Friday, January 15, 2010

the power is amazing

By now everyone has heard about the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that occurred in Haiti this past Tuesday. It sure has been on my mind. When I see the images of houses and hospitals and schools and churches collapsed, my heart breaks while my mind tries to process the devastation in this third world country.

Have you ever been in an earthquake?

Living in California, I certainly have.

Not one of the big ones, mind you, but large enough that I can feel the earth moving and hear the rumbling and it isn't until the shaking has stopped that I realize what happened. As it's occurring you wonder if a plane crashed? Or a gas line exploded? Or maybe a train derailed?

But then you remember that you don't live anywhere near railroad tracks. And you quickly log on to the USGS website to see what you can find.

Since I'm a geologist, I'm fascinated by earthquakes and the process that cause them. And because I'm a nerdy geologist, I'm going to explain that process a little bit, here.

Noooo. Wait .... Don't close the windo.....

For those cool kids that are still with me, the earth's surface is like one big puzzle that is broken into several pieces or "plates."


Each of these plates, which are approximately 264,000 feet (50 miles) thick, move PAST each other at the rate of approximately 1.57 inches to 7.87 inches per year. If you were to look at a picture of the earth 250 million years ago, you would see that North and South America once fit in to Africa like a big puzzle.


The theory of the earth's crust being composed of several plates is called "Plate Tectonics" and there are three types of "movement" that have been characterized at plate boundaries.

1) Convergent

2) Divergent

3) Transform

At a convergent boundary, plates move towards each other and collide. If an oceanic plate collides with a continental plate, the oceanic plate (composed of a more dense rock type) is pushed beneath the continental plate (subduction) and volcanoes occur. An example is Mount St. Helens in Washington. Where two continental plates collide, they form major mountain systems such as the Himalayas.


At a divergent boundary, plates move away from each other. Where plates diverge, molten rock rises from underwater volcanoes and adds new rock to the edges of the oceanic plates. This process is known as sea-floor spreading. It is in this environment that you might see those totally cool things called "Black Smokers".


At a transform boundary, plates move horizontally past each other. If you look at an aerial map of California, you can actually trace the fault line of the massive San Andreas fault as it transects California. The San Andreas Fault is an example of a transform type of boundary.


On one side of the San Andreas is the Pacific Plate which is where San Diego (and Los Angeles) are located. On the other side of the San Andreas is the North American Plate, which is where San Francisco is located. During our recent trip to a beach in northern California, we were less than a mile from the San Andreas fault line.

(Once upon a time, they were planning to build a nuclear power plant in that very location. I'm just not thinking that a NUCLEAR POWER PLANT anywhere near the San Andreas fault line is a good idea. KWIM?)

Because these plates are being driven by forces from deep within the earth to move, pressure builds up before being SUDDENLY released in an amazing eruption of power that results in an earthquake and sometimes, tsunamis and/or volcanic eruptions. Over long stretches of time, this is how mountains are built, islands appear, and gulfs are created. (In a few million years, Charlie and I will have our dream fulfilled of being closer to family since the Pacific plate is moving northewest and will eventually, be located near San Francisco. Yay! Party at our house!) Over shorter stretches of time, this is how societies are leveled and civilizations are decimated.

The island of Hispaniola is the second largest island in the Caribbean and it contains two separate countries; the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The earthquake that occurred in Haiti this past Tuesday occurred along a transform boundary in the region separating the Caribbean plate and the North America plate. It is estimated that in an instant, the Caribbean plate moved eastward (with respect to the North America plate) by approximately 20 millimeters.

Haiti jimani Fonds Parisiens Map

And in an instant, people around the world, thanks in large part to the amazing power of the internet, knew about this earthquake that completely devastated a small country that has been wracked by poverty and violence. And in the following days, people would unite in awesome ways to funnel their support to the victims of this disaster.

As I've written about before, we've been sponsoring four children through Compassion International and it has been a wonderful experience for our entire family. We talk about our sponsored kids every day. We pull out maps and look at where they live. Because we write letters - and draw pictures - and communicate with our friends at least once every two months, we've learned about the foods they eat, the games they play and the things that they are learning in school. We've had many a discussion about taking four separate trips, when the children are older, to visit each of our friends and explore the world where they live.

So when I received a request from Compassion this past October to help find a sponsor for a child, in time for Christmas, I said YES. Because I would love to help help promulgate a cause which I fully support. But I didn't write about the child I was hoping to find a sponsor for here because at the time, I felt like I had written about enough of my 'causes'. So over Thanksgiving and for the month of December, I reached out to neighbors and friends asking if they would be interested in sponsoring the child that was assigned to me.

Angely is a sweet four-year-old little girl who lives in the Dominican Republic, which is located due east of Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola.


For a host of reasons, no one that I spoke to was able to sponsor Angely. They couldn't fit in to their budget the $38.00 monthly cost of a sponsorship. They were afraid they couldn't honor the commitment. And some said that they already sponsor a child. Or children.

When I heard that this earthquake struck, my heart immediately sunk. But then when I saw where it hit, my heart sunk even further. I've seen the pictures and know that the construction in this region is not seismically sound and definitely cannot withstand a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. So even though Angely doesn't live in Haiti, she lives on the same island and I feel like I have a close connection to someone who is in the same geographic area as this catastrophic disaster.

Our kids have talked about her - looked at her face - and frequently asked me to describe to them what her life is like.

"Well, she lives with her father and her grandmother and she helps by making beds, running errands and cleaning. There are two children in her family and she attends Kindergarten and Bible Study. Her birthday is February 5."

Does she have a cat?

"I don't know."

Does she have a dog?

"I don't know."

Does she have a turtle?

"I don't know. I doubt it."

Does she eat her vegetables?

"YES. I'm sure she does."

Can we keep her, too?

All along I've been telling the kids no. We've got four children we're already sponsoring and that's enough. Especially now that we're on a strict budget. But after this most recent disaster, I'm rethinking my decision. Life takes on a whole new meaning when you are able to help positively impact someone's future which inevitably has a positive impact on the world.

That to me, is the most amazing power of all.

If you'd be interested in sponsoring Angely, please send me an e-mail to TheAmazingTrips(at) I might be able to part with her on the condition that if you sponsor her, you tell me what happens with this sweet child as she grows.

What else did I need to tell you? Oh yes. All the geologic pictures and maps used in this post were borrowed from the United States Geological Survey website (or links contained, therein). I don't want anyone thinking that I was up late drafting those figures, myself.


  1. I've been a long time reader, but never post. I love your blog. I just wanted to thank you for the explanation - that was very informative. I am also working to stick to our budget this year and am committed to other charities, but I think you are amazing for all you do to help others! I am also working to eat healthier and lose weight so I am a better example to my three yound kids (the oldest was born at the same time as your triplets).

  2. Good for you Jen. This was a good lesson in Geology and I learned a lot. I am glad to know that so many countries are coming to the aid of Haiti--I hope even though the disaster is enormous, something good will come from it in that some people will have a better life. Your Dad and I sponsered a child from Greece many years ago.
    Right now, we are supporting the Red Cross for Haiti.

  3. My first instinct is to say, "Sold! We'll sponsor her", but I grew up in a family that does hands-on work with impoverished kids in the Third World. In fact, I spent a year living in the orphanage that my mother ran in Bangladesh when I was 8, and my sister was adopted from a similar one.

    There was an interesting story recently on NPR about how sponsorship money is distributed that mirrors my experiences living in an impoverished country with parents' friends and friends of parents in the human rights field.

    Until we can find the resources to adopt ourselves (I'm still a Bangladeshi citizen, so that should simplify the legalities somewhat), we'll continue to donate to UNICEF and Comic Relief, where my Mum now works.

    I wish you luck in finding a sponsor for Angely, though. She is lovely, and now is an especially frightening time in a frightening life that no child should have to live, but too many do. And too few survive.

  4. Dude. You are totally WRONG. Pat Robertson says the earthquake happened because of the "pact with the devil", and we all know he has a direct line to the Lord, so his theory must be more sound than yours. (Go read my blog!)

  5. Love this post and your easy to understand explanations (w/ helpful pics!). I find this information so much more fascinating now than I did back in school! Thank you!

  6. I must be like a total nerd but your explanation was FASCINATING! Seriously, I wish you had been my teacher in science class...LOL! And I know what you mean...I really can't complain about anything in my life after hearing about the huge devastation in sad.

  7. I lived in Alaska - Elmendorf AFB - during my junior high school years and experienced firsthand the Good Friday Earthquake in 1964.

    It was an experience I will never forget - BUT - nothing anywhere devastating as this latest in Haiti. One hundred thirty one deaths was nothing on the scale compared to this.

    I pray for the people of Haiti and all who are tending to them.

    And thank you for the geology explantion - if my science teachers in school had been this interesting, I might not have a degree in Sociology.

    (However, it has served me well in all these years. I just retired for the second time.)

    ~Mad(elyn) in Alabama

  8. Excellent post Jen. As a CA native earthquakes are something of a way of life here.

    I loved your explanation of the different types of quakes and plate tectonics but then I'm a big nerd.

    Things are tight right now but I did donate $5 to the US Humane Society. I always worry about the animals. They are so dependent on us and in the chaos they are so often overlooked or left behind.

  9. Thank you for your geology lesson (loved it) and for bringing awareness to Angely. We are working out our budget for the year right now so I don't know if we can do the $38/month sponsorship. However, one of my goals (which I failed to mention in my earlier post), is to donate to charity on a regular, monthly basis.

  10. I live in the middle of Oklahoma and we have been having a record number of earthquakes in this area. Our latest on Friday was a 4.0 followed 10 mins later by a 3.8. We have been awoken in the middle of the night several times by them. It has been scary to me as I have never experienced one before and in the last 3 months we have a dozen or more. I found this post very interesting

  11. Why do geologists always think everyone could be as interested in geology if only they knew more about it.

    We don't - geologists are a breed of their own (and I say that with a female geologist as one of my best friends and being a mining engineer (so I have more interest in rocks than your average joe)).

    Geologists are special person (I would say freak but you may take as an insult - I mean only as a unique person) - what excites them is different than anyone else in the entire universe.

    Nice explanation. Even got my son to read as he is covering volcanoes and earthquakes in IPC (international primary curriculm) this 6 week block.