Sunday, May 3, 2015

Forgotten Fault Lines

Yesterday, just past noon, an earthquake measured at 4.2 magnitude took place near Galesburg, MI. Its center was three miles underground. No serious damage or casualties resulted. News reports were reassuring: No, rest assured. We’re not in an earthquake zone. Our governor announced that appropriate officials were closely watching developments and ready for anything in the way of aiding the population should more tremors follow.

Back in 2011—I don’t remember what prompted me then—I discovered that our area does too fall into a seismic zone, specifically the New Madrid Seismic Zone—so named because of two quite devastating earthquakes that took place in New Madrid, MO in 1811 and 1812. Herewith a map of the zone showing its extent. From its epicenter in New Madrid, the quakes traveled north- and south-eastward. Eventually they faded away near Boston to the north and New Orleans to the south.

The New Madrid Fault itself is of limited extent, with a length of 150 miles and touching Arkansas , Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Tennessee. But when it becomes active, its radiations go very far.

By chance, certainly, yesterday’s Michigan quake, which did little damage and was hence not much reported, coincided with the riots of Baltimore. We linked the two events here because it occurred to us that the cause of both were “fault lines,” if of quite different kind and origin. The Baltimore fault line may also be found in virtually all large metropolitan areas of the United States. Those fault line began with slavery; hence the fault can be discovered in ourselves; we can’t blame tectonic plates for it. But it did occur to us that where very large collectives are concerned, situations of quite geological magnitude, duration, and unpredictability can be created and, like earthquakes, are virtually impossible to prevent. All that is left to do, after they happen, is to remove the debris and bury the dead. And that activity does not really get at the fundamental problem. For that our collective wisdom, will, and energy are insufficient. Just check back in twenty years and see if anything has really changed—in either kind of possible disaster.

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