And Now You Know   Leave a comment

I was browsing Reddit and came across this little ripper of an image that I wanted to share.

Japan's Tectonic Plates. ~Wikipedia

The image is literally too long to post to my blog, so please check out the link if you’re interested. If you didn’t click the link, here are the Cliffs Notes:

Did you know that the altitude of Everest is higher than the “death zone”? That’s the altitude (26,000 ft) at which air no longer contains enough oxygen to sustain human life. Yet Everest towers above that height at 29,029 ft. How are these mountaineers coping with that last 3,000 ft?

Pop quiz: How long does it take to boil an egg at your house? About 5 or 6 minutes if you live at or just above sea level. On Everest it takes about 18 1/2 minutes. Talk about a waste of time. I’d rather be taking panoramic photographs and focusing on my breathing.

If you scroll down the image to beneath sea level, you’ll notice another tidbit of information:

Once the ocean depth reaches “Deep Sea” – about 5,900 ft – it’s referred to as “The Midnight Zone” because there’s absolutely no sunlight penetrating that far down. Isn’t that cool? Interestingly enough, this depth also coincides with the lowest point of the Grand Canyon (about 6,000 ft below sea level). It’s so fascinating that sunlight can reach a mile below sea level to the bottom of a canyon, but not a mile below the sea itself. Once the depth reaches about 26,000 ft below sea level, you’re in “The Hades Zone”. At temperatures less than 39°F, this area confuses me. I thought the saying was “hotter than Hades.”

Finally, the deepest crevice of the ocean: The Mariana Trench. Approximately 35,814 ft deep.

This trench is a subduction zone for two large tectonic plates – the Pacific and the Okhotsk. A subduction zone is where two tectonic plates move towards each other: The older plate moves under the younger plate, creating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. When a subduction event is particularly violent, a “megathrust” earthquake can occur. These are earthquakes with magnitudes over 9.0 on the Richter scale. During a megathrust earthquake the seafloor also becomes deformed from the subduction, which leads to gigantic tsunamis at sea level. To the right is an image of the tectonic plates near Japan. As you can see, the country is surrounded on all sides and even dissected by fault lines. It’s a proverbial hotbed for tectonic activity, especially earthquakes.

On March 11th, 2011, Northeast Japan experienced a megathrust 9.0 earthquake and devastating tsunami. The NOAA image below shows the wave height of the tsunami as it spread across the Pacific Ocean. The eastern coast of Japan experienced waves in excess of seven feet. Amazingly, as you can see, the west coast of Japan experienced absolutely no waves at all as a result of the earthquake.

2011 Tsunami Wave Height. ~NOAA.

The way our Earth works is fascinating to me. I find it beautifully orchestrated, yet terrifying and deadly all at the same time. Sometimes I forget I’m on a moving, living, changing planet: Some geological events happen over hundreds of years without being noticeable to most humans. But earthquakes that literally rupture highways, and tsunamis that wipe out entire cities are both instantaneous and devastating to humanity. They remind me that this Earth is not a place to take for granted. I’m lucky to have a nice home located in a relatively stable geographic and geologic environment. If the worst of my problems boil down to stressing about a midterm exam, and worrying about whether or not my dog’s broken paw is healing properly, then I guess I’m doing okay. I hate to get all sentimental and mushy, but take ten seconds to put your life in perspective. Are your problems really that bad?

~C

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