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USGS Scientist Shows Evidence for 300-Year-Old Tsunami to Participants in International Tsunami Training Institute

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Brian Atwater
Above: Brian Atwater (left) points out a sand layer deposited by an ancient tsunami to NBC reporter Anne Thompson. Partly obscured by Atwater is his research collaborator Andy Moore, assistant professor of geology at Earlham College. Courtesy of the Today Show, NBC News. [larger version]

location map
Above: Washington State, showing locations of the Niawiakum and Copalis Rivers, where USGS geologist Brian Atwater led field trips to evidence for the 1700 Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. [larger version]

Brian Atwater
Above: Brian Atwater (center) points out evidence of the 1700 Cascadia earthquake and tsunami to field-trip participants during a canoe trip along the Niawiakum River. [larger version]

A fleet of canoes followed U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) geologist Brian Atwater from mudbank to mudbank along the Niawiakum River on Washington State's south coast, where he showed the paddlers evidence for the most recent Pacific Northwest earthquake of magnitude 9 and the associated Pacific Ocean tsunami. Most of the paddlers were visitors from the Indian Ocean region, hoping to gain knowledge that would help make their home countries safer from the threat of tsunamis. The field trip, held July 26, 2007, was part of a new Certificate Program in Tsunami Science and Preparedness offered by the University of Washington (UW) in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This program is the first offering of the International Tsunami Training Institute, established by NOAA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in response to the tsunami that claimed 300,000 lives around the Indian Ocean in December 2004.

Thirty-one participants from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, and the Maldives—the countries most severely affected by the December 2004 tsunami—took part in the inaugural 2-week intensive program at UW, all expenses paid by USAID. They included specialists in fields related to tsunami warning, preparedness, and mitigation and disaster management.

"Analysis of the 2004 Sumatra tsunami showed that the biggest gap in tsunami preparedness in the region was one of training, not technology," said John Stephens, director of Academic Programs for UW Educational Outreach. The new certificate program, instigated by UW Educational Outreach and NOAA's Pacific Environmental Laboratory, is intended to help close that gap.

The program is a core component of a broader U.S. Government effort to support the development of a tsunami-warning system in the region under the U.S. Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System Program, funded by USAID. Through this 2-year, $16.6 million effort, scientists and experts from the United States are sharing their technical expertise, providing guidance, and helping to build multihazard-warning-system capacity within the Indian Ocean region (to learn more, visit URL http://www.iotws.org/). The goal is to reduce losses from future tsunamis by helping governments and communities identify tsunami hazards and prepare for them decades before disaster strikes, and to issue warnings that reach coastal residents just minutes after the detection of earthquakes and tsunamis.

Because tsunami preparedness and mitigation require coordination among emergency managers, policymakers, community planners, scientists, engineers, and other professionals, the Certificate Program in Tsunami Science and Preparedness organizes participants in cross-disciplinary teams, each of which completes a tsunami-preparedness plan for a specific community at risk in their country. Taught by leading tsunami experts from the University of Washington, NOAA, the USGS, and other institutions, this is the first program in the world offering all the major components of tsunami preparedness in a centralized location.

"Seattle is a national nexus for tsunami research because of the subduction earthquake hazard in this area," said Catherine Petroff, program developer and affiliate assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering at UW. The Pacific Northwest is threatened by earthquakes and tsunamis from the Cascadia subduction zone, a largely offshore fault that runs 700 mi from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to Cape Mendocino, California. "The Cascadia subduction zone off our Northwest Coast bears a striking similarity to the Sumatra subduction zone that generated the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami," said Frank I. González, a retired research scientist for the NOAA Center for Tsunami Research in Seattle and affiliate professor in Earth and space sciences at UW.

USGS geologist Atwater, who also is an affiliate professor in Earth and space sciences at UW, studies the geologic records of earthquakes and tsunamis from past centuries to help engineers, public officials, and coastal residents prepare for future earthquakes and tsunamis. On the July 26 canoe trip with the visitors from South and Southeast Asia, he pointed out traces of the 1700 Cascadia earthquake, which occurred a century before the Lewis and Clark expedition. The associated tsunami, in addition to inundating the Pacific Northwest coast, ran across the Pacific Ocean and went ashore in Japan. Japanese written records of the resulting damage, combined with North American geology and tree-ring studies, enabled scientists to determine that the tsunami had been triggered by a Pacific Northwest earthquake, of approximate magnitude 9, on the evening of January 26, 1700.

One of the canoes on the trip contained a television crew from NBC Universal's Today show. The crew had spent the previous day with Atwater and Earlham College geologist Andrew Moore, investigating earthquake and tsunami geology along the Copalis River. NBC made highlights from both days into "Earthquake Hunter: Protecting the Future," a 5-minute segment that aired around the country on Sunday, August 26, and featured Atwater, Washington's earthquake and tsunami evidence, and the new tsunami training program. Additional coverage was provided by a crew from CBS affiliate KING-TV (Channel 5, Seattle), whose story aired on July 27.

The International Tsunami Training Institute's first training program in Asia will be held at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Thailand, in February 2008. UW Extension expects to offer its second Certificate Program in Tsunami Science and Preparedness in summer 2008 (for more information, visit URL http://www.outreach.washington.edu/ext/certificates/tsp/tsp_gen.asp).

To learn more about the 1700 Cascadia earthquake and tsunami, read "The Orphan Tsunami of 1700—Japanese Clues to a Parent Earthquake in North America" (URL http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/pp1707/). To learn what you can do to survive a tsunami, read "Surviving a Tsunami—Lessons from Chile, Hawaii, and Japan" (URL http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/c1187/).

Related Web Sites
The Orphan Tsunami of 1700—Japanese Clues to a Parent Earthquake in North America - USGS Professional Paper 1707
USGS (U.S. Geological Survey)
Surviving a Tsunami—Lessons from Chile, Hawaii, and Japan - USGS Circular 1187
USGS (U.S. Geological Survey)
US Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System Program
U.S. Agency for International Development
Certificate Program in Tsunami Science and Preparednessm
University of Washington

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Effects of Watershed Erosion on Coral Reefs in Guam

Mercury Contamination in Waterbirds Breeding in San Francisco Bay

Outreach Art and Science Combine in Gallery Exhibit

Teacher Research Experience in Long Island Sound

Scientist Shows Evidence for 300-Year-Old Tsunami

Meetings USGS Participates in Groundwater-Seawater Interactions Symposium

Staff Western Coastal and Marine Geology Team Welcomes New Hires

Good Showing by USGS Paddlers in Outrigger-Canoe Races


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