Random thoughts: Supervolcanoes, websites and Superstorm Sandy

It’s been a very intense week and I’ve been under the weather – not sure if I can get the timeline out tomorrow, but if not, then certainly Tuesday.

To catch up on a few things . . .

The supervolcanoes article for Cracked

It’s gone in – will pass along the link when they publish it. I told the editor I should pay them for what has been quite a learning process.

There was one last major challenge. At the very end, after I had submitted the final draft, they discussed a few things about payment, etc., and very casually let slip that I was going to have to cut it by half: 600-650 words, at most.

I did it – just tucked down my chin and relentlessly went through it. That’s the Helium experience, and some experiences with a few other editors from the 1980s, when I briefly flirted with freelance science writing. The final result amazed me. I just knew it was good, and then came a wonderful feeling of achievement. Wonderful.

They will, of course, heavily edit “3 Important Things We Accidentally Built Near A Supervolcano,” probably give it a better title, add cuss words where appropriate and so forth, but still, I’m glad they hung in there with me and that I hung in there, too.

The final article will just mention Campi Flegrei, Taupo (not the whole volcanic zone – I couldn’t work in a lot of detail, and Taupo caldera is quite sufficiently bad-ass in its own right), and the idea that a fixed hotspot has been erupting since the days of the Siberian Traps and now Iceland is sitting over it.

The others considered were Valles caldera (New Mexico), Long Valley (California), Atitlan caldera (Guatemala) and Kikai caldera (Japan). Some other time perhaps.

I didn’t give the editors enough credit – it wasn’t that they wanted sensationalization. This is Cracked, so of course they wanted that, but most importantly, I think, was their concern that it would hold the readers’ interest. I’ve mentioned before that these are professionals.

They couldn’t see it at first (and so the readers wouldn’t, as originally written), but fortunately, I found the original paper on which Naples emergency planners based their evacuation plan for a Campi Flegrei eruption, and it contains two figures that are far more eloquent than any words, even those wielded by an expert, could be:

Figure 14, expected ashfall from a small– to medium-sized event

Figure 15, expected pyroclastic flows from a small– to medium-sized event

There’s no guarantee it would be a small- to medium-sized eruption. And this is Naples:

According to the paper, 1.5 million people lived in the caldera in around 2000, and over 350,000 of them lived in its most active part.

So, yeah, everybody sees it now.

By the way, that hazard is just from Campi Flegrei. You probably have heard about the threat Vesuvius is to Naples – that volcano is off the right out of the figures (though it is visible in the Google Maps image).

Vesuvius is a dangerous volcano, too, though not a “supervolcano” – Campi Flegrei is the one that had such a big eruption about 40,000 years ago, some think it caused global changes that wiped out the Neanderthals; Vesuvius “just” wiped out nearby towns.

It takes guts and craziness to live in Naples, Italy, today. (That’s not how I phrased it in the Cracked article.)

It’s been quite a struggle with this project, and it will be a long time before I approach Cracked with another volcano-based idea. However, I’m making a bit of progress on the new website idea.

Flight to Wonder

You can check it out here, though that’s just a placeholder. That will consume most of my spare time between now and the end of the year.

Briefly, it’s the same sort of science writing I’ve been doing, but in an organized number of areas. I want it to be popular and maybe someday even give me some income. We’ll see about that, but it will be fun because it’s founded on my own experiences.

My failure to get that undergraduate geology degree back in the mid-1980s, because I couldn’t grok geochemistry, could be expressed as an unwillingness to let go of wonder.

Einstein apparently said (will have to track that down, if possible), “The process of scientific discovery is, in effect, a continual flight from wonder.”

That’s difficult for those without exposure to empiricism to understand. It’s difficult for me to talk about now. But lately I’ve been seeing what he means (if he actually said it, that is). I tried to let go of wonder in order to become practical but lacked the inner fire to do that.

True science has its own rewards, and occasionally these can be Olympian in scale. The more ordinary wonder felt by the common man when the aurora glows or a baby draws its first breath outside the womb is what draws me, and so my flight has been back to that down-to-Earth wonder ever since.

A lot of nonscientists might feel that way, too.

We’ll see.

Sandy

Finally, just a couple more Sandy links. This gives a more satisfactory view of most of the storm’s development – the ultimate size of that thing . . . wow.

Also, I’ve been wondering about the pollution left in the wake of the flooding in the heavily populated areas of New Jersey and New York. The rivers around New York, while not as bad, perhaps, as in the Seventies, are not known for their cleanliness. Did the massive influx of sea water dilute the crap? What about the sewers? The subways? Industrial and other waste? Rats and bedbugs? Salt in electrical wiring, etc.?

Still looking into that, but in the process discovered Health Map. Read the warning about accuracy at the bottom of the page, but it is still useful, as entries are sourced. Frankly I expected there to be more than that one norovirus issue in Brooklyn. Good.

That’s medical. Still looking for sources/an overview on the chemical/radiation toxin thing and will pass it along if found. If you know of any good sources or have information, feel free to include it in the comments.

As always, thanks for your interest!



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