Over the weekend, I stayed up late and read a horror story. I'm pretty sure it gave me nightmares. But it wasn't suspenseful or gory or even fictional in nature—it was geological. Sandi Doughton, science writer for the Seattle Times, has just published a book titled Full Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. The book tries to be a few different narratives at once: A brief history of geological study in Seattle; an explanation of all the circumstances that make the Northwest unique, earthquake-wise; and a short guidebook explaining what to do if the Big One hits.
Full Rip is packed with all sorts of trivia about the land around us. Here's my favorite new piece of local trivia, about
...an abrupt change in gravity measurements along a line that slices from Hood Canal through south Seattle. North of the line are lighter, sedimentary rocks. To the south, the rocks are dense and heavy. A 150-pound person loses about two-tenths of an ounce traveling north from Sea-Tac Airport to the University of Washington because of the difference in gravity pull.
The gravity gradient is one of the sharpest ever detected in the United States.
Doughton looks at the many different kinds of earthquakes that can strike here—deep quakes, shallow quakes, quakes on many different kinds of faults—and explains how common they are. Some experts theorize that we're not "due" for an enormous earthquake anytime soon. Others say we're 80 percent likely to see another deep quake in the next fifty years. Some other experts say that we're not likely to see a deep quake that's stronger than the low 7s in the Richter scale (although Doughton explains that the Richter scale is a terrible way to convey the power of an earthquake to the general public) and others disagree about that opinion, too. Basically, much of the book consists of a lot of smart people admitting that they know very little about earthquakes.
Full Rip is a short, alarming read. Not all of Doughton's prose makes for compelling reading—a few parts, surprisingly, are downright boring—but the subject carries more than enough natural interest for Seattle residents that they'll paw through this book feverishly. Doughton doesn't provide much consolation—Washington State government keeps dropping the ball on earthquake preparedness—but what little solace she does provide her readers, in terms of earthquake preparedness tips, seem very practical. They're not enough to soothe a reader's rattled nerves, but they're enough to keep the book from closing on a disaster-porn note. Most good horror stories, after all, end on a positive note, even if the positivity is a false consolation.