The Yellowstone Caldera is not related to the subduction melt. Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier, and the rest of that volcanic chain are related, but plates shifting about in an earthquake doesn't increase or decrease rates of melting.
A bit off topic, but a fun bit of trivia: oceanic plates produce non-violent volcanoes (like Hawaii), continental plates produce highly violent volcanoes (like Yellowstone, although most are very very very small), and ocean melt passing through continental plate produce intermediate volcanoes (like Mount Saint Helens) which are technically less violent than purely andesitic volcanoes, but have larger volumes of magma so are the most destructive. (For the chemistry nerds, it has to do with percent-silica & trapped gas).
A few factual corrections, although I agree with the tone.
The earthquake building code for the United States is the same throughout the country, but it zones the country by expected earthquake risk. California is in a high-risk zone, but so are several other locations in the country. BC, California, and Japan all have fairly comparable building codes. So yes, California's code is very, very good. But it's not, technically speaking, "the best."
Next, California has relatively small translational earthquakes caused by the plates rubbing past each other. This leads to intensely focused, fairly shallow earthquakes, similar to that experienced by Haiti. It's common for one city to be hit hard (LA during the Northridge Quake, SF in '89...) and the surrounding region to be pretty much unaffected.
The Pacific North West and Chile have subduction earthquakes, also called megaquakes because of their incredible magnitudes. These earthquakes are caused by one plate subducting under another, and lead to deep earthquakes with less-intense shaking felt over a larger area. They are also commonly associated with tsunami-generation because of underwater vertical displacement (Sumatra was another subduction quake).
Geologically, the regions you're comparing have very different causes for earthquakes, very different types of shaking felt at the surface, and different impacts on the rest of the rest of the world.
Lots of big differences, from geology to building code to economic resilience. If you're curious, I bet it'll be a hot topic in all the big geo/policy conferences this year (AGU December 2011 in SF will probably have a whole session on it)
1. Geology: Haiti was a shallow, translation earthquake. This means that the surface shaking was intense & prolonged over a focused area (just the city). Chile was a deep, subduction earthquake. This means the shaking was spread over a larger surface area (half the country).
2. Awareness: Haiti's fault was only identified in the past few years. Chile's known it's in earthquake country forever.
3. Building code: Haiti did not have an earthquake building code. Chile's earliest earthquake-safe building practices pre-date the foundation of the country.
Pretty much the only thing the two events had in common was, "the ground shook," and "it happened in the same year." Nothing else is comparable.
Thank you. I was starting to worry that I was biased about how common basic earthquake safety knowledge is locally!
One of the awesome things about earthquakes is that although we aren't so good at predicting exactly when they'll happen, we are very, very good at predicting where (where stress has built up, usually at the ends of the most recent rupture zone) and what type of shaking will occur.
Earthquake codes are designed to match the intensity and style of shaking not just for earthquakes with local epicenters, but what sorts of shaking they'll experience from elsewhere. The United States and Canadian codes were both revised repeatedly long after the threat of PNW mega-quakes were established. The building codes are very, very good (Japan's are also amazing), and quite well-enforced. Sure, we might have a few undetected defectors, like the high rise in Chile, but pretty much every public building in the entirety of BC that needed to be retrofit has been already.
The parent article is not new news. Not even slightly new news. Not even remotely new news. This news is so old, my parents met, got married, had a few kids, then I was born, grew up, went to a bunch of schools, and became a certified disaster expert since it first became well-known to the disaster-community (& it became well-known to the non-expert residents still before I was born). The only reason it's making the popmedia rounds now is because Haiti and Chile raised awareness of the potential devastation of earthquakes.
I share your exasperation with the lack of popsci understanding of Mars' variable temperatures & pressures.
When I used to run planetarium shows for kids, I used to explain the temperature gradient by telling them, "If you stood on Mars, you'd wear sandals and a parka, since your feet would be as warm as a summer day but by the time you reached your head it'd be colder than winter in Antarctica!" which, although on the "tiny lies of oversimplification" side, is true-ish and a vivid enough image that they remembered months later.
I love that "above some critical threshold" is listed like a mysterious or complex thing. It's the angle of repose, the angle that a material naturally sits at when you let it fall from a height and pile up. It might be, if things are very complicated, the angle of repose + cohesion, but then you're back at water-based theories again since water is the easiest way to remove cohesion and trigger failure.
I also really like that the experimenters managed to recreate a sand flow in their lab. Of course they did. The field of prior research involving laboratory sand flows is immense, especially if you start including the ones with tiny glass beads of carefully varied diameters instead of sand. The only problem is thioxtropy -- landslides are renowned for having material that exhibit viscosity inversely proportional to velocity -- which is not easily replicable in small-scale lab settings.
I'm not sure if this is a, "Physicists discover what geologists already knew" moment, or a "Journalists are puzzled by the mundane mysteries of science," or what, exactly, but if you want to learn more about landslides on Mars, check out geotechnical journals starting with Lucchitta 1978 (Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, v89, pg 1601) and work your way forward. As the lunar and Martian landslides discredited an entire set of excess mobility theories, they're very well described and discussed.
Yet magic and hierarchy arise from the same source, and this source has a null pointer.