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The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti was not particularly large. Magnitude 7 events happen dozens of times a year around the world. But this one killed a near-record number of people. What did scientists and the public know or not know about earthquake hazards in Haiti? Scientists knew that the area was likely to experience an earthquake of this size, but because such earthquakes had not occurred in Haiti for the past 240 years, public awareness was negligible. Building codes were non-existent, resulting in huge losses of life. On the other hand, the massive earthquake in Japan in March 2011 resulted in fewer deaths, while its tsunami wreaked widespread devastation.
The people and government of Haiti were overwhelmed by the size of the disaster, and the world community rushed to provide assistance in unimaginably difficult conditions. Civilian, military, and non-governmental organizations from around the world were involved in a relief operation of a magnitude larger than that ever previously staged in peacetime activities. Their cooperation, in situations that made communication and coordination almost impossible, provides a fascinating story that continues today, as reconstruction of the damaged country continues.
At a recent installment of OMSI's Science Pub at the Mission Theater, audience members listened to Dr. Wayne D. Pennington explain the scientific aspects of both the Haiti and Japan earthquakes, including ongoing and future risks and implications for the United States, and an overview of the relief and reconstruction efforts in Haiti.
Dr. Pennington is a geophysicist at Michigan Technological University, where he is also the Chair of the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences. In addition, he is a Jefferson Science Fellow with the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Dr. Pennington has worked in academia, industry, and federal government. In the 1970s, he studied tectonic earthquakes in Latin America and Pakistan. In the early 1980s, he was on the faculty at The University of Texas at Austin, and studied the relationship of earthquakes to oil and gas production. Following that, he worked at the research laboratory for Marathon Oil Company, studying techniques to improve the identification of, and production from, oil and gas reservoirs. Since 1994, he has been at Michigan Tech, teaching and conducting research into geophysical observations of oil and gas production. In 2009-2010, he served full-time with USAID in Washington DC. He is President-Elect of the American Geological Institute and has served as the First Vice-President for the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. He has published over 30 papers, and co-authored (with his students) one book. His degrees are from Princeton University,Cornell University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.