The day after Christmas 2004, our planet was rocked by the biggest earthquake in years. The 8.9 earthquake struck 25 miles below the north coast of Indonesia and was the fifth largest quake since 1900. It was so huge the Earth’s rotation rate was very slightly affected. But the real destruction was caused by the massive tsunamis (tidal waves) generated by the earthquake.
The tsunamis killed thousands of people including several in the African nation of Somalia, which is 3,000 miles away from the earthquake’s epicenter. Many people died in Sri Lanka and in southern India and in many other parts of coastal southern Asia.
The tsunami caused by the December 26, 2004 earthquake strikes Ao Nang, Thailand.
In 2006, we had another tsunami scare that generated some local controversy. An 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck the Kuril Islands north of Japan and it generated tsunami waves that reached California, damaging docks and boats in the Crescent City Harbor near the Oregon state line. The harbor was hit with a series of surges that would cycle about every 15 minutes, changing the water level about five feet each time.
The National Weather Service estimates the surges reached speeds of 30 miles an hour. The Crescent City harbormaster said the repeated battering pulled apart at least two docks and set boats adrift, which banged into each other. He estimated that two dozen or more boats were damaged, but none were sunk and no one was hurt.
Boat damage in Crescent City CA
Here on Guam, a tsunami alert was issued but most people were unaware of it, including some of the mayors, who are responsible for spreading such alerts to their villagers. Two mayors said they weren’t called by the Office of Civil Defense, and noted that the early warning sirens that had been utilized in such instances were destroyed by typhoons and never replaced. Guam Homeland Security says that the island is “tsunami ready”, but many people dispute that claim.
We have just had the “Pacific Week of Despair” with multiple deaths from typhoons, mudslides, floods earthquakes and tsunamis. The death toll from the tsunami in the Samoas has risen to almost 200.
We have earthquakes here, we have typhoons here and well, do we have tsunamis here? There was a tsunami alert called on Guam for both the quake in Samoa and the quake in Indonesia. Lots of people are really worried about tsunamis here on Guam. Should you be?
Well, here are some questions to ask yourself. Have we had a tsunami here in your lifetime? If the tsunami that was generated by the earthquake in the Kurils in 2006 was destructive in California, why wasn’t there any damage here? Agana Harbor faces north where the waves came from. Why weren’t there any reports of boat damage on Guam? Did anyone notice five-foot waves pouring into the harbor? Why weren’t beachside homes flooded? We had one of the most powerful earthquakes in the world off our western shore in 1993. Do you remember that it generated a large tsunami that destroyed lots of houses? Here on Guam, we’re surrounded by Mother Ocean. How susceptible are we to the devastating effects of tsunamis, the deepest waves on Earth?
Tsunamis are often called ‘tidal waves’ but they have nothing to do with tides. They are caused by undersea earthquakes and landslides that displace huge volumes of water (and they have nothing to do with the weather). These gigantic ripples spread across the ocean in excess of 500 miles per hour. Because the water is disturbed at the ocean floor, these waves are as tall as the ocean is deep. These waves aren’t dangerous in the open ocean; ships at sea may not even notice them.
The problem occurs when the tsunami approaches land. The bottom of the huge standing wave is pushed up by the rising ocean floor. As the waves approach shallower water, they get taller (their amplitude increases) and run-up occurs. Run-up is a measurement of the height of the water onshore as observed above a reference sea level, and the wave gets higher and higher above the water’s surface. If the sea bottom rises gradually, the wave becomes a wall of water that may crash miles inland and destroys everything in its path.
The key to understanding tsunamis is that they are extremely deep waves and as they enter shallow water all that energy and all that water piles up in tremendous waves. So what’s the point for Guam? It’s that little phrase shallow water.
This is an underwater map of the area surrounding the Samoas with the epicenter of the earthquake marked. Have a look at the lighter areas on this map. They represent shallow water less than a thousand feet deep. The earthquake occurred in very deep water and as the tsunami it generated reached the shallow water surrounding the islands, it piled up and reached far inland, wiping out whole villages and killing many people.
Map of Samoa region (made in GeoMapApp) showing epicenter of Sept 29, 2009 8.0 earthquake
Now have a look at an underwater topographic map of the island of Guam. As you can see, there’s virtually NO shallow water around Guam. Our island rises more or less (mostly more) vertically from the abyssal depths (roughly 13,000 feet [almost three miles] in our area). If you travel away from Guam on a boat, you don’t have to go very far before you’re over water that’s hundreds and even thousands of feet deep. Guam has no gradually rising slopes where run-up can occur and tsunamis simply curve around our island and travel on to their ultimate landfall. Virtually the only place on Guam where a tsunami can occur is in Talofofo Bay (and a woman was swept out to sea from the shores of Talofofo River by a tsunami wave in the 1800’s).
Map generated by Pam Eastlick’s Hands-On-Science students. Flat seafloor regions indicate areas of no data for those depths.
Having said this, DO NOT ignore tsunami warnings! And if you’re ever at the beach and the water goes away (i.e. recedes dramatically away from the shore), GET AWAY FROM THE WATER. It is ALWAYS better to be safe than sorry. But in general, we may have to worry about earthquakes and typhoons here on Guam, but you can cross worrying about tsunamis off your list!
Well, I realized that the medical file was bulging and since I’ve got several items that have some relevance for us islanders, I figured it was time to dig in the back and pull out some wonderful things!
We certainly do a lot of flying in these islands and I’m sure we all have our little tales of horror about some of our incredibly long flights. It’s hard to top my worst because I was in the air between Tokyo and Chicago when the planes went into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. What happened afterwards was a tale of legendary proportions!
SICK ON A PLANE
I suspect we’ve all been on flights where someone became ill. Our first little item is on in-flight emergencies. Scientists researched the data on the number, type and frequency of medical emergencies on board two airlines.
Michael Sand led a team of researchers from UCLA who analyzed 10,189 different emergencies. He said, “The breakdown of the various medical emergencies encountered in our study showed that fainting was by far the most frequent medical condition, followed by stomach upsets, and heart conditions”.
In all, the authors found 5307 cases of fainting (53.5%), 926 cases of gastrointestinal problems (8.9%) and 509 cases related to a cardiac condition (4.9%). The highly publicized problem of deep vein thrombosis accounted for a very small number of cases, although they do occur most often after a flight, rather than during. The authors said, “Surgical illnesses accounted for a minor percentage of all on-board emergencies. There were 47 cases of thrombosis (0.5%), 27 appendicitis cases (0.25%) and just one case of gastrointestinal bleeding (less than 0.1 %). There were two births and 52 deaths”.
The authors also stated that there are major problems with record keeping about in-flight emergencies. Out of 32 airlines approached to take part, 27 did not have the data available, one had data that was unsuitable and two refused to take part due to company policy. Sand said, “Standardization of in-flight medical emergency reporting is necessary for further larger studies to be conducted, as the current quality of data is poor”.
The limited scope of the data available makes it difficult to make strong recommendations based on the information, but the authors do note that not all of the airlines had defibrillators as part of their medical flight kits. Sand said, “Considering the fact that cardiac conditions were the third most common condition seen in this study, patients with cardiac irregularities may profit from an on-board automatic external defibrillator. The same is true for patients with a suspected myocardial infarction."
Hmmm, I don’t find this particularly reassuring, I’m afraid. With all that money we pay for tickets to be trapped in a tin box for eight to twelve hours, it would be nice to know that our health care was a little higher on the list.
The next news is significantly better. I suspect that many of my readers take the drug called Glucophage, also known by its generic name metformin. Glucophage means “eats sugar” and it’s traditionally given to diabetics and pre-diabetics. It’s cheap and effective and doctors routinely prescribe it for their older patients. I take two metformin tablets every day.
NOT JUST FOR DIABETES ANYMORE
Researchers at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that metformin increases the efficiency of the immune system’s T-cells, which in turn makes cancer and virus-fighting vaccines more effective.
The specialized white blood cells of the human immune system known as "T-cells" remember pathogens they encountered in previous infections or vaccinations. This ‘memory’ enables them to fight subsequent infections much faster and it’s been the subject of intense study for many years, but until now scientists didn’t really understand how it worked.
Researchers have discovered that many of the same genes that are involved in sugar metabolism and diabetes are also involved in cancer progression. Research data also indicate that diabetics are more prone to certain cancers. This study is the first to suggest that targeting the same metabolic pathways that play a role in diabetes can also alter how well the immune system functions.
The scientists discovered that the metabolizing, or burning, of fatty acids by T-cells following the peak of infection is critical to establishing immunological memory. They used metformin, which operates on fatty-acid metabolism, to enhance this process, and their experiments on mice have shown that metformin increases T-cell memory as well as the ensuing protective immunity of an experimental anti-cancer vaccine.
We don’t really tend to link cancer and diabetes but recent advances have uncovered common links between them, in particular how metabolic pathways, the basic chemical reactions in our cells, are controlled in these diseases. The results suggest that common diabetic therapies that alter cellular metabolism may enhance T-cell memory, providing a boost to the immune system. This could lead to novel strategies for vaccine and anti-cancer therapies.
So, keep taking your metformin. It may be better for you than anyone realized! And along the lines of “it may be better for you than anyone realized”, let’s also add vinegar. Yes, vinegar, that lovely cooking condiment and maker of pickles that’s also one of the best cleaners around in our limestone-dominated world here on Guam. Read on!
Researchers in Japan are reporting new evidence that the ordinary vinegar may live up to its age-old reputation in folk medicine as a health promoter. They report new evidence that vinegar can help prevent the accumulation of body fat and weight gain.
Tomoo Kondo and his colleagues note in the new study that vinegar has been used as a folk medicine since ancient times. Modern scientific research suggests that acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, may help control blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and fat accumulation.
Their new study showed that laboratory mice fed a high-fat diet and given acetic acid developed significantly less body fat (up to 10 percent less) than other mice.
The new research suggests acetic acid fights fat by turning on genes that regulate fatty acid metabolism. The genes churn out proteins involved in breaking down fats, thus suppressing body fat accumulation in the body.
Found in many salad dressings, pickles, and other foods, vinegar could help prevent accumulation of body fat and weight gain, scientists report. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
So, we’ve had some feel-good stuff about how taking common things is good for you, now how about some information about how you can be good for other people. We’ve all lost loved ones to diseases that could be cured if only there were enough scientists, enough researchers, enough money to devote to finding those cures. Well, now YOU can be that scientist, that researcher and it won’t cost you a thing.
SETI FOR DISEASES
Several years ago, astronomers developed a program that allowed your home computer to sift through mountains of data gathered by radio telescopes to see if there was any signal that seemed regular and possibly generated by an alien society. Although the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) astronomers haven’t found any alien signals yet, their idea of using home computers to parse data and the number of people who signed up to do it has not been lost on other researchers.
Not using your computer at the mome
nt? You can now donate your computer’s idle time to cutting-edge biomedical research aimed at finding a cure for HIV, Parkinson’s, arthritis, and breast cancer. Through the University of Delaware’s “Docking@Home” project, led by Michela Taufer, more than 6,000 volunteers worldwide are donating their computer’s idle time to perform scientific calculations that will aid in creating new and improved medicines to thwart these major diseases.
Before new drugs can be produced for laboratory testing, researchers must create molecular models and simulate their interactions to reveal possible candidates for effective drugs. This simulation is called “docking”.
Since the combinations of molecules and their binding orientations are nearly infinite, simulating as many combinations as possible requires tremendous computing power. Supercomputers often have long waiting lists or are too expensive to use for extended periods. Thus, medical researchers have turned to citizen volunteers for help. Using their personal computers, the scientists can distribute the hundreds of thousands of computing tasks across a large number of computers.
Volunteering your computer’s idle time to do these calculations takes only a few simple steps highlighted on the project Web page (http://docking.cis.udel.edu/). You install a free, software program called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing), and link up to the Docking Server at the University of Delaware to become part of the network. Your computer’s idle cycles are accessed automatically when you’re not using your system.
The BOINC software also is in use for such programs as IBM’s World Community Grid, which focuses on diseases caused by the mis-folding of proteins, and SETI@Home, which is searching for signs of intelligent life outside Earth.
Currently, the 6,000 volunteers worldwide who currently are involved in UD’s Docking@Home project are contributing to the completion of some 30,000 docking tasks per day.
Kevin Kreiser, a third-year graduate student at the University of Delaware is developing software that will allow volunteers to “throw” a molecule right into a protein using a Nintendo Wii. “Other people do yoga with a Wii,” Taufer notes, smiling. “We’re doing science.”