WHEN Mother Nature speaks, it reminds us that we humans are mere mortals, quite vulnerable and at the mercy of her whims manifested in various forms: quakes and cyclones, avalanches and tsunamis, droughts and floods, to name a few that in their extreme manifestations impact with devastating resonance on lives and property.
Friday night’s magnitude 6.7 quake is but one such example of what happens when Mother Nature moves, not as premeditated violence against people but simply the cause and effect of her design. It is interesting to note the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language defines Mother Nature as “nature personified as a creative and controlling force affecting the world and humans.”
Unlike weather forecasting that gives us more or less reliable estimates, days ahead, when a typhoon would hit which place, including wind speeds and amount of precipitation—thus giving people enough time to prepare and government agencies to activate disaster response measures, technology has not yet reached that state or level of refinement sensitive enough to predict with pinpoint accuracy the time and place an earthquake would happen.
Data from the US Geological Survey noted the earthquake struck Surigao at a depth of 10 kilometers just after 10 p.m. Philippine Standard Time. The epicenter was about 13 kilometers east of Surigao City.
On the same day, February 10, Science Daily published a report by the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, or GEOMAR, titled, “Cold plates and hot melts: New history on Pacific Ring of Fire.” The article explains why, among other things, the Philippines and other countries along the ring are vulnerable to earthquakes.
To summarize, the research report notes that the movement of tectonic plates—which causes earthquakes—shape the face of the earth: “The sinking of one plate beneath another causes volcanism and earthquakes.” Scientists were able to drill and investigate the origin of a subduction zone—a region in the earth’s crust marking this movement or collision of tectonic plates—for the first time in 2014. Subduction zones are what drive the chemical reaction between the interior and the surface of the earth.
“About 2,000 kilometers east of the Philippine Islands lies one of the most famous topographical peculiarities of the oceans: the Marianas Trench. Reaching depths of up to 11,000 meters below sea level, it holds the record as the deepest point of the world’s ocean,” according to the report by Philipp Brandl of GEOMAR, the main author of the study.
“This 4,000-kilometer-long trench extends from the Marianas Islands in the south through the Izu-Bonin Islands to Japan in the north. Here the Pacific Plate is subducted beneath the Philippine Sea Plate, resulting in intense volcanic activity and a high number of earthquakes.”
While the study notes that samples from beneath the surface of the earth gave scientists insights into the volcanic activity at the Pacific Ring of Fire 30 to 40 million years ago, volcanic activity intensified with the rollback of the subduction zone eastward.
For all intents and purposes, this could simply mean more earthquakes in the Philippines in the years to come.
On the part of government, in the absence of a fully developed earthquake forecasting technology, boosting disaster preparedness measures is the low-hanging fruit it can further tweak to a level that is undoubtedly effective and efficient to meet the needs of people in affected areas. On the regulation side, property development should be regulated at the national and local government levels to keep profit-driven developers from building shopping malls and doing residential developments near fault lines that have been identified.
Because when Mother Nature speaks there is no telling whether her message brings catastrophe until it’s too late, nothing beats the ability of the state and its agencies to have the right resources—be it human, financial, or commodity—in place and ready for mobilization when natural disaster strikes.