As a geologist, I get mightily annoyed with apocalyptic-themed sites that broadcast media reports about normal processes of the planet with the tone that End times are upon us! Every friggin’ day! The end of the world seems to be perpetually right around the corner. Every report of strange sounds (often hoaxes or explainable), lights in the sky (typically meteors and space junk), weird or destructive weather, mass mortality events, earthquakes and volcano eruptions, are reported as a sign of the end times. With the ability of the internet to transmit nearly instant details of each event from anywhere in the world, it may seem like they are happening more often. But there is way more too it than that and human activity plays a part.
Doom-promoting web sites capitalize on fear and paranoia of End Times believers. Examples of these sites include strangesounds.org, sott.net, earthfiles.com (Linda Moulton Howe’s site), endtimeheadlines.org, AboveTopSecret, beforeitsnews.com, and the forum Godlike Productions. These sites are really popular, far more popular than science-based sites, sadly. But, it’s hardly surprising. Sensational stores get passed around and clicked on more than sober ones. They are re-framed to suit agendas, connected to other events that are unrelated, and the average person mistakenly thinks that there may be something going on to be afraid of.
I’ve dug into many of these stories in the past to reveal that the causes are not global, they aren’t indicators that something catastrophic occuring , they are local events with reasonable explanations. That agenda does not get attention but it should because it’s costing us a lot of money and unnecessary trouble.
Giant cracks in the earth that form suddenly sound like the beginning of a sci-fi movie that won’t end well. There are various reasons why they form and most are readily explainable with a little investigation. Last week, a new crack appeared on a hillside in central PA, near Altoona. The doom-sayers proclaimed it was related to [tectonic] plate movement that might indicate an earthquake. Or that it was related to “earth changes” that hint that those changes will not be good for earth inhabitants. Some people assume anything bad that happens anywhere in the US is caused by fracking for natural gas. RUN AWAY! they said. PANIC!
They are mistaken and irresponsible. The answer to this problem can be described by a very generalized equation.
[(Geology + water) * land surface changes] – (money + forethought) = A Big Mess
Even if you looked for the less hyperbolic answer to this problem online, it’s not easy to find but the locals are clued in. At least a few local papers have consulted engineering experts who explained the obvious problems with this site. I haven’t had the chance to visit the site to confirm what’s going on but we can tell quite a bit from secondary sources and information available from mapping. Let’s take a look at the setting.
The crack appears relatively minor at first and then widens on the steep and poorly-vegetated lower slope behind the southeast corner of this shopping center. It also rained quite a bit in April. Pennsylvania has clay-rich soils and rock formations that will shrink, swell and give way under not so extreme seasonal conditions. This is called “mass wasting” when a large section of earth moves via gravity. It’s not uncommon. It’s basically rapid erosion, a landslide, a slope failure. In this case, the deliberate changes made to the land surface and altering the slope accelerated the process. When we look at the topography, we see how close the vertical cut into the hillside is to the building. A gentle buffer slope was not developed. That certainly saved money during land development. A geologist friend very familiar with this area informs me that the road cut to the north includes bank reinforcements to prevent slides. There are apparently none behind the shopping center. And, he said, this slope showed signs of heavy erosion. It’s not really a surprise that this occurred. Now, the slope must be restabilized by excavation back to the tension-cracked area. The businesses had to shut down temporarily, so it certainly cost more to do this emergency remediation work than to do it right the first time.
The crack is in the light area directly up from the word “Google”. You can see the very steep cut face created (though the image likely looks overly exaggerated). Check out the video from the local news station.
Basic geology tells us that rain that falls on the mountain will drain over land and below ground towards the valley stream, Brush Run. An upslope swale (visible in the picture above) collects the runoff and diverts it around the area but it may not be working quite as planned. It’s not unusual for developers to cut corners or overlook potential hazards, and unforeseen events do happen. But, let’s be very clear, this giant crack is by no stretch an earth catastrophe, a seismically active fault, or a signal of coming doom for humanity. It’s just a geo-engineering oops. When you manipulate the land, there are consequences.
However, they consequences are NOT destruction of humanity. The reasonable followup explanations were not given on the Apocalypse-fest websites. None of these sites have geologists as contributors nor did they consult a geologist or geo-engineer before concluding it was so terrible. Reasonable explanations don’t make for web clicks. But don’t people deserve to know the truth instead of hyped nonsense? I think so.
Earth changes? Yeah, that does happen every day – always has, always will. We humans manage to get by. Cool your jets, Doomsday Preppers, humans won’t go so soon into the good night.