We will probably never know for sure exactly how the Minoan civilization (3650 BC–1400 BC) finally came to an end. What seems certain, however, is that a series of cataclysmic seismic disasters, culminating in the most famous hammer blow ever delivered in that part of the world around 1645 BC, was the coup de grace from which the Minoans could not recuperate. The titanic explosion of the Santorini volcano blew half of the island into the stratosphere and sent a tsunami of stupendous height to devastate the northern coast of Crete. The Minoans were knocked down so hard that they never really regained their feet again.
Yet, even when ancient historians have given us obvious clues as to how incredibly powerful tectonic forces may have changed the course of history, on very well-documented occasions it still often requires centuries of back and forth to simply take them at their word. The Byzantine historian Procopius, for example, in his chronicle of the Eastern Roman Empire’s war against the Vandals in 536 AD writes that, “during this year a most dread portent took place. For the sun gave forth its light without brightness…and it seemed exceedingly like the sun in eclipse, for the beams it shed were not clear.” Of course, no one ever dreamed that Procopius might have been telling the truth, since a year without sunshine would usher in what we moderns would now categorize as a “nuclear winter.” That is what much of the human race might have had to endure in AD 536, not owing to thermonuclear devices but to something even more powerful: volcanism. Whether it was Krakatoa, Rabaul, or Mount Tambora in South Asia, or the Ilopango in Central America, or a combination thereof, it is now conjectured that some series of massive explosions may have ejected enough dust and debris into the atmosphere sufficient to bring on a “volcanic winter.” Whatever was transpiring in the darkness falling on the battle lines between the Byzantines and the Vandals however, at the same time the Irish Annals were recording a “Year without Bread,” snow was documented falling in China in August, crops were failing in Indochina, and a severe drought in Peru was punishing the Moche culture. We Americans, safe and secure in a seemingly invulnerable, indestructible, twenty-first-century cocoon of technological invincibility and surety, tend to look back on these footnotes in history as perhaps interesting but not really germane to our own lives. Not many imagine that anything comparable to a “Year without Bread” could ever happen now.
But it could.
Ticking beneath our own homeland is a colossal time bomb capable of unleashing astonishingly destructive power. The Yellowstone Caldera in the northwest corner of Wyoming is a supervolcano. It’s called “super” because every so often when it empties its magma chamber it affects the entire North American continent—and the world. The last eruption—640,000 years ago— hurled 240 cubic miles of rock, dust and cinders into the sky. When it next erupts it will likely bury much of the western half of North America in a layer of volcanic ash. All that very well could put a dent in deliveries of baked goods to more than a few people.
Far, far more probable and much, much nearer on the horizon is an event that most people reading this will likely see—the next “Big One” in Southern California. It won’t change history, and our nation will endure. But, it will be a world-class event. There will be no person in the United States that won’t feel some ripple when Los Angeles is wracked with the magnitude 8.0± earthquake that cannot be too far into the future.
Within the pages of Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology the reader will meet an extraordinary cast of world-class scientists from a half-dozen nations who are currently addressing the impending event in Los Angeles—principal investigators s at NASA, lead scientists at the SETI Institute, chief seismologists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in Mumbai, esteemed professors at La Sapienza University in Rome, physicist laureates at the Andrea Bina Seismic Observatory—all of whom have previously felt constrained to say little regarding the self-fulfilling prophesies of defeatism that has dogged earthquake prediction for so long, and is now finally, and rapidly, being ushered into history’s dustpan. Their long-restrained comments will be aired for the first time within this work. The reader will be quite stunned not only by who these individuals are but by the tone of what they have to say—to include their view of how the lack of open-minded collaboration may be part of the problem to the solution to the beginnings of a rudimentary seismic warning system for the US West Coast.
The Minoans could have used something like that; we’d be very foolish to look askance at it ourselves.
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