Benchmarks: March 27, 1964: The Good Friday Alaska Earthquake and Tsunamis

During the Cold War, many Americans lived in fear of the day their town would be shaken by an atomic bomb blast. On Good Friday 1964, some Alaskans thought that day had come. Beginning at 5:36 p.m., intense ground shaking continued for almost five minutes as the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America struck 22.5 kilometers beneath Prince William Sound, where the Pacific Plate is subducting beneath the North American Plate. The shaking — felt over an area of more than 1.3 million square kilometers — was so severe and long-lived that some survivors later said they first thought the Soviet Union had dropped a nuclear bomb on Anchorage, 120 kilometers northwest of the epicenter.

27 Feb 2014

Tsunamis from the sky: Can meteotsunamis be forecast?

The Great Lakes, along with the U.S. East Coast, the Mediterranean, Japan and many other parts of the world, have a long history of mysterious large waves striking unsuspecting coastlines. Such waves have characteristics similar to tsunamis triggered by earthquakes or landslides. Only recently, however, have scientists unraveled how a storm can create and propagate these far-traveling waves — called meteorological tsunamis or meteotsunamis. 

19 Feb 2014

A history of tsunami-like waves on the Great Lakes

Severe and deadly seiche events are rare on the Great Lakes. In the last century, about 10 major waves have hit the shores of the Great Lakes, but smaller anomalous waves occur much more frequently. Many of the deadliest have occurred on Lake Michigan, but Lakes Superior, Huron and Erie have also experienced them. In addition to the June 26, 1954, event, some others were: 

18 Feb 2014

A tsunami by many other names

Storm-triggered waves have been recognized and recorded around the world, including the U.S. where, in addition to the Great Lakes, they have occurred in New England, on the West Coast and on the Gulf Coast. In some parts of the world, they are common enough to have special names. In Croatia, the phenomenon is called Šćiga; in Malta, it is Milghuba; in Spain, Rissaga; in Japan, Abiki; and in Finland, Seebär. Scientists everywhere call them meteorological tsunamis, or meteotsunamis. Here are a few notable occurrences:

18 Feb 2014

Giant quake sloshed fjords half a world away

On the morning of March 11, 2011, Leif Hus and his wife Gry Melas Hus were having breakfast in their kitchen overlooking Sognefjord in Leikanger, Norway. It was low tide on a calm and windless day with near-freezing temperatures. As they stood, coffee cups in hand, looking out the window at the fjord, they saw an unusual wave roll in. The wave continued to rise, surging over the seawall into their backyard before receding back into the fjord. Then another wave surged in, and another. As the water rose, engulfing the ladder on their dock, Leif grabbed his cell phone and started filming.

02 Dec 2013

Setting sail on unknown seas: The past, present and future of species rafting

The 2011 Japanese tsunami set adrift tons of debris, some of it carrying live plants and animals that landed in North America more than a year later. It isn’t the first time species have traveled the globe on ersatz rafts, and it won’t be the last. But it is concerning.

24 Feb 2013

Superquakes, supercycles, and global earthquake clustering: Recent research and recent quakes reveal surprises in major fault systems

A number of recent big earthquakes around the world have humbled many earthquake researchers. The March 2011 magnitude-9 superquake off Tohoku, Japan, and the December 2004 magnitude-9-plus temblor off Sumatra were both far larger than what scientists expected those fault systems to produce. Based on these quakes, and on recent research that contradicts long-held paradigms, it is becoming clear that the types and sizes of large earthquakes that a given fault system is capable of producing remain poorly known for most major fault systems.

07 Jan 2013

Disaster debris hotlines and fast grants

Two years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, debris set adrift by the destructive waves continues to wash up on beaches along the west coast of the United States and Canada.

Beachcombers can report tsunami-related or hazardous debris by emailing DisasterDebris@noaa.gov or calling 1-855-WACOAST in Washington or 211 in Oregon. As of Dec. 13, NOAA had received 1,432 reports of debris, 17 of which were confirmed as tsunami-related.

01 Jan 2013

Bare Earth Elements: GSA highlights, days 2 and 3

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — EARTH’s Tim Oleson is in Charlotte, N.C., this week for the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) annual conference. He is blogging about interesting talks and activities he’s attended, so keep checking back to get the scoop. Read his first report from the conference here. You can also follow the action by following @earthmagazine on Twitter.

Monday and Tuesday at GSA are in the books here in Charlotte. Naturally, there were too many interesting presentations to attend, but that’s the beauty of conferences. What’s another great thing about them?  You can listen to undergraduate, graduate and seasoned researchers alike discuss their research, all in the same day and in the same place.

06 Nov 2012

Risky business: Modeling catastrophes

Natural hazards — earthquakes, tropical cyclones and thunderstorms, for example — occur with considerable frequency around the world. Fortunately, most events are either not intense enough or too remote to cause damage. But the probability that a given natural hazard could become a natural disaster is higher today than at any previous point in history.

30 Sep 2012