Tag Archives: Reddit

A Decade Later – Reconsidering The Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami

This December marks the 10-year anniversary of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, a disaster that killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries. The disaster hit Thailand and Indonesia especially hard and is considered one of the ten worst earthquakes in recorded history based on damages.

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In advance of the anniversary on December 26, 2014, Dr. Robert Muir-Wood, RMS chief research officer, and Dr. Patricia Grossi, RMS senior director of global earthquake modeling, hosted their second Reddit Science AMA (Ask Me Anything). Back in October, Muir-Wood and Grossi hosted another AMA on the 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The latest Reddit thread generated almost 300 comments. Muir-Wood and Grossi discussed topics including: early warning systems for disasters like tsunamis, what variables are considered in catastrophe models, and if better building design can protect against natural disasters – particularly tsunamis. Highlights of the chat follow:

What kind of structural elements or configurations are best to combat or defend against these disasters?

Muir-Wood: There have been research studies on buildings best able to survive tsunamis. The key is to make them strong (from well engineered reinforced concrete) but with ground floor walls running parallel with the shoreline that are weak, so that the walls can be overwhelmed without threatening the whole building.

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami took a lot people by surprise due to the lack of a tsunami warning system even though there was a gap between the earthquake and the tsunami. If there was a tsunami warning system in place at the time would that have decreased the death toll by a lot, or not make too much of a difference considering how strong the tsunami was.

Grossi: Early warning systems are excellent tools for reducing the loss of life during an earthquake-induced tsunami event. But education is one of the easiest ways to reduce tsunami life loss. Such education needs to include knowledge of the cause of a tsunami and its association with the largest earthquakes to help individuals understand how their own observations can help them take appropriate action (e.g., seeing the water recede from the coastline). In essence, official warning systems can provide only part of the solution, as information can never be effectively disseminated to everyone along a coastline. With only 10 to 30 minutes warning in the nearfield of major tsunamis, it is imperative that people are taught to take their own action rather than wait for official instruction.

Show me the coolest tsunami video.

Muir-Wood: There are amazing videos of the Japan 2011 tsunami. I wouldn’t pick just one of them – but recommend you watch quite a few – because they are interestingly different. The most amazing feature of the tsunami is the way the water can continue to rise and rise, for five or ten minutes, apparently without end. And then how the people watching the tsunami, climb to higher locations and then realize that if it keeps rising there will be nowhere for them to go.

Was there anything we missed you wanted to discuss? Please let us know in the comments. 

Your Excellent Questions On Earthquakes

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake which rocked California’s San Francisco Bay Area on October 17, 1989. To commemorate the anniversary and raise awareness about resilience against earthquakes, Dr. Robert Muir-Wood, RMS chief research officer, and Dr. Patricia Grossi, RMS senior director of global earthquake modeling, hosted a Reddit Science AMA (Ask Me Anything).

They discussed a number of topics; participants expressed curiosity not just for routine details like the best immediate action in the event of a quake, but also what fault lines are at risk and the finer points of earthquake insurance.

Here are just a few of the subjects they tackled in a conversation that generated close to 200 comments by Thursday afternoon – you can also read the entire Reddit thread.

Is the Bay Area is better prepared [now] than for the Loma Prieta quake? What role have you (or other scientists) played in planning?

Grossi: There’s been a lot of work by PG&E, BART, and other agencies to mitigate earthquake risk – as well as the new span of the Bay Bridge. In addition, the California Earthquake Authority has been encouraging mitigation – and have mitigation incentives if you retrofit your home to withstand earthquake ground shaking. Scientists can help by creating strategic plans or perform cost-benefit analyses for mitigation/retrofit.

Is there a link between fracking and earthquakes?

Muir-Wood: The term ‘earthquake’ can cover an enormous range of sizes of energy release. Fracking may sometimes trigger small shallow earthquakes or tremors. One day there might be a bigger earthquake nearby and people will argue over whether it was linked to the fracking. The link, however, will remain tenuous.

Am I being overcharged for earthquake insurance? I was charged $1,500 a year with a 15 percent deductible.

Grossi: Premiums associated with the coverage seem high (as generally double premiums here in California). However, they are based on price-based pricing. The coverage is meant to be a ‘minimum’ coverage – and provide protection for the worst-case scenario.

Is Tokyo due for another big earthquake?

Muir-Wood: The Big One happened beneath Tokyo in 1923, and before that a similar Big One (not quite on the same fault) occurred in 1703. The 1923 earthquake is not so likely to come around again. However, there was a M7 earthquake in 1855 that occurred right under Tokyo and may be the type of damaging earthquake we can expect. It could do a lot of damage.


Was there anything we missed you wanted to discuss? Please let us know in the comments.