NOVA’s Deadliest Earthquakes: Earthquake Science & Masterful Cinematography

The film begins with devastating and heart wrenching scenes of the destruction of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on 11 January 2010.   The camera captures terrified people running through ruined streets.  What follows is a helicopter shot showing a broken, bloodied, and battered city.

The scene shifts to the arrival of a seismologist from Purdue University.  He discusses how GPS-based research allows him to quantify the amount of movement on the fault that produced the 7.0 M killer earthquake.

Fabulous graphics showing earth structure, plate boundaries, and corrugated fault surfaces follow.  Then a magnificent graphic of the exponential nature of seismic magnitude.

The Purdue research documents that only a small section of fault ruptured, leaving the remaining section with a large and unreleased stress load.

The film makers shift suddenly to western California and the San Andreas Fault.  Arnold Schwarzenegger is standing at a podium deliberating on CA’s Great Shakeout program – one of the great science outreach events in the world.  There are great shots of field research along the Elsinore fault in Anza Borrego State park – the graphics showing downhole placement of seismic equipment is remarkably telling.

Then on to Chile where, at 3:00 AM on 27 Feb 2010, a magnitude 8.8 event occurs.  The result: half a million homes destroyed, hundreds dead, and Earth’s day shortened by the tiniest fraction of a second.

The film shows much more as it bounces from place to place across the Earth’s fractured surface.  And as the participating scientists point out again and again, earthquake prediction remains an elusive prize.

A fantastic film well worth a look.

Mike Conway, 11 January 2010

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