Thursday, April 15, 2010

Qinghai Quake

I was sad to hear yesterday that China has endured another earthquake in its mountainous west. Thankfully, this quake appears to be nowhere near as devastating as the Sichuan quake in '08. Saying that, this is still a huge tragedy and a major disaster.

Over the past day or so, several people have asked me about the area that was hit. They asked if it was close to Xi'an and if Qian's family is OK. Qinghai is not at all close to Xi'an and Qian's family is fine.

I just did a quick search for some information about Yushu and Xining and found this video. It is pretty well done. (The embed doesn't seem to be working. You can view it here.)

Another topic we discussed at work was the amount of large-scale earthquakes that we've seen already in 2010. Is this all bad luck? What's going on with all of these quakes?

MSNBC addressed this in an article today:
As the numbers of buried or dead continue to climb from today's 6.9-magnitude earthquake in China, an event so close on the heels of the devastating Chile and Haiti earthquakes, you might wonder if Earth is shaking more lately. Perhaps, scientists say, but not unusually so.

Seismic activity may be higher in recent years than the long-term average, but it's still not out of the normal range, the experts contend.

"Relative to the 20-year period from the mid-1970's to the mid 1990's, the Earth has been more active over the past 15 or so years," said Stephen S. Gao, a geophysicist at Missouri University of Science & Technology. "We still do not know the reason for this yet. Could simply be the natural temporal variation of the stress field in the Earth's lithosphere." (The lithosphere is the outer solid part of the Earth.)


"What happens is when a lot of people get killed there's a lot of reporting of it, and if an equally big event occurs somewhere out in the middle of nowhere it doesn’t attract the attention," said G. Randy Keller, professor of geophysics at the University of Oklahoma.


If you look at it globally the occurrence of earthquakes is confined to zones we already know have earthquakes but it's a largely random process and so sometimes it's a little quieter than normal and sometimes it's a little more active than normal. But it doesn't mean anything, because on a global basis these things aren't connected," Keller said.

Read the Whole Article
Much of China is vulnerable to active fault lines and these kinds of quakes, as the article says, aren't surprising. In fact, the deadliest earthquake in the history of man took place in 1556AD near Xi'an in Shaanxi Province. The quake killed more than 800,000 people.

Chinese people certainly aren't "used to" earthquakes though. I remember the weeks and months after the Sichuan earthquake being a very tense time. People slept outside in tents, there were constant rumors of bigger quakes "working their way up from Sichuan Province towards Xi'an," and a general level of irrationality that I felt rivaled the weeks that followed 9/11/01 in the United States.

Let's hope that China as a whole handles this tragedy well and, more importantly, those who need help right now can get it.


Anonymous said...

A quake killing 800,000 in 1556 is pretty amazing considering there certainly weren't highrise buildings and large superstructures like bridges and highways back then.

I know a big discussion that always surrounds the massive dam building projects in China concerns the possibility of more quakes occuring. This appears to be a global phenomenon though and I'll take comfort that the experts tell us its not too far out of the normal frequency range.

Ramesh said...

China is reacting to it as only China can. On the good side is brilliant mobilisation and nothing being spared for the search and rescue. With a single minded focus and organised superbly the rescue effort is probably one of the best that can happen. People react with great credit - voluntary donations pouring in; people wanting to volunteer to help etc etc. This gives a great reaffirmation of the wonders of the human spirit; its unfortunate that a tragedy brings this out more vividly than day to day life.

On the not so good side is also a typical Chinese reaction -ban journalists from going there; ban reporting of the disaster through any channel other than the official news, censor reports, and the whole usual rigmarole we are very used to.

Mark said...

@Hopfrog - I've read somewhere that a large factor in so many people dying in that 1556 quake was the population at that time largely living in caves. Caves obviously aren't going to be good places to be during earthquakes. Somewhat surprisingly, people in northern Shaanxi still live in caves, some decked out pretty nicely.

@Ramesh - That is a nice summary. The Chinese people stepping up big-time and the powers that be locking everything down.

Anonymous said...

Ah, makes sense about the caves, and I should have thought of it.

Off topic. There is a fantastic episode of Man Made Marvels (on Science HD??? thats what the logo said, maybe it was Discovery) that is all about Xian. A must see.

You mentioned you might do a review of Country Driving I would like to read that. I just finished Oracle Bones and Country Driving. The whole trilogy is an amazing look at a young man's decade in China from a deer in the headlights who couldn't speak a lick of Chinese, to a guy confident enough to drive to Inner Mongolia and camp along the Great Wall.

Not a bad book in the trio. I don't think I have ever learned so much from a narrative as I did in reading Oracle Bones. So much fascinating stuff in there about the birth of the Chinese written language and the Bronze artifacts. In Country Driving, the section on Sancha may be some of Hessler's best stuff. I found myself completely in awe of what village life in China is like.

Hessler does such a great job as a narrative writer that it feels like he was able to cram the whole decade into 3 books and I kept wondering to myself, man, it must take him forever to keep up with all the emails and phone calls that he must get from all the friends he has made in China.

Mark said...

I'll definitely look for that Man-Made Marvels. I'd love to see a Xi'an-based program.

I'd like to review Country Driving. I've already repeatedly expressed my admiration for Hessler though. I'm not sure I have anything else to say. We'll see.

I agree with you on Oracle Bones. The general consensus I get is that most people think River Town is his best book. Personally, I was just floored with Oracle Bones. More so than from either of his other two. It is just wonderful.

Hessler must significant amounts of time keeping up with his old students and friends. Impressive.

I just read a book you'd like, Hopfrog. "Wild Grass" by Ian Johnson. Very different from Hessler, but at the same time they do share some similarities. You'll dig it.

I'm reading "Factory Girls" by Leslie Chang (Hessler's wife... this well-written couple is dominating my life...) right now. It's great so far.

Anonymous said...

Here is the link for the show

It will probably run again soon, I'd keep checking that link because it was the best piece on Xian I have seen. It wasn't about the usual stuff like the Terracotta and Qin, but was all about the 3 megacities that have been destroyed and rebuilt on top of each other over the centuries. Ancient Xian makes the Forbidden City look like a quaint little Hutong.

Anonymous said...

Actually, here it is on Youtube if your don't wanna wait.

Mark said...

Excellent show, Hopfrog! It inspired a new post!