Natural Disasters Essay, Research Paper
trembling or shaking movement of the earth’s surface. Most earthquakes are minor tremors. Larger earthquakes usually begin with slight tremors but rapidly take the form of one or more violent shocks, and end in vibrations of gradually diminishing force called aftershocks. The subterranean point of origin of an earthquake is called its focus; the point on the surface directly above the focus is the epicenter. The magnitude and intensity of an earthquake is determined by the use of scales, e.g., the Richter scale and the Mercalli scale.
Causes of Earthquakes
Most earthquakes are causally related to compressional or tensional stresses built up at the margins of the huge moving lithospheric plates that make up the earth’s surface (see lithosphere). The immediate cause of most shallow earthquakes is the sudden release of stress along a fault, or fracture in the earth’s crust, resulting in movement of the opposing blocks of rock past one another. These movements cause vibrations to pass through and around the earth in wave form, just as ripples are generated when a pebble is dropped into water. Volcanic eruptions, rockfalls, landslides, and explosions can also cause a quake, but most of these are of only local extent.
Damage Caused by Earthquakes
The effects of an earthquake are strongest in a broad zone surrounding the epicenter. Surface ground cracking associated with faults that reach the surface often occurs, with horizontal and vertical displacements of several yards common. Such movement does not have to occur during a major earthquake; slight periodic movements called fault creep can be accompanied by microearthquakes too small to be felt. The extent of earthquake vibration and subsequent damage to a region is partly dependent on characteristics of the ground. For example, earthquake vibrations last longer and are of greater wave amplitudes in unconsolidated surface material, such as poorly compacted fill or river deposits; bedrock areas receive fewer effects. The worst damage occurs in densely populated urban areas where structures are not built to withstand intense shaking. There, L waves can produce destructive vibrations in buildings and break water and gas lines, starting uncontrollable fires.
Damage and loss of life sustained during an earthquake result from falling structures and flying glass and objects. Flexible structures built on bedrock are generally more resistant to earthquake damage than rigid structures built on loose soil. In certain areas, an earthquake can trigger mudslides, which slip down mountain slopes and can bury habitations below. A submarine earthquake can cause tsunamis, damaging waves that ripple outward from the earthquake epicenter and inundate coastal cities.
On average about 1,000 earthquakes with intensities of 5.0 or greater are recorded each year. Great earthquakes (intensity 8.0 or higher) occur once a year, major earthquakes (intensity 7.0-7.9) occur 18 times a year, strong earthquakes (intensity 6.0-6.9) 10 times a month, and moderate earthquakes (intensity 5.0-5.9) more than twice a day. Because most of these occur under the ocean or in underpopulated areas, they pass unnoticed by all but seismologists. Notable earthquakes have occurred at Lisbon, Portugal (1755); New Madrid, Mo. (1811 and 1812); Charleston, S.C. (1886); Assam, India (1897 and 1950); San Francisco (1906); Messina, Italy (1908); Gansu, China (1920); Tokyo, Japan (1923); Chile (1960); Iran (1962); Managua, Nicaragua (1972); Guatemala (1976); Hebei, China (1976); Mexico (1985); Armenia (1988); Luzon, Philippines (1990); N Japan (1993); Kobe, Japan (1995); Izmit, Turkey (1999); central Taiwan (1999); and Oaxaca state, Mexico (1999). The Lisbon and Chilean earthquakes were accompanied by tsunamis. On Good Friday 1964, one of the most severe North American earthquakes ever recorded struck Alaska, measuring 8.4 to 8.6 in intensity. Besides elevating some 70,000 sq mi (181,300 sq km) of land and devastating several cities, it generated tsunamis that caused damage as far south as California.
Ten of the fifteen largest earthquakes in the United States have occurred in Alaska, and eight of the fifteen largest in the continental United States have occurred in California. Recent earthquakes that affected the United States include the Feb., 1971, movement of the San Fernando fault near Los Angeles. It rocked the area for 10 sec, thrust parts of mountains 8 ft (2.4 m) upward, killed 64 persons, and caused damage amounting to $500 million. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake above Santa Cruz shook for 15 seconds at an intensity of 7.1, killed 67 people, and toppled buildings and bridges. In Jan., 1994, an earthquake measuring 6.6 with its epicenter in N Los Angeles caused major damage to the city’s infrastructure and left thousands homeless.
tropical cyclone in which winds attain speeds greater than 74 mi (119 km) per hr. Wind speeds reach over 190 mi (289 km) per hr in some hurricanes. The term is often restricted to those storms occurring over the N Atlantic Ocean; the identical phenomenon occurring over the W Pacific Ocean is called a typhoon; a tropical cyclone around Australia is called a willy-willy; and over the Indian Ocean, a tropical cyclone. Hurricanes have a life span of 1 to 30 days. They weaken and are transformed into extratropical cyclones after prolonged contact with the colder ocean waters of the middle latitudes, and they rapidly decay after moving over land areas.
Formation of Hurricanes
A cyclone that eventually reaches hurricane intensity first passes through two intermediate stages known as tropical depression and tropical storm. Hurricanes start over the oceans as a collection of storms in the tropics. The deepening low-pressure center takes in moist air and thermal energy from the ocean surface, convection lifts the air, and high pressure higher in the atmosphere pushes it outward. Rotation of the wind currents tends to spin the clouds into a tight curl; as the winds reach gale force, the depression becomes a tropical storm. The mature hurricane is nearly circularly symmetrical, and its influence often extends over an area 500 mi (805 km) in diameter.
As a result of the extremely low central pressure (often around 28.35 in./72 cm but sometimes considerably lower, with a record 25.91 in./65.8 cm registered in a 1958 typhoon) surface air spirals inward cyclonically (counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere), converging on a circle of about 20 mi (30 km) diameter that surrounds the hurricane’s eye. The circumference of this circle defines the so-called eye wall, where the inward-spiraling, moisture-laden air is forced aloft, causing condensation and the concomitant release of latent heat; after reaching altitudes of tens of thousands of feet above the surface, this air is finally expelled toward the storm’s periphery and eventually creates the spiral bands of clouds easily identifiable in satellite photographs.
The upward velocity of the air and subsequent condensation make the eye wall the region of heaviest precipitation and highest clouds. Because the outward increase in pressure is greatest there, the eye wall is also the region of maximum wind speed. By contrast, the hurricane eye is almost calm, experiences little or no precipitation, and is often exposed to blue sky. Temperatures in the eye are 10.F to 15.F (5.C-8.C) warmer than those of the surrounding air as a result of sinking currents at the hurricane’s core.
Damage Caused by Hurricanes
High winds are a primary cause of hurricane-inflicted loss of life and property damage. Another cause is the flooding resulting from the coastal storm surge of the ocean and the torrential rains, both of which accompany the storm. The Saffir-Simpson scale is the standard scale for rating the severity of a hurricane as measured by the damage it causes. It classifies hurricanes on a hierarchy from category 1 (minimal), through category 2 (moderate), category 3 (extensive), and category 4 (extreme), to category 5 (catastrophic). Only two category-5 storms have hit the United States since record-keeping began-the 1935 Labor Day hurricane, which devastated the Florida Keys, killing 600, and Hurricane Camille in 1969, which ravaged the Mississippi coast, killing 256 and causing damage estimated at $1.4 billion. Hurricane Mitch in 1998 was a category-5 storm at peak intensity over the western Caribbean, and Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 was a category-5 storm at peak intensity and is the strongest Atlantic tropical cyclone of record. The 1970 Bay of Bengal tropical cyclone killed about 300,000 persons, mainly by drowning. In the United States, Hurricanes Hugo (1989) in Charleston, S.C., and Andrew (1992) in Homestead, Fla., caused billions of dollars worth of damage. Other hurricanes can still cause major flooding and damage, even when downgraded to a tropical storm, as did Hurricane Agnes (1972). To decrease such damage several unsuccessful programs have studied ways to defuse hurricanes in their developing stages; more recent hurricane damage-mitigation steps have included better warning systems involving real-time satellite imagery. A hurricane watch is issued when there is a threat of hurricane conditions within 24-36 hours. A hurricane warning is issued when hurricane conditions (winds greater than 74 mph/119 kph or dangerously high water and rough seas) are expected in 24 hours or less.
dark, funnel-shaped cloud containing violently rotating air that develops below a heavy cumulonimbus cloud mass and extends toward the earth. The funnel twists about, rises and falls, and where it reaches the earth causes great destruction. The diameter of a tornado varies from a few feet to a mile; the rotating winds attain velocities of 200 to 300 mi (320-480 km) per hr, and the updraft at the center may reach 200 mi per hr. The Fujita scale is the standard scale for rating the severity of a tornado as measured by the damage it causes. A tornado is usually accompanied by thunder, lightning, heavy rain, and a loud “freight train noise.
In comparison with a cyclone or hurricane, a tornado covers a much smaller area but can be violent and destructive. The atmospheric conditions required for the formation of a tornado include great thermal instability, high humidity, and the convergence of warm, moist air at low levels with cooler, drier air aloft. In the United States a tornado forms typically over the central and southern plains and the Gulf states, usually several hundred miles southeast of a cyclone. It travels in a generally northeasterly direction with a speed of 20 to 40 mi (32-64 km) per hr. The length of a tornado’s path along the ground varies from less than one mile to several hundred. Tornado cellars are generally constructed near farm dwellings to afford protection in areas where tornadoes are common. Tornadoes occurring over water are called waterspouts.
vents or fissures in the earth’s crust through which gases, molten rock, or lava, and solid fragments are discharged. Their study is called volcanology. The term volcano is commonly applied both to the vent and to the conical mountain (cone) built up around the vent by the erupted rock materials. Volcanoes are described as active, dormant, or extinct. The soil resulting from decomposition of volcanic materials is extremely fertile, and the ash itself is a good polishing and cleansing agent.
More than 500 volcanoes are known to have erupted on the earth’s surface since historic times, and many more have erupted on the ocean floor unobserved by humans. Fifty volcanoes have erupted in the United States, which ranks third, behind Indonesia and Japan, in the number of historically active volcanoes. Of the world’s active volcanoes, more than half are found around the perimeter of the Pacific, about a third on midoceanic islands and in an arc along the south of the Indonesian islands, and about a tenth in the Mediterranean area, Africa, and Asia Minor.
Evidence of extraterrestrial volcanic activity also has been found. Space probes have detected the remnants of ancient eruptions on earth’s moon, Mars (which has the largest volcano in the solar system, Olympus Mons, 340 mi/550 km across and 15 mi/24 km high), and Mercury; these probably originated billions of years ago, since these bodies are no longer capable of volcanic activity. Triton (a satellite of Neptune), Io (a satellite of Jupiter), and Venus are the only bodies in the solar system besides earth that are known to be volcanically active. The volcanic processes that occur in the outer portion of the solar system are very different from those in the inner part. Eruptions on earth, Venus, Mercury, and Mars are of rocky material and are driven by internal heat. Io’s eruptions are probably sulfur or sulfur compounds driven by tidal interactions with Jupiter. Triton’s eruptions are of very volatile compounds, such as methane or nitrogen, driven by seasonal heating from the sun.
Terrestrial volcanic eruptions may take one or more of four chief forms, or phases, known as Hawaiian, Strombolian, Vulcanian, and Peleean. In the Hawaiian phase there is a relatively quiet effusion of basaltic lava unaccompanied by explosions or the ejection of fragments; the eruptions of Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii are typical. The Strombolian phase derives its name from the volcano Stromboli in the Lipari, or Aeolian, Islands, N of Sicily. It applies to continuous but mild discharges in which viscous lava is emitted in recurring explosions; the ejection of incandescent material produces luminous clouds. A more explosive volcanic eruption is the Vulcanian, where the magma (lava before emission) accumulates in the upper level of the vent but is blocked by a hardened plug of lava that forms between consecutive explosions. When the explosive gases have reached a critical pressure within the volcano, masses of solid and liquid rock erupt into the air and clouds of vapor form over the crater. The Peleean, derived from Mont Pel e, is the most violent, emitting fine ash; hot, gas-charged fragments of lava; and superheated steam in an incandescent cloud that travels downhill at great speed. Eruptions are often accompanied by torrential rains caused by the condensation of steam. The erupted fragments vary in size, including minute particles of volcanic dust and ash, lapilli (cinders or pellets), bombs (rounded or ellipsoidal masses of hardened magma), and huge masses called blocks.
Volcanoes are found in association with midocean ridge systems (see seafloor spreading) and along convergent plate boundaries, such as around the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire (see plate tectonics), the ring of plate boundaries associated with volcanic island arcs and ocean trenches surrounding the Pacific Ocean. Continental volcanoes are also associated with converging plate boundaries, such as the volcanoes of the Cascade Range along the W coast of the United States. Isolated volcanoes also form in the midocean area of the Pacific apparently unrelated to crustal plate boundaries. These sea mounts and volcanic island chains, such as the Hawaiian chain, may form from rising magma regions called hot spots.
Pronounced As: tsoon m , series of catastrophic ocean waves generated by submarine movements, which are caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, or landslides beneath the ocean. In the open ocean, tsunamis may have wavelengths of up to several hundred miles and travel at speeds up to 450 mi per hr (720 km per hr), yet have wave heights of less than 3 ft (1 m), which pass unnoticed beneath a ship at sea. The period between crests of tsunami waves varies from 5 min to about 1 hr. When tsunami approach shallow water along a coast, they are slowed, causing their length to shorten and their height to rise sometimes as high as 100 ft (30 m). When they break, they often destroy piers, buildings, and beaches and take human life. The wave height as they crash upon a shore depends almost entirely upon the submarine topography offshore. Waves tend to rise to greater heights along gently sloping shores, along submarine ridges, or in coastal embayments. There is little warning of approach; when a train of tsunami waves approaches a coastline, the first indication is often a sharp swell, not unlike an ordinary storm swell, followed by a sudden outrush of water that often exposes offshore areas as the first wave trough reaches the coast. After several minutes, the first huge wave crest strikes, inundating the newly exposed beach and rushing inland to flood the coast. Generally, the third to eighth wave crests are the largest. Since tsunami principally occur in the Pacific Ocean following shallow-focus earthquakes over magnitude 6.5 on the Richter scale, one of the best means of prediction is the detection of such earthquakes on the ocean floor with a seismograph network (see seismology). Tsunamis may be detected by wave gauges, such as those emplaced as part of the Tsunami Warning System operating in the Pacific regions. Measurement of sudden sea level changes from satellites are also used to warn of potential tsunami. Probably the most destructive tsunami occurred following the explosive eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in the East Indies on Aug. 27, 1883, when over 36,000 people were killed as a result of the wave. Waves were up to 100 ft (30 m) high with speeds between 350 and 450 mi per hr (560-720 km per hr). Its passage was traced as far away as Panama.