Friday, March 18, 2011

Science Topics of the Week 3/13/2011

Out of respect for the Japanese affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami this week's science news all relates to Japan and the earthquake.

From Nature News
The earthquake in Japan and the tsunami that followed last Friday have been on everyone's minds the past week. This was a huge tragedy that will take years to recover from. Experts did not think this area was capable of an earthquake of this size despite being on the fault which has produced most of the largest earthquakes ever felt. The reason for this is because of the sea-floor age hypothesis which states that older crusts are less susceptible to earthquakes because older crusts will slide downward.

This new information raises questions about where else earthquakes could occur that they were not expected to occur and also why this long believed hypothesis has been changed. A reason for the disproving of the hypothesis has to do with the fact that plate shifts causing that area to be getting squeezed like in a vice as the Earth shifts.

Hopefully we can take this knowledge and use it to predict areas that may be affected by future earthquakes to make sure they are prepared.

From Nature News
When an earthquake hits, the general public doesn't always think about the impact on research not only in Japan, but its effect on research worldwide. As a scientist, this was something that I was concerned about.  Several research facilities were destroyed or damaged in the earthquake. Power outages have caused a loss of samples. If we lose power for a couple of hours, we freak out. I can't imaging losing it for as long as Japan has.

Some scientists wonder if they will ever get their careers back on track. While Japan has to halt their research and have also lost much of their current research, the rest of the world is moving forward. It becomes a reality that their ground breaking research will be scooped. That being said, within Japan they may at least be able to maintain their level in their career and only lose a few years. 

Also affected was the entrance exam that determines which university you will attend. Most of these are only given once a year which would put potential new scholars behind on beginning their studies for another year.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) has been keeping a lid on the data regarding the radiation that is leaking from the nuclear plants in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami last week. This has been met with some criticism due to the feeling that people have the right to know what they are being exposed to in different areas. I agree with the need for that knowledge; however, I understand the need to prevent public panic. I do feel that the knowledge should at least be available to those who can direct the right knowledge to the public as needed.

That being said, some data is getting out. It is known that a large meltdown at Fukushima has not occured. This is known by the lack of high levels of zirconium and barium which would signal a meltdown. High levels of xenon, iodine and casesium have been reported. Low levels are expected to move across the Pacific.

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