Fifteen per cent of Seattle is built on liquefiable land, including seventeen day-care centers and the homes of some thirty-four thousand five hundred people. So is Oregon’s critical energy-infrastructure hub, a six-mile stretch of Portland through which flows ninety per cent of the state’s liquid fuel and which houses everything from electrical substations to natural-gas terminals. Together, the sloshing, sliding, and shaking will trigger fires, flooding, pipe failures, dam breaches, and hazardous-material spills. Any one of these second-order disasters could swamp the original earthquake in terms of cost, damage, or casualties—and one of them definitely will. Four to six minutes after the dogs start barking, the shaking will subside. For another few minutes, the region, upended, will continue to fall apart on its own. Then the wave will arrive, and the real destruction will begin.
Well, doesn’t that sound like fun?
Some predictions have the water reaching the Rockies but most stop the destruction at Route 5. That would kill almost half the state’s population and wipe out a third of it’s land.
Maybe not as much fun as you thought.
Keep in mind that, as Kathryn noted above, Oregon has no early warning system for earthquakes unlike Asia and the Hawaiian Islands. For all the overpriced coffee and annoying tech they may as well be living in thatch huts.
Speaking of which, according to the fun folks at NASA, sea levels around the world are rising so fast that we might want to think about moving entire populations.
A new NASA model is showing just how fast sea levels are rising around the world as a result of climate change, NBC News reported.
At a news conference Wednesday, NASA officials described a new computer visualization of sea level change incorporating data collected by satellites since 1992. The data reveals sea levels overall are rising faster than they were 50 years ago — more quickly than expected — and that the speed will likely increase in the future, primarily because of melting ice sheets.
“Sea level rise is one of the most visible signatures of our changing climate, and rising seas have profound impacts on our nation, our economy and all of humanity,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division.
See, we don’t need Mars to lose its orbit to kill us all. We’re doing that just fine on our own.
Please keep in mind that Mr. Freilich isn’t talking about melting ice bergs or stuff like that. The theory of displacement would prevent anything from happening to us were that the case. But when the ice previously on land melts into the water then the water will rise, and that is exactly what is happening.
And if you don’t believe that just do what Trump did and load up on beachfront properties.
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