Sunday, September 14, 2008

In Houston We Have a Problem

Again we must express hope and concern for friends in the Houston - Clear Lake area. What an exciting weekend! Financial institutions are sinking. American political polls are in a seismic shift. We have the pleasure of living in interesting times.

From the NASA website: "NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston remains closed and likely will be limited to recovery operations for the next week. Johnson may not be open for normal operations until the week of Sept. 21."

This may or may not affect the Shuttle flight schedule. The building housing Mission Control building has roof damage. Its functions have been moved to a temporary home in Austin. Astronaut training and other activities at JSC will be delayed.

Back in January 2007, the blog described the damage Cumbre Vieja would cause to major cities:

Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands looks peaceful now. Undersea surveys have found a 400 cubic km landslide, the debris of a prehistoric eruption. Previous activity has caused the Western slope to come loose, creating a North-South fracture. Another large eruption would cause 500 cubic kilometres of mountain to crash into the sea. Dr. Simon Day and Steven Ward have modelled what would happen next.

The initial impact would create a water dome 900 meters high, collapsing and spreading like a stone creating ripples. A massive tsunami would race across the Atlantic at nearly 800 km/hr. The coast of Morocco would be struck by waves 100 meters high. Waves up to 50 meters from crest to trough would strike the US East Coast. Water would inundate coasts from Britain to Brazil.

The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 produced waves up to 30 m high. Krakatoa's eruption in 1883 created 6 m waves, killing 30,000 people. The damage in New York City alone would make 9/11 look like a college prank. The Northeastern US is also vulnerable to earthquakes. As recently as 1925 a magnitude 7 quake struck the region. Unlike California or Hawaii, New York has never prepared for a major earthquake.

Before Einstein and Planck some scientists believed they knew everything about physics. Even today some will tell you that they have inventoried the entire Universe. It is the height of folly to think we know everything in nature. Previously humans did not suspect what lies beneath their feet. The hiccoughs of a Black Hole less than a millimetre across can wipe out whole coastlines. The Universe has power and mysteries far beyond human understanding.

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