Palaeoseismology: Historical and prehistorical records of earthquake ground effects for seismic hazard assessment, edited by K. Reicherter, A.M. Michetti & P.G. Silva. Geological Society Special Publication 316, London, 2009. No. of pages: viii+324. ISBN 1-86239-276-5 (hardback).


While reviewing this book, an earthquake of magnitude ∼7.0 occurred in Haiti, causing widespread damage to the capital Port-au-Prince and its environs, contributing to extensive loss of life (estimated at about 230 000) and leaving approximately 1.5 million people homeless. Haiti is not among the countries discussed in this Geological Society Special Publication, but is one of many that are vulnerable to earthquakes, whose populations live close to active faults and where palaeoseismology research, such as presented in this volume, is desperately required.

The book comprises 18 scientific papers that discuss the ground effects of historic and prehistoric earthquakes that occurred in tectonically active areas of Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, the Pacific and South America. Of particular importance in this special publication is the application and use of the INQUA Environmental Seismic Intensity Scale (ESI-2007) as a tool in determining the intensity of past seismic events based on primary and secondary ground effects. Several of the scientific papers in the volume attempt to test and assess the robustness of this newly-proposed scale. From these presentations it would appear that the ESI represents a novel way of measuring intensity and in some case studies it was successfully employed in estimating earthquake intensities, whereas in other instances weaknesses and inconsistencies were identified. The editors admit that ‘the new ESI 2007 scale needs wider dissemination to allow a full scientific debate about its application’ (p. 3) and that one of the purposes of the Special Publication is to open the debate on its use. Based on observations from the very recent catastrophic MM X Haitian earthquake, in which there was no evidence of fault rupture, further debate on the refinement of the ESI is necessary before it can be accepted internationally. The occurrence of fault rupture as a major determinant of intensity using the ESI and its absence in the Haiti earthquake would have incorrectly classified this severe event at a considerably lower intensity.

The editors are to be commended for publishing the scientific presentations from two meetings on palaeoseismology sponsored by the INQUA Subcommission on Palaeoseismology. The appearance of this volume is timely and a welcome addition to a number of recent publications in the growing discipline of palaeoseismology. Most of the papers focus on earthquake ground effects, with a sprinkling of archaeoseismology and palaeoseismology overview presentations. The application of an ESI scale to both past and recent earthquake events is thought-provoking and hopefully will generate further debate. The quality of the research undertaken by the authors is sound and such work needs to be extended to other earthquake prone areas across the globe, especially where earthquake risk is high. The illustrations and figures are clear, and there are many that have been reproduced in colour. The book is well presented. The foreword and introduction clearly outline the purpose behind the publication and provide a brief synopsis of each paper. Apart from appealing to palaeoseismologists, the book would benefit scientists and non-scientists working in the field of natural hazards and disasters, especially in earthquake prone areas of the world.