‘What if' became 'Just did’

Steve's picture

Many of my blogs involve natural disasters either hypothetical or long past. In a workaday world, it’s understandable for one to be blasé about such things. Sure, ‘what if’ events are possible, but why care?

To counterbalance this tendency, I like to highlight cases where

                                ‘What if’   became   ‘Just did’

Natural disasters that happened in recent years, or at least in recent history, are stories that bear re-telling.

My previous blog involved the collapse of Mt. St. Helens.  Surely you can’t get a fresher ‘just did’ than 1980. 

For this chapter, turn back the clock to 1888. OK, no cell phones then, but telegraphs had been around for a long while, electric lighting was making head road, and your great-grandfather could have been planning his next move.

The place -- Ritter Island  --  5.6 degrees south latitude, 148.1 degrees east longitude.  Ritter Island was a volcano between Papua New Guinea and New Britain.  Think of it as Mt. St. Helens up to its neck in water.

Like Mt. St. Helens, one day this volcano exploded and collapsed. Unlike Mt. St. Helens, being in the ocean, Ritter Island generated a tsunami tens of meters high. The wave killed 100s if not 1000s of natives. This is no fiction. Reports from survivors, eyewitnesses and passing mariners written concurrently or soon after comprise a detailed tale, replete with times, heights, descriptions, and diagrams.

 If you have four minutes to spare -  the movie above will take you through the Ritter Island Saga.

 Why care about Ritter Island? For me, running computer simulations that reproduce observations of ‘just dids’, bolsters confidence in predicting consequences of those ‘what ifs’.

 Steven N. Ward   Santa Cruz


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