Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bill McGuire's "Waking the Giant"

Bill McGuire is an academic, science writer and broadcaster. He is currently Professor of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London. 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 UK government’s Science Advisory Group in Emergencies (SAGE) addressing the Icelandic volcanic ash problem. In 2011, he was one of the authors of the IPCC report on climate change and extreme events. His books include A Guide to the End of the World: Everything you Never Wanted to Know, Surviving Armageddon: Solutions for a Threatened Planet and Seven Years to Save the Planet. His latest book is Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes. McGuire 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. He has also contributed to countless other television and radio programmes and was consultant for the lauded BBC Horizon films; Supervolcanoes and Megatsunami -Wave of Destruction, as well as for the BBC drama, Supervolcano. He lives in the English Peak District with his wife Anna, sons Jake (3) and Fraser (8), and cats Dave and Toby.

McGuire applied the “Page 99 Test” to Waking the Giant and reported the following:
The notion expounded in my new book - Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes - that climate change is capable of stirring up the solid Earth, is not new and supporting evidence is huge. Much of this comes from the post-glacial period of the last 20,000 years, when our world flipped from a frigid wasteland to the broadly clement planet we know today. This extraordinary metamorphosis saw the transfer of an extraordinary 52 million cubic kilometres of water from the decaying continental ice sheets into the ocean basins. As the great ice sheets vanished and the huge loads exerted on the crust beneath were relieved, so faults were able to move more easily and long-closed escape routes for magma were opened up again. Canada and Scandinavia were wracked by massive quakes of a size we see today around the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, while in Iceland, the level of volcanic activity was boosted 30 – 50 times.

But there was another effect too, which was far more widespread, and which forms the focus of page 99. As global sea levels rose by 130m, bending of the crust around the ocean margins increased the frequency of earthquakes on coastal faults like California’s San Andreas, and at the same time forced magma out of volcanoes located close to the ocean. Page 99 examines this latter effect in the strange antics of Pavlof volcano. Hidden away in deepest Alaska, Pavlof is a fussy volcano that prefers to erupt between September and December. The reason for this seems to be that at this time of the year, local wind patterns act to drive up adjacent sea levels adjacent by around 17cm – about the span of an outstretched hand. The extra load exerted by this small rise is sufficient to bend the crust under the volcano so as to squeeze out available magma like toothpaste out of a tube.

Pavlof’s behaviour provides just one example of several addressed in the book that illustrates how sensitive many potentially hazardous geological systems are to miniscule changes in their environment. With global average temperatures on track to climb by 4°C by the century’s end, and sea levels predicted to be 1-2m higher, Pavlof’s antics may, therefore, be just the forerunners of a more ubiquitous geological response to anthropogenic climate change.
Learn more about the book and author at Bill McGuire's website.

Waking the Giant is one of Fred Pearce's top ten eco-books.

--Marshal Zeringue