New York is America’s Next Major Quake (Revelation 6)

America’s Next Big Quake
Doug Fabrizio
The devastation wrought in Mexico City by a recent massive earthquake may have rattled more than a few nerves along the Wasatch Front. Salt Lake City is, of course, overdue for a significant seismic event. So are other places in the United States, such as Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest, even New York City. In a new book, science writer Kathryn Miles tours the country in search of the latest research on America’s next big earthquake and what’s being done to address the threat. She joins us Wednesday to talk about it.
Kathryn Miles is the author of several books, including her newest, Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake [Independent bookstores|Amazon|Audible].
Learn more about predicting earthquakes in Utah and how well the state’s buildings could stand-up to a great shake from KUER’s news team.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan about to default

Nuclear-armed Pakistan reaches for IMF loan to avoid default

Officials and analysts say nuclear-armed and cash-strapped Pakistan will impose billions in new taxes to help secure a massive bailout, but they warned the move could cause inflation to escalate

  • By MUNIR AHMED – Associated Press

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Cash-strapped and nuclear-armed Pakistan will impose new taxes of 170 billion rupees this month in a bid for massive bailout, officials and analysts said Monday, even as they warned the new taxes could accelerate the country’s spiraling inflation.

The dire outlook from economists and political analysts comes after the International Monetary Fund delayed the release of a crucial $1.1 billion portion of a 2019 deal worth $6 billion, on hold since December over Pakistan’s failure to meet the terms. The latest round of the talks between Pakistan and the IMF concluded Friday with the fund recommending steps including imposing new taxes.

“The imposition of more taxes means tough days are ahead for the majority of the people in Pakistan who are already facing higher food and energy costs, but there is no other way out if Pakistan needs the IMF loans, and Pakistan desperately needs it,” said Ehtisham-ul-Haq, a veteran economist.

The stalemate in talks between IMF and Pakistan was seen as a blow to the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who is struggling to avoid a default amid a worsening economic crisis and a surge in militant violence. Pakistan already is struggling with the recovery from record-breaking floods, which killed 1,739 people in summer 2022 and destroyed 2 million homes.

In January, dozens of countries and international institutions at a U.N.-backed conference in Geneva pledged more than $9 billion to help Pakistan recover and rebuild from devastating summer floods, but economists and Pakistani officials say those funds will be given for the projects, and not in cash.

Since then, Pakistani Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has said that his experts were preparing to impose additional taxes and slash subsidies on electricity, gas and more to meet the deal’s terms.

Haq, the economist, said Pakistan’s inflation rate of 26% will jump to 40% after the imposition of new taxes. But, he said in an interview, “life will become more difficult for the common man if Pakistan fails to revive the IMF bailout without any further delay.”

Officials say several friendly countries like China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had assured Sharif’s government that they will financially help Islamabad — but they too wanted Pakistan to complete the 2019 IMF program.

Imtiaz Gul, a senior Pakistani political analyst, said Sharif’s government is likely to raise taxes on those who are already paying taxes.

“There is a need to broaden the tax base,” he said, but raising taxes “will trigger an increase in the prices of all essential items.”

The government insists that it will impose new taxes in such a way that poor people are not affected. The new taxes will be imposed on those who can afford to pay additional taxes to save the economy, the government said.

Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen to slightly over $2 billion. That’s enough only to pay for imports for 10 days. Officials say Pakistan’s talks with IMF will resume virtually later Monday or Tuesday. Sharif last week warned that Pakistan would have difficulty complying with the IMF’s conditions.

Sharif’s predecessor, Imran Khan — now the opposition leader since his ouster through April’s no-confidence in Parliament — has been warning that Pakistan could face a Sri Lanka-like situation because of the deepening economic crisis. He has publicly warned that Pakistan could be blackmailed by the world community over the country’s nuclear program if Pakistan defaults in the near future.

Khan insists his government was ousted under a U.S. plot, a charge Washington denies.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

China Horn has 550 nuclear weapons in the next 5 years: Daniel 7

China’s Nuclear : China has 550 nuclear weapons in the next 5 years; Competition with America Pipa News

February 14, 2023

China’s Nuclear : China has 550 nuclear weapons in the next 5 years; Competition with America

Washington; News Agency: China plans to increase its nuclear power in the face of steadily deteriorating relations with the US. The blueprint prepared by the People’s Liberation Army has been approved by President Xi Jinping. By 2027, China will have 550 nuclear weapons in its arsenal. At present this number is 350. Further, by 2035, China will increase its nuclear arsenal to 900. (China’s Nuclear)

“Kyodo News” has reported about this, and according to the report, China can drop a nuclear bomb on any country in a war situation, going against the global policy of “No First Use” regarding nuclear weapons. China will meet its goal of 550 nuclear warheads by 2027, marking the centenary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, with the remaining 350 by 2035. (China’s Nuclear)

When Russia declared war against Ukraine, NATO could not invade Russia despite its desire. Saying that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is the main reason behind it, Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of nuclear weapons in the month of November last year. (China’s Nuclear)

South Korean Horn’s Nuclear Flirtations Highlight the Growing Risks of Allied Proliferation

South Korea’s Nuclear Flirtations Highlight the Growing Risks of Allied Proliferation


  • FEBRUARY 13, 2023

Source: Getty

Summary:  Yoon’s comments have fueled a debate in Washington over how to handle a problem that policymakers cannot wish away.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s January comments about his country possibly acquiring nuclear weapons adds to the mounting nuclear dangers in Asia. Though he subsequently walked back his statement, the underlying motives and risks remain that South Korea could one day decide to go nuclear.

Yoon’s nuclear threat also fueled a debate among security experts in Washington about how to respond. Many nonproliferation analysts highlighted the rarity of national leaders making public allusions to acquiring nuclear weapons and argued that the United States needs to remind South Korea of its commitments not to do so. Others highlighted the dangers of a rising tide of “nuclear populism” that is driving South Korea’s nuclear discourse. Conversely, some analysts argued that there is little the United States can do to prevent an inevitable South Korean weapon and that it is better to reduce U.S. extended deterrence commitments in conflicts that exceed vital U.S. interests. A few go even further and suggest that Washington should welcome or even facilitate a nuclear-armed Seoul.

Eric Brewer

Eric Brewer is deputy vice president at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and has served on the National Security Council and National Intelligence Council.

This debate indicates a very unsettled dynamic that American and other policymakers cannot wish away or ignore. Yoon’s comments may simply be the leading edge of a trend in nuclear flirtations by U.S. allies and partners.

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the United States has sought to stem the spread of nuclear weapons to adversaries and allies alike. This policy aims partly to preserve the U.S. nuclear advantage and to reduce the potential that nuclear weapons are used, which many experts judge increases if more states acquire them. Over the past few decades, the major proliferation fear has been about rogue actors: North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, or potentially terrorist groups. The United States and the international community developed a policy tool kit to address these threats, including sanctions, technology denial, and even cyber and military attacks on nuclear facilities. Today, however, an increasing proliferation risk comes from U.S. allies and partners worried about their security and the credibility of U.S. commitments to their defense.

Toby Dalton

Dalton is the co-director and a senior fellow of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment. An expert on nonproliferation and nuclear energy, his work addresses regional security challenges and the evolution of the global nuclear order.

The last time the United States faced serious allied proliferation risks was roughly forty years ago. In the 1960s and 1970s, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, West Germany, and other allies and partners considered or pursued nuclear weapons. The United States used several strategies to keep those ambitions in check: pressing for their commitment to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and abstention from ever developing nuclear weapons; providing, and alternatively threatening to withhold, commercial nuclear technology; and, perhaps most importantly, offering security guarantees and other defense commitments. In effect, Washington pledged to use its military might, including nuclear weapons, in defense of many of these allies so they didn’t need to develop their own. These arrangements were part of a clearly conditional bargain. In return for help with civil nuclear power programs and security commitments, allies and partners would eschew nuclear weapons development.

Now, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s military expansion and aggressive posturing, and North Korea’s nuclear expansion are changing allied threat perceptions, especially in Asia. These come on the heels of the Trump administration’s extortionate approach to alliances, which seriously damaged U.S. credibility, and which allies worry could re-emerge in a future U.S. administration. In the Middle East, Iran’s nuclear progress and its destabilizing activities—combined with fears of U.S. abandonment—are driving similar fears.

South Korea is exhibit A for the effects of these developments. Popular support for nuclear weapons there hovers around 70 percent. Over time, public discussion of developing nuclear weapons has moved from the political fringes to the mainstream, especially among conservative politicians and defense experts. In addition to South Korea’s advanced nuclear energy infrastructure, in recent years Seoul has invested in longer-range and more sophisticated conventional missile capabilities that could also be used for nuclear delivery.  These capabilities may be what Yoon had in mind when he said that, if Seoul decided to do so, its “science and technology” would allow South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons “sooner rather than later.”

Until now, no South Korean president has talked about developing nuclear weapons as explicitly as Yoon. His comments—conditional on “problems” from North Korea becoming “more serious”—may have been intended to warn Pyongyang, appease pro-nuclear factions in his political party, or pressure Washington to provide Seoul with a larger role in the nuclear element of extended deterrence. Whatever his intent, they also threaten the very bargain that undergirds U.S. security guarantees.

The United States and South Korea have a shared interest in strengthening the alliance, adapting it to the evolving North Korean threat and broader challenges in the Indo-Pacific. To that end, the Biden administration has been actively working with South Korea, Japan, and other allies and partners to adjust military postures, including U.S. nuclear posture, to address the changing landscape and concerns about U.S. security commitments.

But disagreements about how to accomplish these adjustments—which are inevitable between allies—are best worked out behind the scenes. Yoon’s implicit threat that South Korea will seek nuclear weapons if the United States doesn’t provide what South Korea wants risks undermining the trust that acts as the glue in the alliance. It makes the assurance problem much harder to manage for both the United States and South Korea. It could also inadvertently become a self-fulfilling prophecy: Seoul’s loose proliferation talk may drive more U.S. politicians to believe that South Korea doesn’t need U.S. troops or the alliance.

Even if South Korea opts to withdraw from the NPT and produce nuclear weapons without violating international law, that can’t mitigate a range of other consequences from kicking in—including automatic U.S. sanctions, suspension of international cooperation with Seoul’s nuclear energy program, and a harsh reaction from China most likely in the form of economic sanctions. All of these reactions would further embroil Washington and Seoul and exacerbate strategic anxiety around the world.

Ideally, U.S. policies would both dissuade and reassure allies as a means of preventing further proliferation. “Maximum pressure” tactics aren’t politically realistic, will not work, and could further stimulate pro-nuclear inclinations among allies. Moreover, in an era of strategic competition, it is in the U.S. interest to sustain robust alliances. Yet maintaining the current rules-based system also means continuing efforts to restrain proliferation. To that end, it is time for Washington to update its nonproliferation policies with allies and partners in mind.


    Accordingly, the United States must craft new approaches to managing allies’ security in return for their continued promise not to seek nuclear weapons. For instance, Washington and Seoul together should flesh out a military concept of tighter integration between stronger allied conventional military capabilities alongside U.S. conventional and nuclear capabilities to align threat perceptions and better deal with probable escalation scenarios. Forthcoming military tabletop exercises are the perfect opportunity to work out this concept. In addition, it can institute new communications mechanisms that ensure allies have both a better understanding of U.S. deterrence planning and decisionmaking and a means to coordinate during a crisis. The hardest part will be repairing the political damage to U.S. credibility wreaked by the Trump administration. Given the deep polarization in U.S. domestic politics, there are no easy solutions here, apart from time and consistent political messaging toward the publics and policy elites in allied states about U.S. commitments.

    As for South Korea, Yoon’s subsequent attempts to reassure the international community that his country doesn’t intend to go nuclear were a positive and necessary step. But the debates about allied nuclear weapons development and how Washington should respond are not going away. U.S. officials should find occasions to publicly and privately remind allies that the assurance bargain is a two-way street: that the United States will do everything within reason to guarantee their security, provided they don’t proliferate.

    End of document

    Carnegie does not take institutional positions on public policy issues; the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Carnegie, its staff, or its trustees.

    The Saudi Horn is Reconsidering Nukes: Daniel 7

    Are the Saudis reconsidering their nuclear posture?


    A rule in journalism is that a response to a question is not a statement of a new government policy. So, what should one make of the comment on Sunday by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud that “if Iran gets an operational nuclear weapon, all bets are off”? Speaking at a conference in Abu Dhabi, he went on: “We are in a very dangerous space in the region. … You can expect that regional states will certainly look towards how they can ensure their own security.”

    His words are very newsworthy, which explains why they were promptly picked up by Reuters and other outlets. But do they amount to a new Saudi policy of matching Iran’s presumed nuclear ambitions, as was suggested by its effective ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2018, when he told CBS News: “Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible”?

    An additional complication for policy analysts trying to work out the exact significance of the Saudi foreign minister’s latest remarks is that the word “operational” lacks definition and the expression “all bets are off” means everything is unpredictable, rather than it has become a certainty. Nevertheless, other factors, historical and recent, suggest the nuclear dimension of Persian Gulf politics is again in flux, at least, given its oil and natural gas resources, adding an additional element of uncertainty to the current and deepening world energy crisis.

    Just last week there was expected to be a possible nuclear angle to the visit of President Xi Jinping of China to Saudi Arabia, where he also attended summits including leaders of the other Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as the wider Arab world. In August 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia had “constructed with Chinese help a facility for extracting uranium yellowcake from uranium ore … [which] has raised concern among U.S. and allied officials that the kingdom’s nascent nuclear program is moving ahead and that Riyadh is keeping open the option of developing nuclear weapons.”

    Officials have been on the alert over the weekend to spot any new nuclear development. After all, there is a backstory. The missiles that China sold Saudi Arabia more than 30 years ago were capable of carrying a nuclear weapon, and the kingdom has close relations with Pakistan, which 40 years ago traded centrifuge enrichment technology for Chinese weapon designs and a couple of warheads’ worth of highly-enriched material.

    How much would China help Saudi Arabia? The answer is unclear. Beijing had its knuckles firmly rapped by Washington for its transactions with Pakistan, being cut off from civil nuclear technology in the 1980s until it recovered its transferred nuclear material from a reluctant Islamabad. But China might be largely a spectator this time, watching while Pakistan plays a larger role. Riyadh is seen by those in the know as having likely been the fourth customer for the proliferator Dr. A.Q. Khan, who was 100 percent blamed for the technology transfers, which also went to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Khan’s co-conspirator, by this account, was the Pakistan Army, which has just appointed a new head, General Asim Munir.

    The Pakistan media, admittedly a wide spectrum of reliability, is speculating that Munir will shortly make a visit to Saudi Arabia. The country is also reportedly seeking a $4.2 billion loan from the kingdom to bolster its dire foreign exchange reserves.To slash emissions, states must pass these five policiesGovernment compulsion: Big Tech’s latest red herring

    It is not only Saudi Arabia that is reconsidering its diplomatic posture. Speaking at the same conference as the Saudi foreign minister, but a day earlier, Anwar Gargash, the diplomatic adviser to President Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), warned European countries that come to the Gulf seeking emergency energy supplies that the engagement should not be “transactional.” More ambiguously he said, referring to the languishing Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Iran nuclear pact: “This is an opportunity for all of us to come and revisit the whole concept.” Unlike its ally Saudi Arabia, the UAE has agreed to a so-called “123 Agreement” with Washington forswearing nuclear enrichment and reprocessing (although such an agreement does have an escape clause).

    Who is the Antichrist? The Iraqi warlord who claims to fight corruption

    Who is Moqtada Al Sadr? The Iraqi warlord who claims to fight corruption

    The cleric rose to prominence organising resistance to US and British forces but has since become a powerful political force

    Robert Tollast

    Radical cleric Moqtada Al Sadr is once again upending Iraqi politics by asking his legion of supporters to occupy the national Parliament for the second time since 2016, this time blocking rival MPs, many aligned to Iran-backed political parties in a coalition called the Co-Ordination Framework, from convening to form government.

    On Monday, the sit-in spurred a counter-protest, largely led by Asaib Ahl Al Haq, a splinter group from the Sadrist movement backed by Iran with a political party aligned to former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki — Mr Al Sadr’s arch rival.

    Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr during a sit-in at a parliament building in Baghdad, Iraq. Reuters

    Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr during a sit-in at a parliament building in Baghdad, Iraq. Reuters 

    The group is widely accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing civilians during Iraq’s civil war and later killing hundreds of protesters in 2019.

    They fought street battles with the Mr Al Sadr’s militia in Baghdad between 2012 and 2014.

    Since then, rivalry has involved assassinations of members from both groups.

    The recent standoff has led to fears of a new civil war — this time Shiite against Shiite.

    Who is Moqtada Al Sadr?

    The cleric has long claimed to fight corruption and oppression, whether that of the Saddam Hussein regime or after 2003, the US.

    Through numerous protests between 2016 and 2020, he aligned his movement with Iraqi Communists and youth protest groups, calling for “a revolution of the oppressed” that could put an end to Iraq’s system of sectarian apportionment in government and usher in public service based on quality rather than identity.

    His father-in-law, revered cleric Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al Sadr, was murdered along with his wife by Iraq’s Baathists and his father, Muhammad Sadiq Al Sadr was shot dead by Baathist agents in 1999, sparking a second Shiite uprising against Saddam.

    This heritage of suffering and religious piety gave him folk hero status among Iraq’s Shiite poor and he inherited a southern network of Sadrists stretching into the slums of Baghdad’s crowded, suburban Saddam City (now Sadr City).

    But is the cleric really an outsider fighting corruption?

    “In the background, Sadrist loyalists have embedded themselves in the bureaucracy. There has been some good reporting on this, on the ‘deep state’ and Sadrist penetration thereof,” says Nicholas Krohley, author of The Death of the Mehdi Army: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Iraq’s Most Powerful Militia.

    Mr Krohley refers to revelations over the years that Mr Al Sadr controls sections of Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity, abusing contracts to raise funds, and controls much of the Ministry of Health, a legacy of when his militia, the Jaish Al Mahdi, took control of it between 2005 and 2007.

    The group was widely accused of committing sectarian murders in hospital wards, selling medicine on the black market and driving away many of Iraq’s talented health workers.

    But Mr Al Sadr has tried to distance himself from this period, disbanding the Jaish Al Mahdi, withdrawing ministers and MPs from government on many occasions as an act of protest against what he deems mainstream political groups — mainly his rivals in Mr Al Maliki’s Dawa party and their Iran-backed allies in the Badr Organisation.

    With the latter group, Mr Al Sadr’s supporters fought a series of bloody gun battles in Karbala in 2007 that left 50 dead.

    But analysts say his outsider image is a mirage.

    In reality, the cleric has always maintained a strong network of supporters in senior government positions.

    When Baghdad’s Ibn Al Khatib hospital caught fire — killing nearly 90 people in a tragedy widely blamed on negligence — Mr Al Sadr’s nominated health minister Hassan Al Tamimi was removed from his post. A health official told The National that the hospital, along with most health facilities in Rusafa, where Sadr City is located, was run by the movement.

    When a similar blaze occurred in July last year, killing 92 people in Nasiriyah, tribal leaders blamed local Sadrists in the health authority, giving them three days to leave the province.

    The cleric has also tried to distance himself from militia crimes during Iraq’s sectarian strife between 2003 and 2008.

    Sensitive to the fact that he reformed his old militia, renamed Saraya Al Salam during the war on ISIS, Mr Al Sadr said he would disband the group in 2017, but they remain active. Their commander Abu Mustafa Al Hamidawi ordered members to be “prepared for any emergency” in Baghdad on July 24.

    Some analysts say Mr Al Sadr only has loose control over this armed group and at least three splinter factions have emerged.

    Hakim Al Zamili, former deputy parliament speaker and deputy minister of health — arrested by the US for running sectarian death squads when working in the Health Ministry, last year said the kidnap and murder strategy his militia used had helped to “defeat terrorism”. Mr Al Zamili recently joined protesters in Iraq’s Parliament.

    Al Sadr again sorry Iran

    To some, the unpredictable Shiite cleric is a useful bulwark against increasingly powerful Iranian-backed political parties.

    Their power soared after 2014 when Mr Al Maliki formalised Iran-backed militias as part of the security services, wrapping them into an umbrella organisation, the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF).

    But it meant that two rival sets of militias — US-listed terrorist organisations such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl Al Haq, as well as a host of smaller groups — were now in the same formation as Saraya Al Salam.

    Bitter disputes over salaries between the groups ensued, at one point leading to the assassination of a government-appointed PMF auditor.

    Now the prize, after 10 months of stalled government formation, is control over Iraqi state resources — Shiite parties lead the competition for everything from PMF salaries and pensions to controlling entire state-owned companies.

    Will there be a new civil war?

    “None of what’s happening is usual, this has been uncharted territory since Sadr pulled his followers [MPs] out of Parliament,” says Omar Al Nidawi, programme director at US NGO Enabling Peace in Iraq Center.

    “Both Sadr and the Co-ordination Framework are taking shots in the dark to see what works. The difference is the Framework seems to be finding it more difficult to agree on a united course of action. This may explain the brief protest on Monday and decision to pull back after ‘delivering the message’.”

    But Mr Al Nidawi is sceptical of the prospect of full-scale war.

    “We’re unlikely to see Co-ordination Framework factions decide they want to take on the Sadrists in an armed conflict.” he says.

    Joel Wing, an analyst who has tracked violence in Iraq since 2008, agrees that Iraq’s intra-Shiite competition now extends beyond Iran’s reach.

    “The driving force in all this escalation is Maliki not Iran. Everyone knows Maliki is an autocrat full of conspiracies who will turn on anyone and use the power of the state,” he says, referring to Mr Al Maliki’s considerable influence behind the scenes in Iraq’s politics.

    But Mr Wing says there will be no winners.

    “Sadr could be just as big a threat to everyone as Maliki was, if he’s in the driver’s seat,” he warns.

    In the long run, “time is on Moqtada’s side”, Mr Krohley says. He notes Iraq’s rapidly growing population which swells the ranks of unemployed with each year of government failure.

    This will always boost the appeal of Mr Al Sadr’s populist brand, he says.

    “It’s demographics. The Sadrist base keeps growing in Iraq, in absolute and relative terms. No other political faction has had any luck in peeling away meaningful numbers of Sadrist followers. The ‘resistance’ IRGC-linked PMF types have utterly failed. So, Moqtada still sits at the head of what is, and seems very likely to remain, the dominant political force in Iraq.”

    Updated: August 02, 2022, 10:18 AM

    Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake: Revelation 6

    Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake

    Roger BilhamQuakeland: New York and the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

    Given recent seismic activity — political as well as geological — it’s perhaps unsurprising that two books on earthquakes have arrived this season. One is as elegant as the score of a Beethoven symphony; the other resembles a diary of conversations overheard during a rock concert. Both are interesting, and both relate recent history to a shaky future.

    Journalist Kathryn Miles’s Quakeland is a litany of bad things that happen when you provoke Earth to release its invisible but ubiquitous store of seismic-strain energy, either by removing fluids (oil, water, gas) or by adding them in copious quantities (when extracting shale gas in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, or when injecting contaminated water or building reservoirs). To complete the picture, she describes at length the bad things that happen during unprovoked natural earthquakes. As its subtitle hints, the book takes the form of a road trip to visit seismic disasters both past and potential, and seismologists and earthquake engineers who have first-hand knowledge of them. Their colourful personalities, opinions and prejudices tell a story of scientific discovery and engineering remedy.

    Miles poses some important societal questions. Aside from human intervention potentially triggering a really damaging earthquake, what is it actually like to live in neighbourhoods jolted daily by magnitude 1–3 earthquakes, or the occasional magnitude 5? Are these bumps in the night acceptable? And how can industries that perturb the highly stressed rocks beneath our feet deny obvious cause and effect? In 2015, the Oklahoma Geological Survey conceded that a quadrupling of the rate of magnitude-3 or more earthquakes in recent years, coinciding with a rise in fracking, was unlikely to represent a natural process. Miles does not take sides, but it’s difficult for the reader not to.

    She visits New York City, marvelling at subway tunnels and unreinforced masonry almost certainly scheduled for destruction by the next moderate earthquake in the vicinity. She considers the perils of nuclear-waste storage in Nevada and Texas, and ponders the risks to Idaho miners of rock bursts — spontaneous fracture of the working face when the restraints of many million years of confinement are mined away. She contemplates the ups and downs of the Yellowstone Caldera — North America’s very own mid-continent supervolcano — and its magnificently uncertain future. Miles also touches on geothermal power plants in southern California’s Salton Sea and elsewhere; the vast US network of crumbling bridges, dams and oil-storage farms; and the magnitude 7–9 earthquakes that could hit California and the Cascadia coastline of Oregon and Washington state this century. Amid all this doom, a new elementary school on the coast near Westport, Washington, vulnerable to inbound tsunamis, is offered as a note of optimism. With foresight and much persuasion from its head teacher, it was engineered to become an elevated safe haven.

    Miles briefly discusses earthquake prediction and the perils of getting it wrong (embarrassment in New Madrid, Missouri, where a quake was predicted but never materialized; prison in L’Aquila, Italy, where scientists failed to foresee a devastating seismic event) and the successes of early-warning systems, with which electronic alerts can be issued ahead of damaging seismic waves. Yes, it’s a lot to digest, but most of the book obeys the laws of physics, and it is a engaging read. One just can’t help wishing that Miles’s road trips had taken her somewhere that wasn’t a disaster waiting to happen.

    Catastrophic damage in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1964, caused by the second-largest earthquake in the global instrumental record.

    In The Great Quake, journalist Henry Fountain provides us with a forthright and timely reminder of the startling historical consequences of North America’s largest known earthquake, which more than half a century ago devastated southern Alaska. With its epicentre in Prince William Sound, the 1964 quake reached magnitude 9.2, the second largest in the global instrumental record. It released more energy than either the 2004 Sumatra–Andaman earthquake or the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off Japan; and it generated almost as many pages of scientific commentary and description as aftershocks. Yet it has been forgotten by many.

    The quake was scientifically important because it occurred at a time when plate tectonics was in transition from hypothesis to theory. Fountain expertly traces the theory’s historical development, and how the Alaska earthquake was pivotal in nailing down one of the most important predictions. The earthquake caused a fjordland region larger than England to subside, and a similarly huge region of islands offshore to rise by many metres; but its scientific implications were not obvious at the time. Eminent seismologists thought that a vertical fault had slipped, drowning forests and coastlines to its north and raising beaches and islands to its south. But this kind of fault should have reached the surface, and extended deep into Earth’s mantle. There was no geological evidence of a monster surface fault separating these two regions, nor any evidence for excessively deep aftershocks. The landslides and liquefied soils that collapsed houses, and the tsunami that severely damaged ports and infrastructure, offered no clues to the cause.

    “Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about present-day vulnerability.” The hero of The Great Quake is the geologist George Plafker, who painstakingly mapped the height reached by barnacles lifted out of the intertidal zone along shorelines raised by the earthquake, and documented the depths of drowned forests. He deduced that the region of subsidence was the surface manifestation of previously compressed rocks springing apart, driving parts of Alaska up and southwards over the Pacific Plate. His finding confirmed a prediction of plate tectonics, that the leading edge of the Pacific Plate plunged beneath the southern edge of Alaska along a gently dipping thrust fault. That observation, once fully appreciated, was applauded by the geophysics community.

    Fountain tells this story through the testimony of survivors, engineers and scientists, interweaving it with the fascinating history of Alaska, from early discovery by Europeans to purchase from Russia by the United States in 1867, and its recent development. Were the quake to occur now, it is not difficult to envisage that with increased infrastructure and larger populations, the death toll and price tag would be two orders of magnitude larger than the 139 fatalities and US$300-million economic cost recorded in 1964.

    What is clear from these two books is that seismicity on the North American continent is guaranteed to deliver surprises, along with unprecedented economic and human losses. Previous earthquakes provide clear guidance about the present-day vulnerability of US infrastructure and populations. Engineers and seismologists know how to mitigate the effects of future earthquakes (and, in mid-continent, would advise against the reckless injection of waste fluids known to trigger earthquakes). It is merely a matter of persuading city planners and politicians that if they are tempted to ignore the certainty of the continent’s seismic past, they should err on the side of caution when considering its seismic future.