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London’s overdue killer quake: a case study in media sensationalism 17 September 2010

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Earthquakes are even less amenable than volcanic eruptions to effective forecasting. Unlike volcanoes with their precursory signals, earthquakes rarely give any warning of what is about to happen. As with volcanoes, though, what has happened in the past at a particular location can offer valuable indications of what may happen in the future, so the evidence left by the earthquakes of the past is an important source of information for the earthquake scientists, civil defence authorities and town planners of today.

Which is where historians come into the picture. Significant earthquakes in populated places rarely pass unnoticed: people write about them, study them, and publish accounts of them in all kinds of ways, creating written evidence that can be used alongside other sorts of data to inform our knowledge of earthquakes in a particular area throughout history. Gathering this information together and making it available is a big job, and for the last few years Italy’s Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV) has been leading an international project involving earth scientists and historians who have been assembling an online database of historical earthquake data. The initial result is the AHEAD database (Archive of Historical EArthquake Data – not too contrived an acronym, as these things go), which brings together data on the most significant damaging earthquakes in Europe from 1000 to 1963.

Among the INGV’s partners in this project is the British Geological Survey (BGS). To accompany the launch of the AHEAD site the BGS has an article on its website by seismologist Dr Roger Musson entitled ‘Are yesterday’s earthquakes tomorrow’s disasters?’ which explains the rationale behind the project, examines the way in which increasing urbanization makes human society more vulnerable to earthquakes, and has some interesting things to say about Britain’s earthquake history. An earthquake in the Straits of Dover in 1580 of estimated magnitude 5.5, for example, caused damage in London and south-eastern England, and two people were killed. There was a similar earthquake in the same location in 1382. Dr Musson’s article ends thus:

What has happened twice can happen a third time; what will be the effects on the London of today? In 1580, two people in London were killed. Modern London has about 40 times as many people living in it and while a comparable earthquake would certainly not cause a disaster on an international scale, the level of shaking would come as an unpleasant shock in a country that tends to think of itself as immune from earthquakes.


Build your own Eyjafjallajökull 30 April 2010

Posted by admin in Eyjafjöll, Iceland, miscellaneous, volcano culture, volcanoes.
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Cut-out 3D volcano model from the British Geological Survey

Fancy your own table-top volcano? Well, with card, scissors, glue, and a little patience, you can build your own three-dimensional model of Eyjafjallajökull, courtesy of the British Geological Survey. Just print off their PDF of the component parts from the BGS website (in colour, preferably) and cut them out* and put them together according to the instructions and hey presto, your very own Eyjafjallajökull.

The model is both a cut-out and a cut-away, as it is designed to reveal the volcano’s inner workings in schematic form, and it comes complete with ash-laden plume. The BGS website says the model is ‘intended as a simple guide to understanding how volcanoes such as Eyjafjallajökull are influenced by tectonic plate activity along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge’.

* When it comes to the cutting out, ‘you may need to get an adult to help you’.

Other model volcanoes: John Seach’s baking soda volcano; a USGS-approved paper volcano; a really explosive model volcano; several different model volcanoes in a range of materials; some artificial volcanoes for the home, several of them highly dangerous.

The Volcanism Blog

British Geological Survey brings maps, images and more to the web for free 7 December 2009

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Carsaig Arches, Mull. Volcanic rocks. Taken by Valentine & Sons, 1892. (NERC)

The British Geological Survey has brought a huge range of British geological data to the web for free at its new OpenGeoscience site. The site offers data, educational material, maps, pictures, reports and software free of charge for non-commercial private study, research and educational purposes. Among the resources available are tens of thousands of images via GeoScenic from the UK national geological photographic archive (of great historical as well as scientific interest), and map tools that integrate with Google Maps and Google Earth to show the geology underlying British streets, houses and feet.

Hypocentre has a detailed review of OpenGeoscience here.

Image: Carsaig Arches on the Isle of Mull. Lots of lovely volcanic rocks. Photograph taken by Valentine & Sons in 1892. From GeoScenic, courtesy British Geological Survey. Catalogue reference P232614.

British geology maps now free to explore on website – BBC News, 7 December 2009
In pictures: British geology – BBC News, 7 December 2009

OpenGeoscience – geoscience data for free from the British Geological Survey
British Geological Survey – British Geological Survey website
National Environment Research Council – website for the NERC, of which the BGS is a part

The Volcanism Blog

Watching volcanoes: Natural Environment Research Council podcast 19 May 2009

Posted by admin in Caribbean, current research, geoscience, Soufrière Hills, volcano monitoring, volcanology.
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The Natural Environment Research Council ‘is the UK’s main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences’ (says the NERC ‘what we do’ page). The NERC is responsible for the British Antarctic Survey and the British Geological Survey, among many many other things, and has a strong commitment to natural hazards research, including (of course) volcanoes. To give a notable current example of the NERC’s involvement in this field, it provided emergency funding for the recent important studies of ashfall at Chaitén carried out by a University of Oxford research team.

All this is by way of background, and to point out that if you’re interested in volcanological and natural hazards research, the NERC is an agency to watch. Today there’s a new podcast available on the NERC’s Planet Earth Online environmental news service: ‘Watching volcanoes’. In the podcast (duration 6 min 42 sec) Richard Hollingham talks to Dr Sue Loughlin and Dr Kathryn Goodenough of the British Geological Survey about how studying currently active volcanoes (Montserrat) and the remains of ancient volcanoes (Edinburgh) informs our knowledge of volcanic processes and improves our ability to forecast future volcanic behaviour. It’s a model of clear exposition and an excellent example of scientific outreach.

The Planet Earth podcast – ‘Watching volcanoes’ (18 May 2009)

The Volcanism Blog