Earthshaking Events

Why do earthquakes happen and how might people respond? From expert knowledge to appropriate action is no easy path.

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Baker, Jack W. Seismic hazard and risk analysis, by Jack W. Baker, Brendon A. Bradley, and Peter J. Stafford. Cambridge, 2021. 600p bibl index ISBN 9781108425056, $75.99; ISBN 9781108348157 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2022

Seismic hazard and risk have long been a focus of researchers and professionals in various engineering fields, and there is already a considerable literature. Notwithstanding, Baker (Stanford Univ.), Bradley (Univ. of Canterbury, Christchurch), and Stafford (Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London) have created an affordable teaching resource that deserves attention and can be summed up simply: buy this book. This reviewer has rarely come across such an inherently readable and informative textbook on the subject. Concepts are clearly explained, and advanced mathematics is kept in the background (the appendixes pertain) so readers will not get bogged down while trying to understand the important ideas. Numerous figures and tables support the text, all expertly presented. Each chapter includes excellent exercises, some of which the reviewer worked through, finding them irresistible because of the interest generated by the text. Chapters proceed from description of seismic events (part 1, “Hazard Inputs”) to explanation of, e.g., probabilistic seismic hazard analysis (part 2, “Hazard Calculations”) to prediction of adverse consequences (part 3, “Risk”). The authors provide an accompanying website to supplement the material in the book and extend readers’ learning experience. There could not be a better purchase for learning about seismic hazards and how to assess them at any price. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. —M. S. Field, formerly, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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Disaster resilience of education systems: experiences from Japan, ed. by Koichi Shiwaku, Aiko Sakurai, and Rajib Shaw. Springer, 2016. 241p bibl afp ISBN 9784431559801, $129.00; ISBN 9784431559825 ebook, $99.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2017

Securing safe school environments, developing school disaster management plans, and building capacity for risk reduction across the education sector is at the forefront of consideration by administrators and policy makers alike. Offering timely insights and perspectives informed by direct experiences, both planning for and responding to disasters such as the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011, this book addresses the evolution of disaster risk reduction (DRR) in that region. Contributors from the private sector, government, and the academy come together to offer a comprehensive look at DRR by examining a collection of 14 case studies. Aimed at constructing a “culture of safety and resilience,” chapters are (for the most part) data-driven and sometimes quite critical of shortcomings in the current system of preparedness. For example, in chapter 5, although authors note that national teacher training institutions in Japan have recently undergone significant reforms, DRR is still not considered a “vital topic.” Readers, however, will be left with a sense of urgency and coaxed to action. This work is expressly recommended for scholars and academicians in the fields of disaster management and DRR, as it comprehensively addresses current research in this field. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students; researchers and faculty. —D. M. Moss, University of Connecticut

The Duty to rescue: the jurisprudence of aid, ed. by Michael A. Menlowe and Alexander McCall Smith. Dartmouth, 1993. 209p ISBN 1855213966, $57.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 1994

The five essays in this collection provide a rather comprehensive overview of the moral and possibly legal duty to rescue. The essays focus on the moral grounds on which an obligation to rescue can be claimed and the extent, if any, to which that moral duty should be recognized by law. The first essay outlines several philosophical theories which help define a moral duty to rescue while recognizing the inherent difficulties in defining legislative limits in the legal enforcement of that moral duty. The second and third essays offer different resolutions to the theoretical conflicts between theory and practice. Chapter two focuses on the common law tradition, which does not specifically mandate or recognize a legal duty to aid. Chapter three focuses attention on continental legal systems that assert a more extensive legal duty to rescue. This chapter offers as well a comparative analysis of bad samaritan statutes in seven European countries. The fourth chapter presents a theoretical analysis of a state’s duty to aid vulnerable people. The fifth chapter examines the problem of rescue in international law. Endnotes are extensive and quite useful; the index is satisfactory. For anyone interested in trying to understand the issues and questions surrounding a duty to rescue, this should be among the first books consulted. Summing up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduate; graduate; faculty; professional.—M. A. Foley, Marywood College

Frankel, Henry R. The continental drift controversy: v.1: Wegener and the early debate; v.2: Paleomagnetism and confirmation of drift; v.3: Introduction of seafloor spreading; v.4: Evolution into plate tectonics. Cambridge, 2012. 4v ISBN 9780521875073, $400.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2012

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The importance of plate tectonic theory to the geosciences is hard to overstate. It serves as the foundation for disciplines as diverse as geomorphology, mineral exploration, hazard prediction (quakes, eruptions), and paleontology. Many introductory texts give the brief history of the theory, which is a classic example of the controversial progress of scientific knowledge. Naomi Oreskes edited an earlier work, Plate Tectonics: An Insider’s History… (CH, Sep’03, 41-0324), but never before has the historical development of plate tectonics been so fully explored, thoroughly documented, and clearly elaborated as in this four-volume set. Truly a magnum opus, it provides the comprehensive, holistic story of all historical aspects of the theory. Frankel (Univ. of Missouri–Kansas City) has been exhaustive in his research–reading journal articles, examining original correspondence, interviewing scientists, and more. The books are rich with quotes and amply footnoted and referenced, and they have limited, though useful, illustrations.

Volume 1, Wegener and the Early Debate, considers the question of whether the continents had actually moved, as well as some prescient ideas on what might have driven them. The subsequent volume, Paleomagnetism and Confirmation of Drift, examines the amazing progress in understanding rock magnetism and its application to confirming continental movement. Volume 3, Introduction to Seafloor Spreading, reviews evidence from the ocean basins, including driving forces. The final volume, Evolution into Plate Tectonics, covers the integration of drift and spreading, and the advances in understanding geometry of movements on the surface of a sphere (rotations). One aspect that makes the volumes so gripping is the organization of chapters and subchapters. The author shepherds readers along the journey that the original worker followed, in many cases leading to renunciation of the worker’s own earlier views. For example, in volume 3, chapter 3, readers see Hess rejecting mobilism early on, though ultimately publishing seminal work explaining how it might occur. Because the volumes synthesize many sources, one may indeed be capable of understanding the growth of the theory even better than those who participated in the research! To be clear, the set covers the history of the theory. It is not designed to teach the theory; other books such as A. Cox and R. Hart’s Plate Tectonics (CH, Feb’87) or W. Frisch, M. Meschede, and R. Blakey’s Plate Tectonics (CH, Oct’11, 49-0867) are better suited for that purpose. However, for someone interested in how the theory came about, this set is irreplaceable, fascinating, and illuminating. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —I. D. Sasowsky, University of Akron

Geomorphological hazards and disaster prevention, [ed.] by Irasema Alcántara-Ayala and Andrew S. Goudie. Cambridge, 2010. 291p ISBN 0521769256, $78.00; ISBN 9780521769259, $78.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2011

A town built on an earthflow, the atomic mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll, weathering of a Nabatean tomb, 100-meter-wide sinkholes, and houses buried in migrating sand: these are but a few of the dramatic illustrations found in this intriguing book. Twenty-three chapters cover such diverse topics as the use of lichen analysis to determine earthquake recurrence, indirect hazards of volcanoes, and the effect of environmental change on hazards. Chapter contributors also discuss landslides, floods, avalanches, coasts, weathering, sinkholes, soil erosion, desertification, and international issues. As with any edited volume, the utility and quality of chapters vary, but overall the book contains much valuable information. Production quality is excellent, with many grayscale drawings and photos. There is a good index, and the layout is very readable. This book would be excellent for use in an upper-level/graduate course on geologic hazards as the concise chapters lend themselves to such (two chapters per week, for example). But the book also has merit as a reference or learning tool. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. —I. D. Sasowsky, University of Akron

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Murphy, Robin R. Disaster robotics. MIT, 2014. 222p bibl index afp ISBN 9780262027359, $45.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2015

Murphy (Texas A&M), a pioneer in focusing academic robotics research on improving human-machine interactions and meeting technical constraints, is well qualified to write this excellent book.  She introduces the subject by defining some terminology regarding disaster robots.  She also discusses the taxonomy created based on land, air, and sea unmanned systems, including top-level constraints, concerns, and issues for each.  A summary of robots applied to disasters both natural and human-made (terrorists, infrastructure failures, etc.) follows.  The author devotes much space to addressing what can and has gone wrong.  Each of the technical areas is then explored in greater detail.  Topics such as engineering constraints, human-operator interfaces, and interaction with a complex rescue team are discussed within the context of the respective system.  Murphy concludes by discussing how to conduct fieldwork in this area, including what types of fieldwork exist, how to interact with response teams, and what data to collect. This highly practical, scholarly work is useful for graduate students and academics interested in working with first responders and is a must for any literature survey on the topic.  It could also be used in a special topics course in disaster/emergency response robotics or in a capstone design program. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals/practitioners. —R. S. Stansbury, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Palmer, James. Heaven cracks, earth shakes: the Tangshan earthquake and the death of Mao’s China. Basic Books, 2012. 273p ISBN 046501478X, $26.99; ISBN 9780465014781, $26.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2012

The 1976 Tangshan earthquake ranks among the most deadly natural disasters in world history, but it hardly registers in non-Chinese history textbooks. Instead, the dominant historical narrative of that period of Chinese history focuses exclusively on the political events, namely, the death of Mao Zedong and the winding down of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Palmer seeks to correct this tendency by treating the year 1976 in China as his book’s subject. Accordingly, the political events set the stage for the tragedy that unfolded in Tangshan. Relying on oral interviews with survivors, Palmer recounts the earthquake, rescue efforts, and political elites’ reactions. This moving account makes worthwhile wading through the early chapters that recapitulate conventional understanding of the Cultural Revolution. Summing Up: Recommended. General and undergraduate libraries. —L. Teh, University of Chicago

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Regional geology and tectonics: v.1A: Principles of geologic analysis; v.1B: Phanerozoic rift systems and sedimentary basins; v.1C: Phanerozoic passive margins, cratonic basins and global tectonic maps, ed. by David G. Roberts and A. W. Bally. Elsevier, 2012. 3v ISBN 9780444530424 other, $169.95; ISBN 9780444563569 other, $129.95; ISBN 9780444563576 other, $172.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2013

Regional Geology and Tectonics reflects the many years of experience of the 150 international senior geologists and geophysicists from academia and the petroleum exploration industry who contributed to it. The monumental work is without equal, a massive assemblage of information in three volumes, 13 sections, and 71 chapters. Subject coverage overall relates more to divergent and transform plate boundary and cratonic regions than to convergent plate regions. However, two masterful extended summaries of convergent plate boundary complexes and ocean basins balance and complete global coverage of the three volumes.

Volume 1A deals with the Earth’s core, mantle, and crust, Phanerozoic volcanism, geologic megaprovinces, geological/geophysical tools, sedimentary histories, seismic stratigraphy, experimental and analog structural models, and geophysics and fluid flow in petroleum systems. Volume 1B includes chapters on gradations between rifts and passive margins, models of evolution of passive margins, rift sequence stratigraphy, carbonate-dominated rifts, active and Cenozoic rifts, Mesozoic and older rifts, and tectonic inversions in rift systems. Subjects covered in volume 1C include salt tectonics, shale tectonics, and at least 20 examples of well-studied basins around the world, such as basins marginal to the Atlantic Ocean, the Arctic, the Mediterranean, New Zealand, Trinidad, Russia and Eurasia, the Pyrenees, Europe, and North and South Africa. Section 3 in this volume, “Global Maps,” is most valuable. This section integrates the vast worldwide knowledge on subjects such as geology, topography and bathymetry, plate tectonics, neotectonics, stress and paleostress, plate reconstructions, continental lithosphere and crust, and orogenic systems. This section also covers fold and thrust belts, normal faulting in thrust belts and cratonic areas, hot spots, large igneous provinces, dike swarms, active volcanoes, tectonic settings of igneous provinces, many different types of basins and tectonic systems, orogenic and epeirogenic regions, and more. The volumes are well formatted throughout and include numerous illustrations and approximately 3,000 references. If this reviewer’s personal study/library were burning, he would rescue these three volumes first. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. —T. L. T. Grose, Colorado School of Mines

Sykes, L. R. Plate tectonics and great earthquakes: 50 years of earth-shaking events. Columbia, 2019. 256p bibl index ISBN 9780231186889, $35.00; ISBN 9780231546874 ebook, $34.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2019

Sykes (emer., Columbia Univ.) is a towering figure in the field of seismology. He was a leader in the creation of plate tectonic theory through the discovery of seafloor spreading, transform faulting, and seismic patterns as revealed by the worldwide standardized seismographic network. For over 50 years, Sykes has applied seismology to the detection of underground nuclear testing, work that has driven him to be a vocal advocate of a total nuclear ban. The Federation of American Scientists presented Sykes with its Public Service Award for leadership in educating the public on seismologic contributions to the safety of humanity on a local and worldwide scale. Sykes continues to contribute to the budding science of earthquake prediction through the discoveries of earthquake gaps. Tectonic stresses inexorably build up between earthquake episodes and ultimately overcome the strength of the rocks in the gap areas where repeating earthquakes are prone to occur. While this book is not intended to be a textbook, it provides a compelling personal perspective on plate tectonics from one of the theory’s pioneers—offering a sense of seismology’s impact on society and on our understanding of the Earth. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —T. L. T. Grose, emeritus, Colorado School of Mines

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Thompson, Jerry. Cascadia’s fault: the coming earthquake and tsunami that could devastate North America. Counterpoint, 2011. 337p ISBN 1582436436, $26.00; ISBN 9781582436432, $26.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2011

Thompson, a journalist and film producer, seeks to alert and engage residents of coastal areas from northern California through British Columbia about actions to ameliorate the coming earthquakes and tsunamis that will be generated in the offshore Cascadia subduction zone. The geologic research into the movement of tectonic plates there is recent, and Thompson’s zest for this topic is tangible. He explains the science clearly and shows the methodical development of ideas on the accumulation and release of strain on this plate margin. Without being shrill, he reveals the current thinking that strong earthquakes have occurred simultaneously along the whole zone for thousands of years at approximate 300-year intervals, most recently in 1700 when the plate movements created tsunamis that devastated the North American coast and beyond. Thompson discusses recent subduction zone events, including the 2011 New Zealand and Japan disasters. He explores the siting of power plants on faults and the resilience of tall buildings during extended motion. Although the next big earthquake cannot be predicted or prevented, Thompson emphasizes communities’ need to educate citizens about timely response and survival skills. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above. —L. S. Zipp, State University of New York College at Geneseo