Quote note (#173)

Within the next half-century, the American West Coast faces a far from insignificant threat of massive geological calamity:

When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west — losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. … The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

In the Pacific Northwest, everything west of Interstate 5 covers some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America.

Realistic accommodation to the prospect of black swan events is psychologically — and even epistemologically — impossible. It’s worth trying to hold onto the thought, however, that unpredictable, singular events, utterly senseless within the principal narrative structures of human history, could at any point throw all expectations for the ordered unfolding of developments off a cliff.

July 15, 2015admin 26 Comments »


26 Responses to this entry

  • haishan Says:

    Within the next half century with probability about 37%.

    Of course, if we model the time between earthquakes with an exponential distribution, that would imply there’s about a 10% chance we see the big one in the next decade, and almost a 1% chance in the next year. These are probabilities that are hardly unthinkable.

    (And the article doesn’t even mention the effects of the likely tsunami hitting Japan. They’ll have plenty of advance warning to evacuate, but the property damage will be incredible.)


    michael Reply:

    its actually a bit worse looking if you use the average frequency of 240 years and the last date of 1700 they are 75 years over due.
    I wonder if i could get trade station to sell the Qs when the high frequency seismic signal goes off. you got about 90 seconds before the shaking starts


    SanguineEmpiricist Reply:

    AFAIK David Freedman’s analysis of the earthquake or criticism of the old projections said it was incomputable, I had it on my blog but I deleted it. Here’s the link



    E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:

    I would agree this is incomputable, but exposure is simply incredible. A day of judgment.


    haishan Reply:

    I’m certainly not an expert. The Internet tells me that you can do an okay job modeling quake occurrences with a Poisson process; a Poisson process is memoryless and its interarrival times follow an exponential distribution, so it’s pretty easy to apply and compute. I got the 37% number from the linked piece — I have no idea whether it’s accurate.


    DNA Reply:

    Wasn’t the previous eruption of Yellowstone a bit more catastrophic for NA? Hell for the whole globe for that matter. So is this history ‘human’ or geological?


    Posted on July 15th, 2015 at 5:32 pm Reply | Quote
  • Yves Vannes Says:

    The predictive reliability of these models depends a lot on sample size; in this case it is miniscule. What we understand and are able
    to measure is a cipher compared to the mountain of processes and variables outside of our reach.

    I could produce a model predicting this calamity next week and another model predicting this event 500,000 years from now. Neither could be proven unequivocally superior to the other.

    Will this event happen? Probably. When? When will the next asteroid hit Earth? Study it, let’s attempt to better understand the processes that could bring these events to happen, but let’s not freak out.


    DB Reply:

    We may not know much about when the next major Cascadia quakes will be, but we sure as hell do know that next week is far, far, far more likely than quiescence for 500,000 years. There is still a huge difference between the limited knowledge we have and the total lack of knowledge you seem to think we have.


    Yves Vannes Reply:

    Where did I state that we have a total lack of knowledge? We understand the environment and the mechanics involved. But our ability to predict the end of the world scenario described above, especially for this subduction zone system, is non existent in any meaningful way. Large quakes like the recent one in Japan, yes maybe; but losing everything West of I-5? Come on… And 500,000 years, geologically speaking is the blink of an eye. That subduction zone is at least 200 million years old.


    DB Reply:

    The scenario in question is a quake of similar strength to the 2011 Japan earthquake (“really big one” in the New Yorker article = ~8.7-9.2; Japan was 9.0), not an even bigger one.

    Yves Vannes Reply:

    Then the article grossly exaggerated. There have been several such quakes on that system causing severe Coastal damage, as did the Japan quake. But to wipeout everything West of I-5? That would require something rare and perfectly placed within the system. I am not saying it can’t happen, but they exaggerate the probability of the worst possible scenario. The geological record indicates otherwise. A tsunami that could travel 50 miles inland would have to be not 10s of feet but 100s. Possible but as rare as an asteroid crashing into the planet.

    admin Reply:

    You should read the article. It’s not as crimson-tinged with apocalyptic fervor as my snippet might suggest. (13,000 dead is the figure it mentions, which is serious enough, but a back-pedal from the implication of “everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast”.)

    Posted on July 15th, 2015 at 6:42 pm Reply | Quote
  • Quote note (#173) | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on July 15th, 2015 at 8:44 pm Reply | Quote
  • SVErshov Says:

    earth talking to us all thetime. interesting attempt to decypher seismic sounds made by HERMAN KOLGEN in performans SEISMIK extracts.


    Posted on July 15th, 2015 at 8:51 pm Reply | Quote
  • 4candles Says:

    I’m grumpy, but: I don’t think admin is raising this to debate the likelihood of a particular Black Swan event. Which, with the exception of SVErshov above, is exactly how you’ve all interpreted the post. NRx is as guilty, if not more so, as any ‘movement’ of becoming convinced of its own foretelling. It’s very easy to get lazy.


    Posted on July 15th, 2015 at 11:04 pm Reply | Quote
  • Aeroguy Says:

    I’m curious what the actual data points were for the sea sediment. I could use more practice playing with Weibull distributions, I’m too used to thinking in terms of normal distributions. Working backwards from their given probabilities and the mean, this event has a large variance.


    NRx_N00B Reply:

    “I’m curious what the actual data points were for the sea sediment.”
    I’m guessing they’re predominantly using turbidite-paleoseismicity: Stratigraphy and radiocarbon dating of detrital organics associated with cyclical/punctuated synchronous turbidite flows occurring along the margin—the spatial extent could indicate whether a particular event was the result of a full-margin rupture.


    NRx_N00B Reply:

    Re. actual data points:

    Turbidite Event History—Methods and Implications for Holocene Paleoseismicity of the Cascadia Subduction Zone



    Posted on July 16th, 2015 at 12:14 am Reply | Quote
  • tg moderator Says:

    Hmmm. If a similar event would take out the east cost as well there might be some hope for restoring a republic similar to USG2. All of the so called conservatives out there need to realize that this is what would be required–enormous earthquakes on both coasts. Since this will not happen I guess we still need to work on being worthy and use plan B.


    Posted on July 16th, 2015 at 12:44 am Reply | Quote
  • AA Says:

    The point that we don’t know the probability and that it is certain at some point is the point. Taleb’s commentary on Black Swans is prescient here. Doubly so if one is taking a genetical longview.


    Yves Vannes Reply:

    “Within the next half-century, the American West Coast faces a far from insignificant threat of massive geological calamity:

    When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west — losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries”

    Black swans? Sounds more like they are expecting a mean value to change the geography of the north west.


    E. Antony Gray (@RiverC) Reply:

    They cannot determine when it will happen; they cannot determine the exact event that will occur. What they do have an idea of is what given possible events may be like and they are all catastrophic. They do know that the geography has become unstable.

    The ‘Black Swan’ in this case is the event that resets the geography – it is incomputable. Must it needs happen at some point? It seems so. Therefore, it will happen. What will happen to those in the affected area?

    Perhaps the solution is to find a way to release this pressure slowly and controllably; it will not cease being a problem when the geography resets – it will just begin again.


    Posted on July 16th, 2015 at 12:50 am Reply | Quote
  • spandrell Says:

    Maybe Dong Zhongshu was right after all, and San Francisco will get Heavenly Retribution.


    Posted on July 16th, 2015 at 7:36 am Reply | Quote
  • Brett Stevens Says:

    “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

    I guess this explains them selling it to Japanese, Chinese and Mexicans.


    Posted on July 16th, 2015 at 4:34 pm Reply | Quote
  • Kwisatz Haderach Says:

    The moral sense wants to ask, “Why did this earthquake happen?”. Many in the world today still ask this question (or a similar one), and moreover, many who ask it expect a sensible answer.

    One such answer is, “God did it”. That’s sensible. Our focused mind can entertain the whole thought at once. It’s small, compressed (is not sense, in the end, just another word for compression, in the information theoretic sense of that word?). “God did it” seems to summarize a lot of information concisely. If you wanted to decompress the statement, say, by writing a program, you would need to reference, in the header of your algorithm’s implementation, at minimum, the thinker’s concept of God, and his whole religious weltanschauung, replete with layers meanings and shades of spiritual terms, his own memories of communion with the divine, and on, and on. “God did it” summarizes all of that. Makes sense of all that – answers why.

    Our brain is a sense-making machine. As such, our brains reward us whenever we comprehend a new thing that makes sense. We experience a frission of happiness or satisfaction whenever “a lightbulb goes off”, whenever we perceive a freshly-understood thought. We love that feeling. We call that longing, that addition curiosity, and we’re always jonesing.

    And when you get the next hit, it never fails to disappoint. Even for traumatic thoughts, such as my first unobstructed glimpse of the red pill, the “desert of the real”: as awful as the experience actually is, even then, I experienced, in addition to the nausea, a small positive feeling: dark joy, or at least grim satisfaction at a job well done. “Finally, I escaped the matrix.”

    As Gnonists, of course, we are the ones who profess to stop asking why. As Gnonists we are the ones who profess a different question: How?

    All causes are reduceable to descriptions of a stochastic process. Our universe is a Markov chain. In all questions, “Why F(t’) = A'”? is always answered “Because F(t) = A, and then some dice fell and the wave function collapsed according to completely random and senseless chance”.

    The only game in town, after that, the only interesting question to ask, is: How does A change to A’? That’s why we need to get Outside. Outside of this claustrophobic universe. Out into the great dark of the inchoate chaos beyond sanity. Then we’ll gaze down on this puny universe, our visages serene and awful and infinitely large, and comprehend everything at once. (Then, perhaps, our addition will be broken, and we’ll finally, finally, be emancipated. But I don’t hold out hope.)


    Posted on July 17th, 2015 at 1:45 am Reply | Quote
  • J Thomas Says:

    The only official Trident submarine base on the west coast is just west of Seattle, along with a whole bunch of nuclear weapons. It may be partly shielded from the tsunami by a bunch of mountains, though. Most of the other navy ports are far enough south they probably wouldn’t be affected, right? And warships and submarines will probably be mostly unaffected unless they’re too close to shore. Right?

    Isn’t it interesting that 30 years ago, nobody knew this fault ever did anything? But the chance it would make a giant earthquake sometime in the last 30 years was not that much less than that it will do it sometime in the next 30 years.

    Could there be another big undiscovered threat off the southern California coast, that would disrupt a big part of the pacific fleet?

    I mention this not because the navy is more important than many millions of civilians, but because they do sometimes plan for emergencies and they might possibly do something effective.


    Posted on July 17th, 2015 at 3:10 am Reply | Quote

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