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Disaster Deferred: A New View of Earthquake Hazards in the New Madrid Seismic Zone

Disaster Deferred: A New View of Earthquake Hazards in the New Madrid Seismic Zone

by Seth Stein


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In the winter of 1811-12, a series of large earthquakes in the New Madrid seismic zone-often incorrectly described as the biggest ever to hit the United States-shook the Midwest. Today the federal government ranks the hazard in the Midwest as high as California's and is pressuring communities to undertake expensive preparations for disaster.

Coinciding with the two-hundredth anniversary of the New Madrid earthquakes, Disaster Deferred revisits these earthquakes, the legends that have grown around them, and the predictions of doom that have followed in their wake. Seth Stein clearly explains the techniques seismologists use to study Midwestern quakes and estimate their danger. Detailing how limited scientific knowledge, bureaucratic instincts, and the media's love of a good story have exaggerated these hazards, Stein calmly debunks the hype surrounding such predictions and encourages the formulation of more sensible, less costly policy. Powered by insider knowledge and an engaging style, Disaster Deferred shows how new geological ideas and data, including those from the Global Positioning System, are painting a very different-and much less frightening-picture of the future.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231151399
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 07/10/2012
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Seth Stein is Deering Professor of Geological Sciences at Northwestern University. He has received the James B. Macelwane Medal of the American Geophysical Union, the George P. Woollard Award of the Geological Society of America, and the Stephan Mueller Medal of the European Geosciences Union. He has also been elected a foreign member of the Academy of Europe and a fellow of the American Geophysical Union and Geological Society of America. He is a coauthor of a widely used seismology textbook, a former editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research, and the founder of Northwestern's Environmental Science program.

Table of Contents

1. Threshold
2. The Day the Earth Stood Still
3. Think or Panic?
4. The Perfect Mess
5. Earthquake!
6. Breakthrough
7. How the Ground Shakes
8. How Earthquakes Work
9. Plate Tectonics Explains (Most) Earthquakes
10. Earthquakes That Shouldn't Happen
11. What's Going on Down There?
12. Guidance from Heaven
13. Faults Turning On and Off
14. More Dangerous than California?
15. Chemotherapy for a Cold
16. What to Do?
Further Reading and Sources

What People are Saying About This

Orrin Pilkey

Seth Stein thoughtfully recognizes the painful decisions that various politicians and emergency managers must make, and he provides realistic descriptions of various types of bureaucracies and scientific specialties, without rancor. A must-read for all involved in such issues.

Orrin Pilkey, Duke University, author of Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future

Jonathan Weiner

'Sacred cows make the best hamburger,' as the saying goes. In Disaster Deferred, Seth Stein takes on one of the sacred cows of geology-the story of the Midwest's New Madrid fault-and argues that estimates of earthquake risk along the fault have been greatly exaggerated. Along the way, Stein gives readers a taste of what it is like to do science. He tells his tale with care, passion, and the kind of humor that seems just right for a geologist—crusty and bluff.

Jonathan Weiner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time

Stephen Marshak

Seth Stein's book is fun to read and has a compelling story to tell. There is no book quite like it out there.

Stephen Marshak, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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