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The Dynamics of Disasterby Susan W. Kieffer
Synopses & Reviews
Contrary to popular belief, humans have almost no control over Mother Nature. Yet we persist in building centers of civilization in places of past disasters. When they are destroyed again, we rebuild in the same place, believing that our technology will do better next time. But we rarely win these battles with the earth. Susan W. Kieffer has two goals for her unique book. The first is to show how the dynamics--the workings--of disasters are connected by a small number of natural laws. The second is to show how the greatest damage and loss of life are caused by unrecognized aspects of these events. For example, the heartwrenching destruction in Haiti was caused when an earthquake transformed the solid ground into something like quicksand. Only by deeply understanding the dynamics of natural disasters can we begin to institute engineering and policy practices to minimize their impact on our lives.
"Earth's treacherous energies are tracked in this informative, unexcitable primer on natural disasters. Geologist and MacArthur genius Kieffer, proprietor of the Geology in Motion blog, surveys a slew of spectacular cataclysms — the Tohoku earthquake, superstorm Sandy, tornadoes, volcanoes, floods, droughts, even a Martian landslide — and the scientific principles and mechanisms that generate them. She treats these varied upheavals within the unifying framework of analyzing 'changes of state' that transform a seemingly placid landscape or seascape into deadly chaos: the sudden liquefaction of the ground by a quake's tremor; the unnoticeably gentle ocean swell that piles up into a raging tsunami at the shore; the rock-face that shears off a mountainside in an eye-blink. Kieffer adroitly explains these phenomena with homespun analogies to exploding bicycle tires, ripples in a kitchen sink, and the like, and recalls her unruffled firsthand glimpses of the Mount St. Helens eruption and other disasters. There's not a huge conceptual payoff to her grand unified theory of disasters; the particular details of how they go about devastating the world in their separate, idiosyncratic ways are more captivating than the common physical laws that underlie the mayhem. Kieffer's measured tone doesn't hard-sell the drama of geocatastrophe, but she presents a clear, engagingly wonky introduction to the field. 40 illus. and photos." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Natural disasters bedevil our planet, and each appears to be a unique event. Leading geologist Susan W. Kieffer shows how all disasters are connected.
In 2011, there were fourteen natural calamities that each destroyed over a billion dollars' worth of property in the United States alone. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast and major earthquakes struck in Italy, the Philippines, Iran, and Afghanistan. In the first half of 2013, the awful drumbeat continued--a monster supertornado struck Moore, Oklahoma; a powerful earthquake shook Sichuan, China; a cyclone ravaged Queensland, Australia; massive floods inundated Jakarta, Indonesia; and the largest wildfire ever engulfed a large part of Colorado.
Humans persist in building centers of civilization in places of past disasters. We believe that our technology will protect us next time. Yet we rarely win these battles with the earth because we don’t understand natural disasters deeply enough. Susan W. Kieffer has two goals for her unique book. The first is to show how the dynamics—the workings—of disasters are connected by a small number of natural laws. The second is to show that the most obvious process in a disaster is not always the one that causes the devastation. For instance, the transformation of apparently solid ground into a substance like quicksand during the 2010 Haiti earthquake is what caused the destruction of Port au Prince. Kieffer argues that only by truly understanding the dynamics of natural disasters can we begin to institute engineering and policy practices to minimize their impact on our lives.
About the Author
Susan W. Kieffer is a professor emerita of geology at the University of Illinois and a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant. She is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Kieffer hosts a popular blog called Geology in Motion. She lives on Whidbey Island, Washington.
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