Saturday, December 26, 2009

Unwrapping The "2004 Boxing Day"

Today is boxing day.

Boxing Day is the day after Christmas and traditionally, it was the day to open the Christmas Box to share the contents with the poor. In places such as UK, Australia, Germany and Hong Kong, it is a public holiday (but not in Singapore).

Exactly five years ago, much pain was inflicted to the world on this day.

On that fateful day, at 00:58:53 UTC (Singapore 08:58:53 local time), the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake hit the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia in a ferocious way. The impact was so great that it resulted in devastating tsunami killing nearly 230,000 people in 11 countries (above). Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand were the hardest hit.

That was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.

Historically, natural disasters have swept away lives by the thousands. Regrettably, earthquake, has been one of the main culprits.

In 1976, Tangshan earthquake (China) took almost 800,000 lives (above). More recently, in 2008, the Sichuan earthquake (China) killed about 70,000 people.

Technically, anywhere on earth is capable of experiencing earthquake. The question is more on the likelihood and the scale of the impact. Most people here believe that Singapore is 'immune' to earthquake. Unfortunately, I think there is no such thing as immunity to earthquake. The only comfort we have is that, based on the present geological make-up, Singapore has very low likelihood of getting an earthquake.

The 2004 Boxing Day earthquake was record at a magnitude of 9.3. In earthquake terms, this number is rather astronomical.

The measurement used to tell the size of earthquake is known as the Moment Magnitude Scale (MMS). Before the 1970s, the Ritcher Magniture Scale was commonly used. Both scales are logarithmic. This means that when the earthquake is measured to be one number higher, the impact is many times more powerful. In the case of MMS, an earthquake measured 7.0 is about 31 times more powerful than one at 6.0.

On MMS, the recent Sichuan earthquake in 2008 (above) was recorded as 7.9. Comparatively, the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake measuring 9.3 is more than 31 times stronger.

When I was traveling in Taiwan a couple of weeks ago, I was told that there is an earthquake every other day there. However, most of these earthquakes are mild and can only be detected by instruments. I felt rather assured and I did not give much thought to the matter throughout the week of traveling. One day after I returned to Singapore, an earthquake hit Hualien (East Coast of Taiwan) measuring 6.4 and strong tremor was felt in many parts of Taiwan, including Taipei. I felt lucky and naive at the same time.

The instrument used to record the occurrence and power of earthquake is known as Seismometer. The first Seismometer was invented in year 132 by Zhang Heng (张衡), an astronomer from the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD).

Zhang Heng's instrument (above) was able to determine the direction (out of eight directions) of earthquakes. Since then, the modern Seismometer has grown in sophistication and is able to record earthquakes with greater precision. However, despite years of effort, scientists have yet to find a satisfactory way to foretell the occurrence of earthquakes. For now, they can only make intelligent and calculated guesses.

Until then, mankind can only pray that Mother Earth will keep cool and will not blow her top for as long as possible.

To those who vanished five years ago on this day, RIP.

"Mother Nature doesn't have a bullet with your name on it,
she has millions of bullets
inscribed with 'to whom it may concern'”

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