26 August 2014

Intrigued by Earthquakes and Volcanoes? It’s Easy to Become Geologically Literate

Posted by Dan Satterfield

The greatest natural disaster in american history will happen when the Cascadia Subduction zone rips and a magnitude 9 quake hits the Pacific Northwest. Huge tsunamis will change the Oregon coast here forever. (Dan's photo at  Ecola State Park, Oregon)

The greatest natural disaster in U.S. history will happen when the Cascadia Subduction Zone rips and a magnitude 9 quake hits the Pacific Northwest. Huge tsunamis will change the Oregon coast here forever. (Dan’s photo at Ecola State Park, Oregon)

Meteorologists in general do not know much about Geology, but broadcast mets are usually the first person newsroom producers (and the public) turn to when there is an earthquake, tsunami, meteor showers etc.  I had a couple of great courses in Geology working on my masters, and a field trip to the Washington State was a fantastic learning experience, and it left me with a lifelong fascination of rocks and quakes! My goal is to know enough to give the basics, and also enough to know when I need to ask an expert!

I’ve often written here about how poor scientific literacy is here in America, and I worry that some folks will misinterpret that to mean they have to study dry textbooks to be otherwise!

Not true!

Here are some good reads for those who want to understand more about earthquakes and volcanoes. Specifically four books (and a pdf file) that will make you more knowledgeable about Geology than 95% of the population. and probably more like 98%!

Read these books and you will be geologically literate. I warn you now though, when you read articles about volcanoes and quakes in mass media, you will shake your head and mutter something along the lines of “well that’s not exactly right”.

Would the Space Needle be the worst place or the best place to be when the Cascadia Subduction Zone breaks and a magnitude 9.0 quake hits Seattle? Read this book to find out.

Would the Space Needle be the worst place (or the best place) to be when the Cascadia Subduction Zone breaks and a magnitude 9.0 quake hits Seattle? Read this book to find out.

You should read these in order.

1. Earthquake Storms- An unauthorized biography of the San Andreas Fault. (I suspect she will sue for libel).  This is a great book about seismology, quakes, and the most famous fault in the world. It’s more a history of geology in California, and I’ve found that reading about the history of a science is a great way to learn it.

2. Full Rip 9.0 The Next Big Earthquake in The Pacific Northwest. Sandi Doughton is the science writer for the Seattle Times, and she does a fantastic job of telling the amazing scientific detective story of an earthquake 300 years ago, and what it means for residents of the Pacific Northwest. Read this book second.

3. Now, you are intrigued, and want to know what is behind all those squiggly lines on a seismograph. Seismology is mathematically complex, but there is a great pamphlet about seismic waves and how to understand the difference between a P wave and an S wave. Read this third. (and it’s free!).

4. Assembling California. This classic by John McPhee is a part of the larger door stop book Annals of the Former World (Annals is on every real nerds bookshelf).

5. Eruptions that Shook The World by Clive Oppenheimer. This is the only book that has some equations, but they are basic and anyone can read it. It’s the only book that focuses on volcanoes. It is a bit more like a textbook than the others but still very fascinating. Finish this and you are definitely volcano literate!

Want something a little more formal? This great text-book that will round it all up for you. Buy an OLD edition from Ebay. Don’t pay the outrageous text-book prices.

Read all that and you will stop at road cuts for the rest of your life! Oh, and when you travel get the appropriate Roadside Geology book for your area, it will add to your trip or vacation and if kids are along they will have a blast.