Thursday, July 5, 2012

Was the 20th century abnormally normal?

FuturePundit makes an interesting observation that the 20th century may have been abnormally quiet in regard to mega-disasters. It's the best documented century in human history with photos, movies, radio, TV, blogs, etc and when we think of "history" our window is often the past 100 years. But go back another 100 years to the 19th century.

The first half of the 19th century was still in the grip of the Little Ice Age, a period of unusual cold lasting 500 years from 1350 to 1850. When we think of snowy Victorian Christmas with ice skaters on frozen rivers, that was the influence of the Little Ice Age.

In 1811 there was an 8.1-8.2 earthquake on the New Madrid fault in middle America which caused the Mississippi River to temporarily flow backwards and permanently changed its course. A repeat of this today would be devastating.

In 1884 New York City had a 5.5 quake and is due for a repeat. Los Angeles and Tokyo are also past due for major quakes like the 1875 SoCal quake of magnitude 7.9.

How about a big bang like Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815? The eruption further cooled the planet so that snow fell in New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces in June. It caused the biggest famine of the 19th century.

In 1859 there was a massive solar eruption that caused intense magnetic fields on Earth. An equivalent today could fry our electronics and power grid.

The 1900s were extremely tame in comparison.

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