Japan's Natural Hazards

March 30, 2011
Lamont-Doherty experts discuss the science behind Japan's destructive natural events

In the two and a half weeks since a massive earthquake struck Japan, scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have been immersed in both studying the quake, and reaching out to the media and other organizations to explain what happened. Other Earth Institute experts have added their voices to the public conversation about natural hazards, preparedness and nuclear power.

Can we ever be prepared enough for such events? The Japanese were as experienced as any people on the planet when it comes to dealing with earthquakes. Yet they were caught off-guard by a once-in-a-thousand-year event. In a matter of hours, that same event washed ashore on the U.S. West Coast, a relatively minor reminder that we, too, may not always be ready when the power of natural forces takes charge.
 
The jolt in Japan stunned even scientists who've studied earthquakes all their lives. Chris Scholz, a Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory professor with decades of experience looking at how earthquakes work, said he had thought a 9.0 magnitude quake like the one that struck near Sendai, Japan, was "impossible" in that area (see video). But it turns out the last comparable earthquake shook the same region in the year 869 and pushed a tsunami miles into the interior. Scientists were humbled by the realization that they simply had not looked back far enough to gauge the probability of such a huge event.
 
Japan continues to struggle with the painful aftermath, mourning its dead and battling to bring the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors under control. In the U.S. and elsewhere, the tragic sequence of events has revived the debate over the safety of nuclear power in the U.S. A new report from the National Research Council contends the U.S. is unprepared for a disaster on the scale experienced by Japan, particularly in vulnerable urban areas.
 
The earthquake sparked interest in the seismology of the New York region in particular, and the risk of a large earthquake here. A 2008 paper published by four Lamont scientists says that the region is more prone to seismic activity than previously thought. That in turn has stirred concern over the location of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, N.Y., a short trip up the Hudson River from New York City.
 
Lamont scientists have held a series of briefings with aides to the local congressional delegation; representatives from Consolidated Edison; and a special meeting of the Environment and Energy and Public Safety Committees of the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

They’ve also been contacted by scores of media outlets and added their expertise to continuing reports in newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and online sites. Below are links to some of those reports.

(Become a fan of LDEO on Facebook to follow coverage of Observatory researchers.)

At U.S. Nuclear Sites, Preparing for the Unlikely
New York Times, March 29

Attorney General Says Indian Point Lax on Fire Safety
The Journal News, March 28

Top Priority in U.S. Earthquake Study: Nuclear Power Plant Near New York City
The Christian Science Monitor, March 23

Japan Quake/Nuclear Power
CNN, March 23

John Armbruster on Earthquake Risk
WABC 77 Radio, Joe Crummy Show, March 23

Why Closing Indian Point Makes Sense
Village Voice, March 22

Watchdogs Looking Closely at Indian Point
CBS Ch. 2, March 21, 2011

Feds to conduct safety review of New York's Indian Point plant in wake of Japan nuclear crisis
New York Daily News - Mar 21

New York, NRC to Meet About Indian Point Plant Safety
Bloomberg News - March 21

Blindsided by Ferocity Unleashed by a Fault
New York Times, March 21

Quake Shakes Debate on Indian Point Safety
lohud.com, March 20

Preparing for the Day the Earth Moves
The New York Times - March 20

Nuclear Impact on Marine Life is Expected to be Minimal
Wall Street Journal, March 19

Could an Earthquake Hit New York City? History says yes, but not like 9.0
New York Daily News, March 18

Indian Point Top US Quake Risk
Times Herald Record, March 17

Cuomo Orders Safety Review of Indian Point
WABC TV, March 16

Could an Earthquake Hit New York City?
NY Daily News, March 17

Living With A Nuclear Question Mark in the Backyard
New York Times, March 16

What if a Tsunami Hit New York?
Huffington Post, March 16

Japan Earthquake's Global Impact
The TakeAway, March 15

Quake Safequards at Indian Point Questioned
Times Herald-Record, March 15

San Francisco: Living on Borrowed Time?
CBS News, March 15

Quake Prone Pacific Plants May Hold Keys to U.S. Nuclear Plans
Bloomberg News, March 15

Is the U.S. Next?
The Daily Mail, March 14

Is the U.S. Ready for a Mega-Earthquake?
CBS News, March 12

Japan Earthquake 101
CBS The Early Show, March 12

Japan Quake Like a 'Compressed Spring' Released
Wall Street Journal, March 12

Quakes Not Increasing, But Human Risk Is by Colin Stark
CNN, March 12

Japan Quake: It Could Have Been Worse by Leonardo Seeber
CNN, March 12

Seismologist Sizes Up Japan Quake
CNN/Anderson Cooper 360, March 11

The Force Behind Tsunamis
CNN, March 11

What Areas in the U.S. Are at Risk For Earthquakes?
ABC News, March 11

Geoff Abers Answers Callers' Questions
WNYC The Leonard Lopate Show, March 11

Hawaii Braces for Tsunami
The Takeaway, March 11

CNN Interviews John Armbruster
CNN, March 11

 

Media Inquiries: 
David Funkhouser
davidf@ldeo.columbia.edu
845-365-8708

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