“Natural Disasters – Live from the MOOC’s Epicentre” Event Rocks Schulich Library!

Natural disasters display

Despite a risk of severe thunderstorms (very fitting for the evening’s theme!), about 50 participants braved their way to Schulich Library of Science and Engineering on Tuesday night for “Natural Disasters – Live from the MOOC’s Epicentre!” to hear all about Montreal-area natural disasters. A big thanks to everyone who joined us, and an even bigger thanks to Professors John Stix and John Gyakum for presenting loads of information on different types of natural disasters and their likelihood of taking place in Montreal. Their presentation was delivered in a conversational, fact-filled and thought-provoking style that inspired the audience.

So what natural disasters could happen here? Earthquakes, ice storms (of course!), and even hurricanes are all possibilities. Even though Professor Stix confirmed that Mount Royal isn’t a volcano, he did recount a dream he once had that Mount Royal erupted and lava came flowing down the middle of campus! (This just goes to show you the kind of things geologists dream about!) The professors also talked about increased risk of natural disasters due to human activities (such as the increased chances of extreme weather events due to rising CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and the increased likelihood of earthquakes from fracking to obtain natural gas). Professor Gyakum showed a video that gives the analogy of steroid use by baseball players to explain how climate change works (available here). He also explained that increased water vapor in the atmosphere caused by increased CO2 emissions ups the chances of more extreme weather, such as ice storms in Montreal. We are, after all, in one of North America’s freezing rain capitals. So make sure to keep those candles and bottled water handy this winter!

Their talk generated a lot of questions such as: Is there a risk of Yellowstone erupting anytime soon? Professor Stix says it is a very active geologic area, which may explain this recent news story . However, he also said “I don’t lose sleep over it.” Another participant asked: Generally, how prepared are Montreal’s buildings for an earthquake? Members of the audience concluded that we are not so prepared, especially considering the number of old buildings we have here.

In case you missed the event, you can always come check out the Natural Disasters display with information, photos and specimens related to ice storms, volcanoes and earthquakes. It is located on the main floor of the Schulich Library and will be up until, at least, the end of summer.

Finally, a special thank you to Teaching and Learning Services and Ingrid Birker from the Redpath Museum’s Science Outreach and Public Program for helping to make the evening a success.

Natural Disasters: Live from the MOOC’s Epicentre!

350-public-mooc-natural-disasterAs you may have already heard, there is a MOOC currently being offered on Natural Disasters, which is taught by Professor John Gyakum and Professor John Stix. Related to this, the professors will be giving a talk about natural disasters in the Montreal area. This will include why certain disasters would not happen here and how we can mitigate the impact of natural disasters on our daily lives. They will also be answering your questions about natural disasters.

This event will be held on Tuesday, July 15th from 6:30-8:30pm in the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering. Refreshments will be served.

All are welcome to attend. Registration is required. Please visit http://bit.ly/montrealepicentre to register. I hope to see you there!

Big day in space rocks last Friday!

Chelyabinsk meteor trace

Trace from the meteor that broke up over Chelyabinsk, Feb. 15, 2013

Chicken Little might have been vindicated, had he been feeling the sky fall last week in Russia! Last Friday, February 15, I was going to blog about asteroid 2012 DA14, that was whizzing by Earth at 1/13 the distance to the moon, but I awoke to find that a spectacular meteor event had stolen the astro-object thunder by breaking up over central Russia – at about 15 meters on entry, arguably the largest recorded meteor since 1908. This Chelyabinsk meteorite event ended up with over 1000 people injured. NASA assures us that the two objects are unrelated, but, holy space rock, Batman, coincidental!

Post meteor, Simon Rogers has a map of every known meteorite fall on Earth over at the Guardian Datablog. After that, you may feel reassured by viewing this list of the measured impact risk of known near-Earth objects maintained by NASA-JPL’s Near-Earth Object Program. But don’t get too comfortable, yesterday at Scientific American Blogs, John Matson asks, “Could Another Chelyabinsk-Scale Meteor Sneak Up on Us?” and finds, “With limited resources, asteroid spotters have naturally focused on the largest asteroids that could cause the most mayhem. But the smaller, more frequent arrivals to our planet are likely to remain unpredictable for the foreseeable future.”

Image: Witness photo by Nikita Plekhanov from Wikimedia Commons


Did you feel the earthquake?

I felt the earthquake last Wednesday night and I only realized that it was an earthquake after it had happened.  The Government of Canada has some safety tips on its website about what to do before, during, and after an earthquake.  Natural Resources Canada also has an Earthquake Database that you can search to obtain data about earthquakes in or near Canada since 1985.  Details about last week’s earthquake are available (use the “Report details” menu on the left-hand side of the page to look at the different sections of the report).

Image from Microsoft Office Clipart