SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska





January 06, 2013
Sunday AM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska
- About 15 years ago, I read a horrifying factoid in an old geology textbook.
jpg Dave Kiffer

Yes. I know you are absolutely stunned to hear that a “hip, happening” kind of guy like me has spent any time with a geology textbook. Especially since – at the time - I was a good 10 years past the need to know any geology at all in order to pass any sort of college geology class.

Get over it.

I am always interested in how our own home, our womb, our earth is always trying to kill us.

Lava flows, avalanches, earthquakes, you name it. As if we humans weren’t already stupid enough to put ourselves in harm’s way seven or eight times a day, mother earth is gunning for us just about every time we step outside the cozy confines of our abodes.

And even when we stay in those cozy confines, there are still tornados, tsunamis and falling trees to come in and get us.

But I digress.

Anyway, I was perusing a chapter on plate tectonics because if there is one thing I love it’s a little “continental drift.”

Besides being a wonderful metaphor for many situations (local government meetings for example), continental drift is one of the slowest moving happenings on earth.

It is slower than those drivers who go through town at 18 mph. It is slower than a grandma grocery shopping. Heck, it is even slower than something that doesn’t move at all. Like Congress.

Continental drift is what moves the continents hither and yon. Large masses of land – henceforth continents – drifting around at less than an inch a year. But still moving forward as inevitably as Congressional pay raises (I’m only mentioning Congress here because one of my loyal readers chastised me last column for not taking on the “Fiscal Cliff”. Time to make it at least appear that I am concerned with events happening outside Our Fair Salmon City!)

So what did I read that scared the begeezus out of me?

Well, I was looking ahead. I can hear my long suffering wife Charlotte snorting as I say that. She knows that my idea of looking ahead is to announce – at 7 pm – “Gee, I wonder what’s on TV at 8?”

My excuse is that – since I have the attention span of a gnat – there is little point to looking too far ahead (and God forbid planning for what’s ahead) because by the time “ahead” gets here, I will have either changed my mind or forgotten the plan anyway.

But this news was so big that I couldn’t disregard it as “idle worry about the future.”

Because of plate tectonics, in 75 million years, Los Angeles will be in Alaska!

Now I won’t bore you with the details. Mainly because I can’t remember them.

And when I try to Google the information all I get is a million websites about “Ice Age: Continental Drift.” Which I know is somehow not quite the same thing, although anything with the voice of Ray Romano as a wooly mammoth is always worth a TIVO.

Suffice it to say, that because most of LA is slowly drifting northward (at a rate of approximately .00001211235.4562 and 1/2 centimeters an hour), it will arrive in Alaska when I am really, really, really old.

Something like 75 million years from now, if I my memory is correct. And of course it is.

While this may seem academic to many of you, I want to point out the fact that some of Los Angeles has apparently already arrived!

Now in all the time that I was growing up in Our Fair Salmon City, there was one thing that just about never happened.

There were earthquakes every so often in Canada, there were earthquakes every so often in Anchorage. There were earthquakes about every 10 seconds in the Aleutians.

Here about these parts? Just about never.

Sure, there were all sorts of those little landslips that show up on those fancy rumble counters, the ones that always go bug nut crazy off the charts when a real temblor hits, like in Anchorage in 1964. But I can’t ever remember one that shook enough for most of us in Ketchikan to notice.

And as I said before, my memory is unassailable!

So what has been happening the last few years?

We have felt several of those little nudges. (When I lived in California an oldtimer likened them to God tapping you on the shoulder).

Over the past four or five years, there have been at least five noticeable earthquakes here.

And some have not been so little, like the two most recent ones, in the last couple of months, both 7 point plus quakes, first in northern BC and then in Craig.

They didn’t do much here beyond give people the willies, but for comparison sake much smaller quakes in the upper 6 point range (think Northridge and San Francisco) have hit in populated areas causing billions in damage and killing scores of people.

So while we have been hardening our borders against illegal aliens and invasive species, we have done nothing to stop of the northern drift of those real Californian troublemakers, the earthquakes!

In SoCal, chatter still goes on about the “big one” that is going to inevitably come.

How do we know "the big one" hasn’t “gone on the lam” from all those poky, prody scientist (always sticking sensors in the ground, ouch!) and headed north to Alaska where things are a little cooler (literally)?

It could be hovering just off the coast now. That little plate tectonic burp near Craig the other night might have just been the geological equivalent of a black bear sticking its nose out of the den in March to make sure the “coast is clear.”

So it behooves us (shouldn’t behoove have something to with horses? I’ve always wondered why it didn’t) to keep our eyes open and our ground movement censors freshly batteried.

BTW, I slept through the “Great Midnight Quake of Jan. 4.”

Liam was up enjoying one of his last nights of Christmas break, watching TV. He says the quake was “weird” but “no big deal.”

Ah, the blasé-ness of youth!

A couple of hours later, I had a nature call. The house rattled as I got up and I went upstairs to check the computer and see if it was indeed an earthquake. It was a 6 point aftershock and then I learned about earlier 7.5 pointer.

An old, dear friend, Linda Cray, later cleverly noted that since I slept through the “big one” I had been “shaken not stirred.”

So even though I seem to remember that the geology text also prognosticated that when Los Angeles reaches Alaska, there is a chance it may just go under another plate deep in the Gulf of Alaska, we still need to be ready for whatever the impact may be.

We need to look ahead. Beyond what is on TV an hour from now.

In the meantime, let’s hope the “big one” decides the pastures are still greener down south.

And, if the smaller quakes continue, let us hope we will all be “shaken (but) not stirred.”

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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