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Cover image for The million death quake : the science of predicting Earth's deadliest natural disaster
The million death quake : the science of predicting Earth's deadliest natural disaster
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Physical Description:
xiii, 255 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Hotspots and rogue earthquakes -- Problems. Screaming cities ; What is an earthquake, anyway? ; Journey to the center of the Earth ; Tracking the unseen ; How big? How strong? ; The wave that shook the world -- Solutions. Prevention and cure ; Next year's earthquakes ; Twenty-five seconds for Bucharest ; Earthquakes don't kill people, buildings do ; The probability of disaster ; Stay safe.
"People have weeks of warning prior to volcanic eruptions, days of warning before a blizzard, and hours of warning before tornadoes. But there is still no warning system at all for earthquakes, though they have killed millions, and millions more live in constant danger from them. In The Million Death Quake, British Geological Survey seismologist Roger Musson takes us on a riveting journey through earthquakes. After making plain the science behind quakes, he tackles how engineers are fighting to make our cities "earthquake-proof" and seismologists are searching for the sign hidden in nature that could be interpreted as a warning. Highlighting hotspots around the world from Bucharest to the Azores, and with the massive Haiti & Japan earthquakes still in recent memory, this is a fascinating exploration of the strangest and most violent of natural disasters"-- Provided by publisher.


Call Number
551.22 Musson 2012

On Order



For centuries, Californians and the Japanese have known that they were at risk of catastrophic earthquakes, and prepared accordingly. But when a violent 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti in 2010, hardly anyone knew the island nation was even at risk for disaster, and, tragically, no one was prepared. Over 300,000 people died as buildings that had never been designed to withstand such intense shaking toppled over and crushed their inhabitants. Now, scientists warn that it won't be long before a single, catastrophic quake kills one million people - and that it is going to strike right where we least expect it. In this groundbreaking book, renowned seismologist with the British Geological Survey Roger Musson takes us on an exhilarating journey to explore what scientists and engineers are doing to prepare us for the worst. With riveting tales of the scientists who first cracked the mystery of what causes the ground to violently shake, Musson makes plain the powerful geological forces drivingearthquakes and tsunamis, and shows how amazing feats of engineering are making our cities earthquake-proof. Highlighting hotspots around the world from Mexico City to New York this is a compelling scientific adventure into nature at its fiercest.

Author Notes

Roger Musson is the Head of Seismic Hazard and Archives at the British Geological Survey, where he is the chief spokesman to the media after any major earthquake, including The Guardian , T he Sunday Post , and The Telegraph . He has written op-eds for The New York Times , is a regular contributor to Fortean Times , and was interviewed by Time magazine after the Haiti earthquake. He has appeared on a variety of documentaries, including the National Geographic Channel. Musson is also on the editorial board for the Journal of Seismology, the Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering, and Natural Hazards. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Could the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 have been predicted and 300,000 deaths prevented? Answering this pressing question with an informative but lackluster study, seismologist and geologist Musson says that prediction is still a challenge, but preventing deaths is within our reach. "Earthquakes don't kill people, buildings do" is one chapter title. As cities grow into megacities with cheaply constructed buildings, the odds of a million-death earthquake increase. Musson explains the geological forces that cause earthquakes and the three criteria for measuring the risk of damage: hazard, the chance that shaking will occur in a given place; exposure, how much can be damaged from an earthquake; and vulnerability, a measure of how strong or weak buildings are in the stricken area. As cities continue to grow, planners must consider how buildings are constructed. Musson offers suggestions on how a building's shape (irregular rather than square), materials (lighter rather than heavier), and engineering (testing design ideas with "artificial" earthquakes) can make it less likely to cause deaths. Musson counsels that it is everyone's responsibility to prepare to respond by, for instance, knowing to turn gas off and remain outdoors and away from buildings after an earthquake. Illus. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

A British seismologist explains earthquakes. The rumbling and shaking of earthquakes puzzled people for centuries, writes Musson, chief spokesman at the British Geological Survey. Aristotle blamed the noise on roaring winds forced through subterranean caverns. The people of Lisbon, Portugal, racked by a massive quake in 1755, felt certain God was punishing the wicked. Shortly thereafter, working with limited data, scientists began to develop an understanding: British geologist John Michell posited that earthquakes transmitted on elastic waves; his colleague Charles Lyell found evidence of moving faults. Based on observations of the archetypal San Francisco quake of 1906, Johns Hopkins geologist Harry Fielding Reid accurately defined an earthquake as a violent movement of rocks that releases energy in the form of waves that spread outward at high velocity. Musson describes the evolving science of seismology, including the development of today's global seismological networks. Analyzing the most significant earthquakes of all time--Lisbon, San Francisco and Sumatra (2004)--he explains what we know about these "strange and uncanny things" and scientists' "persistent failure" at predicting them. Based on the growing population of urban areas, especially in developing nations, where buildings are not designed to withstand violent shaking, scientists are able to predict that a massive future quake will eventually result in 1 million deaths. In villages in seismically active areas, builders generally use available materials and follow traditional practices, which can lead to high death tolls. In earthquake-savvy cities, builders prevent collapses through reinforcement and other techniques. Musson urges national governments to mandate earthquake safety programs. In the meantime, he writes, the safest place to be during a quake is under a solid piece of furniture. An authoritative and accessible investigation of one of nature's most destructive forces.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

In the annals of Earth's natural history, the deadliest earthquake on record hit Shaanxi, China in 1556 and killed an estimated 830,000 people, whereas the death toll of the 2010 Haiti quake topped 316,000. Yet according to noted British seismologist Musson, near-future casualties could easily surpass a million if decisive safety measures aren't taken, especially in populous urban areas along earthquake hot zones. Musson provides a lay-reader-friendly guide to seismology fundamentals, from early theories about earthquake origins to the workings of contemporary plate tectonics, before weighing the value of what he terms the 4 P's prayer, prevention, prediction, protection. Alas, prayer is the least effective in mitigating harm as crushed Lisbon churchgoers belatedly discovered one Sunday in 1755. Similarly, prevention and prediction have proved unreliable, leaving only protective methods, such as architectural retrofitting and outright relocation. Musson demonstrates why his expertise is much in demand in the wake of each new quake by keeping readers absorbed with clear explanations and colorful anecdotes about one of nature's most calamitous forces.--Hays, Carl Copyright 2010 Booklist

Choice Review

Musson (British Geological Survey) provides a useful overview of earthquake seismology, accessible to general audiences. The book is divided into two parts. Part 1, "Problems," is an introduction to earthquake science; part 2, "Solutions," discusses earthquake hazards to society. The latter explains why attempts to predict earthquakes as well as the approaches used to reduce their risk to society have failed. A strength of the discussion is the exploration of crucial unresolved issues. One issue is the large number of uncertainties involved in trying to assess earthquake hazards, given scientists' limited knowledge, i.e., the Earth often surprises seismologists. Another is the challenge of deciding which safety measures make economic sense. As Musson asks, "Would it make sense to duplicate the design of [San Francisco's] Transamerica Pyramid, with all its earthquake safety features, in Newark, New Jersey, where the chance of an earthquake is extremely low? Those safety features might just turn out to be a waste of time and money." Compared to many other books at this level, this is less technical but provides a nice historical and personal perspective. The clear writing largely compensates for the lack of graphics. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers. S. Stein Northwestern University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
A Note about Unitsp. xi
Hotspots and Rogue Earthquakesp. xiii
Part 1 Problems
1 Screaming Citiesp. 3
2 What Is an Earthquake, Anyway?p. 19
3 Journey to the Center of the Earthp. 49
4 Tracking the Unseenp. 73
5 How Big? How Strong?p. 97
6 The Wave that Shook the Worldp. 119
Part 2 Solutions
7 Prevention and Curep. 145
8 Next Year's Earthquakesp. 153
9 Twenty-Five Seconds for Bucharestp. 177
10 Earthquakes Don't Kill People, Buildings Dop. 195
11 The Probability of Disasterp. 219
12 Stay Safep. 233
Notesp. 245
Indexp. 251