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Quake summit focuses on ‘the Really Big One’

Image: Quake simulation
A simulation shows the kind of alert that would be generated by an 8.0 quake. (PNSN via YouTube)

The Pacific Northwest mega-quake known as “the Really Big One” may not be televised, but a White House summit focusing on earthquake preparedness will be streamed online next Tuesday.

The White House says new commitments to adopt an earthquake early-warning system for the United States will be announced at its Earthquake Resilience Summit, due to be live-streamed starting at 9:30 a.m. PT Tuesday.

Researchers from the University of Washington are heavily involved in developing such a system through the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, or PNSN – and in a series of tweets, PNSN said the system could go public as early as this year.

“A year depends on it being ready,” UW seismologist John Vidale, the network’s director, told GeekWire today. It’s not yet ready for prime time, but PNSN has shared a video showing how the ShakeAlert system could provide 28 seconds’ worth of advance warning about a magnitude-8 quake off the coast of Oregon.

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Scientists: Oso landslide was no anomaly

Image: Landslide site
UW graduate student Sean LaHusen points to buried debris at a landslide site on the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. (Credit: Alison Duvall / UW)

A newly published analysis of the geological record for the area around the site of 2014’s Oso landslide shows that the slopes have been collapsing every 140 years or so on average. That’s significantly more frequent than previously estimated.

Based on laser elevation measurements and radiocarbon dating of woody debris around the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, researchers from the University of Washington found that a collapse five times as big as the Oso event, known as the Rowan landslide, took place sometime between 300 and 694 years ago.

The researchers’ study, published online by the journal Geology on Tuesday, came up with an average collapse rate of once per 500 years for the area around Oso, Wash., over the course of thousands of years. Over the past 2,000 years, the average rate has been about 140 years, the scientists said.

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Quake warning system gets a boost

A portion of Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct was demolished in 2011 to reduce the road’s vulnerability to earthquake damage. Scientists say the Pacific Northwest could experience a magnitude-9 quake and tsunami like the one that hit Japan in 2011. (Credit: WSDOT)
A portion of Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct was demolished in 2011 to reduce the road’s vulnerability to earthquake damage. Scientists say the Pacific Northwest could experience a magnitude-9 quake and tsunami like the one that hit Japan in 2011. (Credit: WSDOT)

The omnibus spending bill that was approved by Congress today includes another $8.2 million for a quake-monitoring system that could provide early warning if we’re hit by “the Really Big One” that everyone’s been freaked out about.

Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Derek Kilmer, both D-Wash., had pushed for the additional support and issued a statement applauding the legislative follow-through.

“An updated and operational Earthquake Early Warning System is essential to serve as eyes and ears for folks on the West Coast,” Kilmer said. “A few crucial seconds can make all the difference to help Washingtonians get out of harm’s way if a large quake strikes.”

The omnibus bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Researchers have long been concerned about the potential for the Cascadia Subduction Zone to unleash a magnitude-9.0 quake off the coast of Washington and Oregon. The concern was heightened in July by a scary report in The New Yorker, headlined “The Really Big One.”

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