The Haiti earthquake from the sky

UC Seismo Blog: The Tectonics of the Haiti quake easy to see (and Google) from above

[Via Knight Science Journalism Tracker]

The Tracker should have gotten this up last week. My old friend across the East Bay hills in Orinda, longtime German newsman Horst Rademacher, came upon two photos I had not seen elsewhere. Perhaps they are in some other outlets’ coverage. One hopes so. For they bring geology home emphatically in focus during this tragic time for Haiti.

Rademacher is a science reporter and former full time North America correspondent for Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – for which he still does some work. Trained in geosciences, he also finds time to blog on such matters for the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory where his wife Peggy Hellweg is on the research staff. The picture here may not have been so hard to get – it’s credited to Google Maps. It accompanied one of the two blogs Horst ran. It is stunning. There’s the gash in the crust, the surface trace of the fault that broke, not so far down, and wrought such damage and misery.

If you want to see one even more eye-popping, get yourself a pair of blue and red 3-D glasses of the sort that any science reporter ought to have sitting on his or her desk, go to the Seismo Blog site, and see how that view looks in binocular radar imagery.

For more basic background seismo info than you may have seen elsewhere much of it is in Horst’s previous post, also linked prominently in this one.


The report at the Seismo blog has some really important information. There are some nice figures showing where the various tectonic plates are in the Caribbean. I never knew that there was such tectonic activity throughout the region.

The tectonics from space post also has some nifty data. One is that relief efforts will be hampered due to the terrain and impassable roads. So using satellite photos is helping. The Google image of Haiti makes the relevant fault pretty obvious – it is the lateral line running from left to right in the middle of the image. The image at left shows the two major faults in Haiti.

If you zoom out of the Google picture, you can see the fault as it traverses Haiti, ending in the lake. It is as obvious as the San Andreas. Zooming in reveals that a river runs through the middle of the fault.

Calculations indicate that 25 miles of this fault (which is about the length of the visible part of the fault in the picture above) slipped/ The north side went west about 9 feet and the south side went west about 9 feet. All in 15 seconds. Leaving only a single runway open, the port devastated, hundreds of thousands possible dead and millions homeless.

If you look at the area with Google Earth, you can tilt the map and easily see the scarp that is formed by the fault. You also see the towns that are along this area. You can follow it all the way out along the peninsula. I have to wonder if any supplies can make it out at all to these places.

You can see before and after photos using Google Earth. There is a lot of devastation. And then you recognize that all the little spots you see in front of the destroyed National Palace are people who have no place else to go.

It may take some time to find out just what is happening way out here, since Port-au-Prince is so devastated. At least they are able to get 100 flights into the airport today. Hopefully they have fuel to get them out.

The Department of State has a page up about the earthquake with a nice Google widget that helps people find the whereabouts of others. I hope it works.

[Listening to: The Count Of Tuscany from the album “Black Clouds & Silver Linings” by Dream Theater]