Artificial Quake: North Korea Tests Another Nuke

Not a meteorite crater, this was caused by an underground test in Nevada (NDEP).

Not a meteorite crater, this was caused by an underground test in Nevada (NDEP).

At 09:54 local time this morning, a magnitude 4.7 earthquake hit a region of North Korea 200 miles north-east of Pyongyang.

So what? I’ve experienced a 5.0 sitting in my back garden, and it was a curious experience. All I remember thinking was “oooh my first quake!” and “I’ll have to tweet about this!“. Then I quickly forgot about it. Apart from the possibility of making that crack in my bedroom ceiling a bit wider, a 5.0 is memorable, but not particularly damaging. I’m sure that if an unsafe structure is hit by a quake of that size, there might be a little more damage than a few cracks in plaster, but in LA, it was fairly unremarkable. But it is entertaining.

North Korea: Zero natural quakes since 1990 (USGS)

North Korea: Zero natural quakes since 1990 (USGS)

So why is there all this fuss about a 4.7 quake deep within the secret nation of North Korea? Well, this is the interesting bit.

The location where the earthquake struck doesn’t get earthquakes. As in, seismic activity has been pretty much non-existent for the last 30 years. Compare that with the California shimmies: we have a stonking huge fault (the San Andreas) running right through the middle of our state. That’s not including all the smaller faults that zig-zag the West Coast of the US. I live atop one of the most seismically active regions on the planet (earthquakes and wildfires? Good move Ian!); we get small quakes all the time. North Korea, not so much.

So, when the USGS saw this 4.7 blip on their seismographs, coffee might have been spilled on some keyboards. It was caused by an underground nuclear test. North Korea has detonated a bomb 6.2 miles under the crust of their country which kick-started this artificial earthquake. Sure enough, a state-run North Korean news agency confirmed how insane their government is by releasing this statement:

“[North Korea] successfully conducted another underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of its measures aimed at strengthening its self-defense nuclear deterrent in every way.” –Korean Central News Agency

Deterrent? Are you sure? What are they deterring?

Judging by the frakked-up satellite-submarine launch in April, the nation’s nuclear missile fleet probably isn’t the best in the world, and there’s not many warheads in the armory. So globally, North Korea isn’t fooling anyone.

However, this new test will cause grave concern for the region if the NK dictatorship starts sipping too much of the Kool-Aid. The nightmare scenario would be a nuclear-tipped ICBM dropping into South Korea or Japan. Unfortunately, when you have a crazy person living in a military state, cut off from the rest of the world, all bets are off when they are in charge of the Red Button.

Needless to say, the political fallout will be huge, which is kinda the point. They like propaganda. Especially when a nuclear test’s effects are more than just seismic, it looks as if the economic markets are shaking too. Also, big changes are afoot in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il appears to be in the process of handing over power to his brother-in-law, so who knows what’s going to happen next… expect a few more artificial quakes in the future

The anatomy of an underground nuclear test (BBC)

The anatomy of an underground nuclear test (BBC)

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The Anatomy of a Los Angeles Earthquake… on Twitter

The July earthquake in LA caused chaos in the shampoo & conditioner isles...

The July earthquake in LA caused chaos in the shampoo & conditioner aisles...

Sitting at my desk at 7:42pm (Friday), doing some research on the web (read: procrastinating), I felt something odd. It was as if somebody walked behind my chair, shunting me forward slightly. I turned, and of course no one was there. Slightly confused, I heard my wife shout from the living room, “Did you feel that?” Then I knew I wasn’t dreaming, there had been an earthquake.

That wasn’t my first experience of a quake, back in July 2008, Woodland Hills felt a seismic wave from the magnitude 5.4 earthquake epicentre near Downtown LA. That’s the only way I can describe it, a rolling wave. We were outside at the time, and I was amazed to see the water in the pool slosh over the sides. Now that was my first quake, and I found it pretty exhilarating (as I ran inside to get my video camera to take an eyewitness account of any other tremors, but there were no more to follow).

Today’s was a short and pretty wimpy magnitude 3.4, just a tiny burst of energy. However, interested to find out more, I turned to one of the best breaking news resources out there, Twitter
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Visualizing the Yellowstone Earthquake Swarms

The hot spring, Sapphire Pool at the Biscuit Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park (Getty)

The hot spring, Sapphire Pool at the Biscuit Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park (Getty)

Since December 26th, hundreds of small earthquakes have shimmied Yellowstone National Park.

Earthquake swarms are a collection of small earthquakes over a short space of time. These aren’t aftershocks of one primary, larger quake, they are quakes in their own right. Yellowstone National Park, located mainly in the state of Wyoming (stretching into Montana and Idaho), plays host to the Yellowstone Caldera, a volcanic hotspot where molten mantle rock bubbles to the surface. This activity creates hot springs and is the energy source of many geysers.

The last Yellowstone “supereruption” occurred 640,000 years ago, but there have been many smaller eruptions and lava flows since then; the most recent being 70,000 years ago.

Any earthquake in the largest volcanic system in North America will therefore cause excitement and a little concern, and these recent earthquake swarms are an oddity. Yellowstone is no stranger to earthquake swarms, but the recent frequency of events are unusual scientists say.

In an effort to track the swarms, I’ve stumbled across an interesting article where a numerical modelling package has been used to locate and simulate the earthquake swarm breakouts…
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