Plate Tectonics and Great Earthquakes
50 Years of Earth-Shaking Events
by Lynn R. Sykes
Pub Date 04 Jun 2019
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The theory of plate tectonics transformed earth science. The hypothesis that the earth’s outermost layers consist of mostly rigid plates that move over an inner surface helped describe the growth of new seafloor, confirm continental drift, and explain why earthquakes and volcanoes occur in some places and not others. Lynn R. Sykes played a key role in the birth of plate tectonics, conducting revelatory research on earthquakes. In this book, he gives an invaluable insider’s perspective on the theory’s development and its implications. Sykes combines lucid explanation of how plate tectonics revolutionized geology with unparalleled personal reflections. He entered the field when it was on the cusp of radical discoveries. Studying the distribution and mechanisms of earthquakes, Sykes pioneered the identification of seismic gaps—regions that have not ruptured in great earthquakes for a long time—and methods to estimate the possibility of quake recurrence. He recounts the various phases of his career, including his antinuclear activism, and the stories of colleagues around the world who took part in changing the paradigm. Sykes delves into the controversies over earthquake prediction and their importance, especially in the wake of the Fukushima accident. He highlights geology’s lessons for nuclear safety, explaining why historic earthquake patterns are crucial to understanding the risks to power plants. Plate Tectonics and Great Earthquakes is the story of a scientist witnessing a revolution and playing an essential role in making it.
Lynn R. Sykes is Higgins Professor Emeritus of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. His application of earthquake science to monitoring underground explosions was crucial to treaties limiting nuclear testing. He is the author of Silencing the Bomb: One Scientist’s Quest to Halt Nuclear Testing (Columbia, 2017).
"Lynn Sykes, one of the scientific revolutionaries who gave us plate tectonics, tells his story, with special emphasis on earthquake prediction. Although earthquake prediction has been a topic perceived by some as pursued only by “fools and charlatans,” Sykes defends it not only as worthy of pursuit, but also, however imperfect, as likely to be societally valuable."
-Peter Molnar, Distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder