Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes

Waking the Giant: How a changing climate triggers earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes

by Bill McGuire
     
 

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Twenty thousand years ago our planet was an icehouse. Temperatures were down six degrees; ice sheets kilometres thick buried much of Europe and North America and sea levels were 130m lower. The following 15 millennia saw an astonishing transformation as our planet metamorphosed into the temperate world upon which our civilisation has grown and thrived. One of the

Overview

Twenty thousand years ago our planet was an icehouse. Temperatures were down six degrees; ice sheets kilometres thick buried much of Europe and North America and sea levels were 130m lower. The following 15 millennia saw an astonishing transformation as our planet metamorphosed into the temperate world upon which our civilisation has grown and thrived. One of the most dynamic periods in Earth history saw rocketing temperatures melt the great ice sheets like butter on a hot summer's day; feeding torrents of freshwater into ocean basins that rapidly filled to present levels. The removal of the enormous weight of ice at high latitudes caused the crust to bounce back triggering earthquakes in Europe and North America and provoking an unprecedented volcanic outburst in Iceland. A giant submarine landslide off the coast of Norway sent a tsunami crashing onto the Scottish coast while around the margins of the continents the massive load exerted on the crust by soaring sea levels encouraged a widespread seismic and volcanic rejoinder.

In many ways, this post-glacial world mirrors that projected to arise as a consequence of unmitigated climate change driven by human activities. Already there are signs that the effects of climbing global temperatures are causing the sleeping giant to stir once again. Could it be that we are on track to bequeath to our children and their children not only a far hotter world, but also a more geologically fractious one?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Featured in SIAM News.

Publishers Weekly
McGuire (Seven Years to Save the Planet), a professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, has written a dry but enthralling overview of how climate affects the geophysical world, and vice versa. From the recent volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull to epic landslides triggered by increased rainfall, McGuire reminds us that climate change will have far-reaching consequences on more than the Earth’s temperature. He provides a solid critical foundation for current climate projections, noting the difference between the scientific and popular narratives of climate change. The ancient shorelines of centuries past are as important to understanding the careful balance of weather and geology as the stress that increased sea levels have on underwater faults. McGuire catalogues past disasters in detail, including the Tambora eruption of 1815; the Lakagigar flood basalt eruption of 1783–1784; the Basel quake of 1356, and others. These serve as guideposts, rather than evidence of future activity, given that the book is a polemical examination of the earth’s interdependent systems, one in which the future is more rife with natural mayhem than the relative peacefulness of the present. Despite its heavy-handed scene-setting, the book will satisfy doomsday eschatologists and curious Earth lovers interested in what the future holds. (Apr.)
Library Journal
McGuire (geophysical & climate hazards, Univ. Coll. London; A Guide to the End of the World: Everything You Never Wanted To Know) summarizes the science behind the theory that climate change will dramatically increase the number of earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. Global warming is causing glaciers and ice fields to melt rapidly, shifting enormous weight from land to sea. Less weight on land causes a rebound effect in the earth, resulting in earthquakes. The increased weight of water in the oceans, called loading, can result in increased volcanic eruptions and earthquakes along coasts. McGuire details past massive underwater landslides that generated enormous tsunamis and discusses how higher sea levels may increase the frequency of such events. Also, water loading from dams can cause earthquakes, and warmer seas can release gas hydrates, potentially freeing vast amounts of methane and further increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases. McGuire's "giant" is greatly increased geological instability, and he traces the blame directly back to anthropogenic global warming. VERDICT The author succeeds at interpreting complex earth science into compelling reading for a popular audience. Anyone with an interest in climate change, geology, and atmospheric science will enjoy this work.—Jeffrey Beall, Univ. of Colorado Denver Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
Volcanoes can affect our climate, but can our rapidly changing climate trigger volcanic eruptions and destabilize the Earth's crust? McGuire (Geophysical and Climate Hazards/University College London; Global Catastrophes: A Very Short Introduction, 2009, etc.) looks back through geologic time to find correlations between climate change and the frequency of geophysical hazards such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides and tsunamis. After tracking millions of years of geologic history, McGuire outlines how volcanic eruptions and collapses are stimulated by the disappearance of large ice sheets. The ice contained in glaciers redistributes water and its weight throughout the planet, affecting sea level, crust stability and even day length. Isostatic rebound--the Earth "bouncing back" after being buried beneath kilometers of ice--can induce earthquakes in unstable zones. Rising temperatures often translate into increased rainfall, which in turn can increase the incidence of landslides. McGuire's explanations are dense but mostly conversational, and his examples are clear and easy to follow. He also offers understandable comparisons--e.g., ocean levels being lower by "a whisker less than the height of the London Eye Ferris wheel" during the last glaciation. Though the author notes that any change in climate contributing to the recent intense quakes and tsunamis "seems unlikely in the extreme," he predicts that we will experience more geophysical hazards as sea levels continue to rise. McGuire lays a strong foundation for thinking about the impact of global warming on the stability of the Earth's crust.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199678754
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
09/01/2013
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
745,403
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Bill McGuire is an academic, science writer and broadcaster. He is currently Professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at UCL. Bill was a member of the UK Government Natural Hazard Working Group established in January 2005, in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami, and in 2010 a member of the Science Advisory Group in Emergencies (SAGE) addressing the Icelandic volcanic ash problem. His current research focus is the climate forcing of geological hazards. His books include Natural Hazards & Environmental Change, A Guide to the End of the World: Everything you Never Wanted to Know, Surviving Armageddon: Solutions for a Threatened Planet and - most recently - Seven Years to Save the Planet. He presented the BBC Radio 4 series, Disasters in Waiting and Scientists Under Pressure and the End of the World Reports on Channel 5 and Sky News.

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