Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

World Unites over Breaking Up

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

World Unites over Breaking Up

Article excerpt

If you wonder whether our fractious world could unite for a common purpose, take a look at this map. For the first time, the whole world has a scientifically sound chart of earthquake hazards on which to base safer building codes. It took unprecedented international cooperation to produce it.

"We had entire continents working together," says map coordinator Domenico Giardini. That includes regions where he says "politics are troubling," such as the seismically active borders between Turkey and Iran or between India and China. Some nations contributed information they had considered state secrets.

France, for example, handed over closely guarded data on seismic hazards at its nuclear power-plant sites. US Geological Survey seismologist Kaye Shedlock says that, although there were times when negotiations were rough, in the end, "we have everything we need."

Dr. Shedlock explains that the incentive for cooperation was the realization by national governments that "we want to be part of this." The map is global. But its benefits are realized locally. Some countries such as the United States or Japan don't need this map for internal purposes. They already know their seismic hazard. But, considering the aid they give to quake-stricken nations, they have a stake in every region's earthquake safety. And for many countries, this is the first modern scientifically sound seismic- hazard map they have ever had.

In explaining the benefits at a recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Dr. Giardini and Shedlock drew a distinction between "hazard" and "risk." The map shows the probability of severe horizontal ground shaking over the next 50 years. That's hazard. Seismic risk is the probability of such ground shaking causing damage. Frequent large earthquakes in sparsely populated areas pose severe seismic hazard, but little risk. There's not much to damage. Frequent smaller quakes in densely populated areas have lower seismic hazard, but high risk of damage. …

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