Is the Government deliberately concealing the truth about the Christchurch earthquakes? It's a job for Fox Mulder and Dana Scully!
There's been a lot of talk, and a lot written, about Christchurch's current wave of seismic activity.
That's been a problem.
Of course we do need a wide discussion, but the problem is that far too much of that discussion has been unfounded opinion, idle speculation, gossip and, frankly, crazy talk.
Too often little things like FACTS have been conspicuous by their absence. Rationality and logic are nowhere to seen. The discipline of science has been left lying bleeding in the gutter of a silt covered street in Aranui.
Just this week I've read one commentator speculating that Christchurch could be in for decades of seismic activity. No evidence was provided for this claim but that didn't stop the commentator spewing his opinion over the net. Apparently Christchurch could be morphing into a strange hybrid of Fred Flintstone's hometown of Bedrock and the nightmarish Los Angeles depicted in the movie Bladerunner, sans Replicants.
I've also read people seriously suggesting that the Government knows more about Christchurch's seismic activities than it is letting on, the implication being that 'The Big One' is still on its way. This sounds like a case for Fox Mulder and Dana Scully to solve in a mildly entertaining 45 minute sci-fi television show but it has no place in a rational and intelligent conversation.
As well as the loony conspiracy stories there are also the inevitable looney religious claims. A bit of web surfing reveals that there are a number of nutters claiming that Christchurch's earthquakes are 'a sign' heralding the apocalypse and 'the second coming' of Jesus. Other religious fruitcakes say its all part of God's wrath against a sinful world - and for voting Sideshow Bob Parker back into office ( I made that up).
According to one blogger the February quake was the sign of a wrathful and a merciful God:
'This event is surely phenomenal and shows the handprint of God as the crust just ripped open, while sparing the lives of the entire populace of the city.'
Mmm, apparently God thinks he has to be cruel to be kind. Who knew God was a devotee of 'Tough love'?
The writer goes on to say:
'Apparently, God used the city named CHRISTCHURCH in which it was scientifically impossible to experience an earthquake.
It therefore appears evident that the God of Heaven ripped open the crust because previously there was NO FAULT LINE at or near Christchurch New Zealand, but there is now!'
Oh and lets not forget the lunacy of Ken Ring and his followers who think the moon provokes earthquakes.
Seriously though, all this crazy talk does is add to the extremely high anxiety level in Christchurch right now, something it could well do without.
What Christchurch needs is a sober and scientific assessment of what is going on.
One of the better assessments that I've seen has come from Dr Gary Gibson, Principal Research Fellow in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne.
He told The Australian in February that it was the depth and proximity of the magnitude 6.3 February quake that inflicted such widespread damage.
“The critical issue with this earthquake was that the epicentre was at shallow depth (5km) under Christchurch, so many people were within 10km to 20km of the fault rupture.
“The magnitude 7.1 earthquake on September 4 (last year) was 30km to 40km west of Christchurch and ruptured mainly to the west. “
The good news is that Dr Gibson doesn't expect that there will be further quakes of this magnitude:
“The September earthquake and this February earthquake will have relieved the majority of stress in the regions in which they occurred, so another larger earthquake is unlikely.'
He also pointed out that '....aftershocks have continued at a decreasing rate since the September earthquake.'
However Dr Gibson added that major aftershocks could be expected in the days and weeks to come:
'...aftershocks will certainly occur over the next few days and weeks which may cause further damage in weakened buildings, and will be very distressing for residents.'
And that indeed has very much been the pattern since the February quake.
Gibson also dismisses the notion that there is something unusual about two major earthquakes occurring in a relatively short period of time.
“Earthquakes always cluster in time and space with some large earthquakes having foreshocks and most large earthquakes have many aftershocks.
“Multiple large earthquakes are not uncommon, often when the main rupture of the earlier event is extended into an adjacent segment of the active fault.”
The eminently sensible Dr Gibson reminds us that we must, above all, allow the discipline of science to be the determining factor in discussions about earthquake activity in the Christchurch and Canterbury region.
While no one is saying that the Christchurch quakes have not been devastating, lets not allow ourselves to become the victims of irrational fear and hysteria.
Things will eventually return to what society likes to consider to be 'normal'. In the words of the noted philosopher and part-time model, Rachel Hunter, it won't happen overnight, but it will happen..