THE BLOG
01/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Black Friday

I was just about to post the following when a lightning storm caused a Honolulu blackout, which lasted all of 20 hours for me. Friday must have also been black in terms of shopping, as I could not find parking space at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. Thankfully the stock market did not suffer a Black Friday, but actually went up, which, I guess, can be considered to be a profitable or black day.

On another black matter, Michael Casey provided a relatively upbeat summary, if that's possible, of the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, which killed 230,000 four years ago, triggered by the second largest earthquake ever measured. This was by far the most deadly catastrophe of its type (death from seismic waves) in all of human history. Apparently, both nature and society are recovering well so soon, considering the enormity of the tragedy.

The #1 earthquake of all time occurred in 1960 off Chile, with a moment magnitude of M 9.5. The above Indonesian monster was between M 9.1 and M 9.3. At one time, the Richter scale was used, and provides lower numbers than the now more popular moment magnitude. A magnitude of 9.0 is ten times more powerful than an 8.0. If these earthquakes occur in the ocean, then tsunamis can result. However, the Chilean version "only" killed less than 2,000, including 61 in Hawaii, where the wave crested at 10.7 meters (35 feet).

Can there be anything worse from the sea? Yes, for in 1970, half a million perished from a cyclone (same as hurricane or typhoon) devastating East Pakistan. This cataclysm was at least partially responsible for this region seceding from the country and becoming Bangladesh in January of 1972.

Can there be anything even worse from the ocean? Again, yes, but not in a way you might expect. Should there be a mega-earthquake (say anything larger than M9.0) in the bottom of the sea, a near shore wave can be as high as 100 meters, but only about a max of 10 meters in the far field (a thousand or more miles away). However, if there is a mega landslide of sufficient size and velocity falling into a deep ocean, the tsunami can be as high as 1000 meters, depending on who you ask.

Lituya Bay in Alaska 50 years ago experienced a 524 meter (1720 feet) wave, when Howard Ulrich and his son on board the Edrie were carried into the woods and survived. It was reported, though, that the wave was less than 75 feet when it struck the boat.

The most hyped possible event is the La Palma Mega Tidal Wave, featured as a potential reality by BBC News and regularly shown on the Discovery Channel. The result of Cumbre Vieja Volcano collapsing into the sea could produce a 900 meter (2950 feet) colossus, striking Florida, New York and Boston with 50 meter (164 feet) waves. Eminent scientists disagree on this projection.

Islands are most prone to this event because many form at the bottom of a deep ocean from volcanoes, which can naturally be eroded by water action. The island on which I live, Oahu in Hawaii, has supposedly suffered from more major landslides than anywhere else. The Nuuanu Landslide has been mentioned as one possibly having caused a mega tsunami a million or so years ago. For those who have been here, driving to the other side of the mountain chain from Waikiki, you will gawk up at the Koolaus, which represent the inside of a major crater. The rest of the volcano can be found in the ocean behind you. What is particularly disarming for me is that I live on Nuuanu Avenue.

As I was one of the geothermal reservoir engineers for the Hawaii Geothermal Project a third of a century ago, I had students build a model of the Big Island to determine how these steamy pockets form. Well, it then occurred to me that if certain rifts happen to join, say, triggered by a major earthquake, a good portion of that island could theoretically fall into the ocean, perhaps causing a mega tsunami. I picked a period four years from now, August 2012, for this doomsday event in Chapter 6 of Simple Solutions for Planet Earth (see box on the right), and entitled it, "Six Hours to Seattle." I don't want to give away the ending, but I can reassure you not to lose any sleep, especially if you live in Hilo.

Chapter 5 of the same book, incidentally, selected August 12, 2012, which happens to be another Black Friday, as a different type of doom, the mere end of civilization through the Venus Syndrome. If we survive that day, then the 13-baktun cycle of the Maya reaches the termination point on December 21, 2012, which, then, would be a particularly Black Friday if the prophesy actually happens.

Well, four years from now is about as far away as that devastating Indonesian event in 2004, so we are talking real time. Of course, religion aside, how can any reasonably sensible person believe in these undocumented myths and scares?