Cascadia Subduction Zone: Unprepared and Liquefaction

Call me paranoid, but when I see a 7.8 earthquake in Indonesia, and the news recalls the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that triggered the deadliest tsunami in history in 2004 killing more than 200,000 people, I’m reminded that we live in the shake zone of earthquakes and tsunamis, the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It doesn’t help when The New Yorker Magazine tells us that the “Really Big One” is coming and we’ll be able to surf to Idaho soon.

Last year, OPB-TV won awards for their “Unprepared” television series and documentary on the historical “big one” coming to the Pacific Northwest. It led to discussions around the state of Oregon involving geologists, seismologists, and area experts, all asking if we are prepared and what are we going to do or not do about it. They talked about the state of our bridges, schools, and the impact of liquefaction on our ports, home to fuel tanks, some almost 100 years old, that could rupture, dump into our precious waterways, and burn for ages. It was a wake-up call for all of us.

As a rock lover, I started questioning the ground under my feet. According to FEMA’s Earthquake Risk and Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup (CREW) and their educational Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquakes 9.0 Magnitude Scenario (PDF), while I’m personally outside of the tsunami zone, besides being cut off from the rest of the world, the thing to fear most is: Liquefaction.

Tilted Victorian Home in San Francisco due to liquefaction - Photograph by G.K. Gilbert of the U.S. Geological Survey

Liquefaction is the process in which soil, often thought to be firm and solid, is “reduced” by earthquake shaking. While most commonly associated with saturated soils, liquefaction occurs in dry soils where there is space between the particles. Take a jar and fill it full of flour or grains. Tap it against the counter and you will see the level drop. Depending upon the space and shape of the grains, it might drop a little or a lot. That’s liquefaction in action. Continue reading “Cascadia Subduction Zone: Unprepared and Liquefaction”