Thursday, 30 December 2004

Tsunami and The Earth System

It's been hard thinking about the earthquake victims. While I won't go so far as to call the earth a living being (others do however), I do believe that the earth system is in a delicate balance and that humans with their actions can, and have upset that balance.

For example did global warming contribute in some way to the recent tragedy in the Indian Ocean? Some of the variables like sea level, polar icecap mass, and global temperature work together (are tightly coupled). Change one, and the others respond.

What if the global temperature is increasing? That would decrease the mass of the ice caps while raising the sea level. This, in effect, is a redistribution of mass on the earth's surface. Would this mass redistribution impact tectonic plate behavior? I think yes, but Is it a subtle or a significant effect? That I can't say. Is the mass shift effect significant enough to cause the earthquake in the Indian Ocean? Or is it only enough to change the earthquake from a Richter 7 to a Richter 9 (a Richter 9 earthquake is 100 times more powerful than a Richter 7 earthquake). Had a Richter 7 earthquake occurred instead of a Richter 9, what would the death rate be? Had the sea level been one inch lower, what would the death toll be?

If earth is a system in delicate balance, our behavior can throw the system into an unstable state. Is the system trying to right itself? When the system finally becomes stable again, will we be able to live on the planet?
For an intro on system dynamics, check out hosted by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).