PAT NEAL: The coming subduction event

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news.

The state Department of Natural Resources just came out with the latest version of its Tsunami Inundation Hazard Map for Port Angeles and Port Townsend.

If you don’t know what a tsunami is you’ve probably been living under a rock somewhere.

If your rock isn’t 50 feet above sea level you’re about to get flooded, (geologically speaking) by a wall of water 21 feet tall racing down the Strait of Juan de Fuca at 30 mph.

The tsunami could be caused by the Cascadia subduction event.

That is a geological drama playing just offshore where the Juan de Fuca Plate slides under the continental shelf resulting in a 9.something earthquake and the dreaded tsunami.

The last subduction event was Jan. 26, 1700, as recorded in Japan.

They observed a tsunami with no corresponding earthquake.

That’s because it happened over here.

Native American legends tell of a large wave that extended from one horizon to another and of tying their canoes to the tops of trees and anchoring on Mount Olympus.

Things have changed since that time and not necessarily for the better.

Despite modern America’s advances in video games and fast food, fewer Americans have canoes these days.

Far be it from me to spread fear, innuendo and rumor in a wilderness gossip column but the facts speak for themselves.

We live in a “Ring of Fire,” named for more than 450 volcanoes and fault zones that circle the Pacific Ocean, making this the most seismically active region of the world.

Many of these volcanoes were caused by subduction events where dense ocean plates collide and slide under lighter continental plates.

This explains how fossils of deep water marine organisms found themselves high in the peaks of the Olympic Mountains millions of years after they were deposited on the sea floor.

The Earth never sleeps.

Last Wednesday, a magnitude 6.2 quake occurred on the Cascadia fault line off Oregon, with a 3.5 magnitude aftershock.

A 4.6-magnitude quake struck off the coast of Vancouver Island the week before.

There was even an earthquake in Forks last June.

It was only a 2.7 but scientists believe continuing episodes of these tremors could trigger another subduction event.

As with any natural disaster there will be winners and losers.

Port Angeles would be a big loser with its waterfront oil tank farm and massive piles of loose logs perched on the waters’ edge just waiting for a 30 mph, 21-foot wave to turn downtown Port Angeles into a giant, greasy bowling alley with log-sized bowling pins.

This could continue for eight hours with the potential for topographic features such as Ediz Hook to create vortexes of unknown destructive power.

A Cascadia subduction event could be a regional emergency on the scale of a Hurricane Katrina or a Superstorm Sandy.

It will be chaos.

It will be miserable but look on the bright side: Scientists predict the sea-level would drop approximately 6.5 feet before the first tsunami hits about 60 minutes after the subduction event.

We’ve dug clams and gone crabbing on a minus 2 or 3-foot tide, but can you imagine the clam digging and crabbing on a minus 6-foot tide?

Clamming and crabbing during the expected subduction event is probably crazy but you won’t know if you don’t go.

It could be a case of get the crab or the crab gets you, but step lively and play your cards right and you could be flipping crab cakes while the rest of the ham and egger tsunami survivors freeze in the dark.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected]

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