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The geologic hazard next door

March 15, 2011

The news of the earthquake and tsunami tragedy unfolding in Japan is hard to escape.

I’ve heard a few people try to comfort themselves by saying, “Oh, we live in the Midwest. We don’t have to worry about that.”

Well, folks, I am here to strip away your false sense of security. (You’re welcome.)

As a Newsweek article a friend posted to Facebook reads:

. . . mankind inhabits this earth subject to geological consent—which can be withdrawn at any time.

The “geological consentto support life has been withdrawn a few times in the western Nebraska region.

This weekend, I chatted with Greg Breining, the author of “Super Volcano,” and I was reminded of the fact that there is a big, honking volcano just a few hundred miles to our west, underneath Yellowstone National Park. (You can read an excerpt from “Super Volcano” here. Please buy the book if you are interested. Greg needs to make a living.)

The geologic threat from the Yellowstone Caldera is high enough that the U.S. Geological Survey has an observatory to monitor Yellowstone. In February 2011, the observatory logged a “mere” 57 small earthquakes in the area.

It’s not the earthquakes that concern me so much as the ash potential.

Remember the airline travel havoc wreaked when that unpronounceable-to-English-speakers (here’s a link to help with that) Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in Iceland in 2010?

During the eruption, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority warned horse owners to keep their animals away from the ash.

Ash not only disrupts airlines. It can kill.

There’s proof of that at the Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park, which is in eastern Nebraska.

The layers of earth at Scotts Bluff National Monument and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument reveal proof of the ash that has blanketed our region in the past.

I couldn’t find a reliable source online for a map of previous ashfall events. Conspiracy theorists say it’s because the government is trying to hide the threat from us. (Whatever.) So, I’ll have to link to this unofficial source instead. Take a look if you think you’re immune to geologic hazard just because you live in the Great Plains.

If it makes you feel any better, a major eruption at Yellowstone is rather unlikely during your lifetime. Still, as the situation in Japan illustrates, it can’t hurt to be prepared for the worst.

Just in case, here’s a link to some USGS advice on what to do if you’re caught in an ashfall area. And here’s a link to FEMA’s advice on how to prepare a disaster supplies kit, which you might also find useful in the event of a more likely disaster such as a tornado.

May Japan begin to heal as soon as it can.

Copyright 2011 by Katie Bradshaw

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2011 11:36 am

    Powerful and empowering info here!

  2. vnewman permalink
    March 15, 2011 8:18 pm

    True story.

  3. March 15, 2011 9:12 pm

    Last time I was in Ashfall, I saw the zoo in Royal and then fished in Grove Lake. If those are still there, you may as well make a day of it.


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