Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When my "Thumb Drives" Wobble!

I have always had a fascination with earthquakes and geology even as a young lad. I lived in California over half of my life so I have personally experienced more than a few first-hand brushes with the relentless power that can be unleashed by nature. The interesting thing however, is only with the advent of the computer revolution and the rapid decline in cost of solid state storage and memory can ‘non geo-geeks’ actually start to grasp the true massive nature of recent quakes.

While Haiti’s earthquake was a powerful jolt, the problems there were exacerbated due to decades old poverty and largely unsuccessful governance. I could not tell for sure from a distance, but it appeared the damage was made worse with unreinforced concrete and poor construction, in addition to population density in Port Au Prince. Reports are that between 200,000 and 300,000 people died in the Haiti quake – a staggering number. The effective yield of the energy expended in this event would be equivalent to around a 32 megaton TNT explosion. That is about twice as much energy California’s Northridge earthquake in 1994 and about 1/30th the size of the devastating San Francisco quake of 1906.

Though adequate for a low resolution pictures, it probably has been some time since you associated a large capacity thumb drive with 30 megabytes, but a couple of years ago it was state of the art. Haiti, as bad as it was , in terms of energy dissipation is like a 30 Meg. thumb drive and the San Francisco quake of 1906 would be around the equivalency of a 1 Gigabyte SD card – still fairly small by modern computer portable storage standards.

Now fast forward to Concepcion, Chile and their massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake this week. A death toll has yet to be determined but no doubt even with all of Chile’s experience with earthquake preparedness and strict building standards, thousands will still perish. The effective TNT yield of this event would equate to the explosive power of approximately 16 gigatons. This gut-punch was so massive that the EARTH showed measurable “wobble” on its axis as two tectonic plates fought to occupy the same chunk of real estate 22 miles under ground. So back to our computer example, this would be equivalent to a 16 gig SDHC portable storage card – respectable by any standard, but hard to imagine that a seismic event of this size is literally capable of “Earth-shaking” the globe.

Even beyond Elvis, it was back in 1960 that another 'big shake' was felt in Chile and around the world. A modern record of a 9.5 magnitude or 178 gigaton yield quake was recorded that was an incredible 530 times more powerful than the power of the Nagasaki atomic bomb (32 kilotons). Even with our bloated, feature rich operating systems, most of the world’s computers, can function adequately with a 178 gigabyte hard drive on board.

Oddly I suddenly feel the need to run out to Micro Center and buy a 1 Terrabyte hard disk for my computer? Let's hope the earth never feels the urge to unleash a magnitude 10 (1 Terraton yield yet unrecorded by man)seismic event. Just thinking about that terrifyingly raw explosive power makes my knees, head, and yes even my Frisco-quake sized THUMB drives start to REALLY wobble!

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