Eathquake musings

A lot of opinions, how about some facts regarding the OSU building in the tsunami zone?

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As many people know, OSU has committed to building a new school building in the tsunami zone, on a sandbar just barely above sea level at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.  Lets take a brief tour of the facts.

The Sandbar Site:  The site is a sandbar that was not mapped as land until the 1930’s, when some fill was added to make a causeway to the ferry slip prior to construction of the Yaquina Bay bridge.  It has 90-124 ft. of liquefiable sand overlying weathered mudstone.

The Marine Science Center:  On top of about 2m of fill, a collection of buildings have been constructed over the past 50 years, mostly with no earthquake standards. These buildings house EPA, ODFW, NOAA USFW and OSU, and the visitor center.   ~ 300 people work there today, all of which are vulnerable to both earthquakes and tsunami.  This plan will add 300 more.

The Earthquake/Tsunami Risk: Although much of the Hatfield site was built before there was an awareness of it, we now know that Cascadia produces M> 8 or so earthquakes every 340 years on average (  All of these earthquakes at this latitude are expected to generate tsunami.  There have been 23 of them in the past 10,000 years.  The evidence that these events generate large tsunami is abundant in Yaquina Bay, one of the well known paleoseismic sites is at the Hatfield sandbar.  The tsunami have and will run well up the Yaquina River to Toledo.  The most recent work shows that the probability of an M>8 earthquake is about 20% in the next 50 years, and about 38% in 100 years, which could be considered the lifespan of new structures.

The tsunami from past events have been grouped into bins named for T-shirt sizes, from XS to XXL.  Tsunami from these at the Hatfield site range from barely wet for XS, to 27 ft for the XXL.  There have been two XXL events in the past 10,000 years, a 5000 year average repeat time.  The last one was 5900 years ago.  In a recent letter from OSU president Ed Ray, he stated that the new building would withstand an XXL earthquake and tsunami.  That means a magnitude 9.1 earthquake, and tsunami 27ft high, and moving at 26 knots (30 mph) when it hits the new OSU school building.   Evacuees to a nearby hill may have as much as 40 minutes, or as little as 15 to get there.  It’s 1.4 km away, and they have annual drills for this, but they lack realism.  Typical in tsunami zones that have just undergone an M9 earthquake is rough broken ground and pavement, subsidence of up to a meter (tectonic) and another half meter from liquefaction.  Downed but hot powerlines and other overhead cables and poles, local flooding, and topped off by a panicky bunch of people trying to escape in their cars causing an instant traffic jam.  That’s reality.  Don’t forget that this scheme has to work for everyone, including the disabled, not just the able bodied.

Alternatives?  One would think that the above would be enough to dissuade OSU administrators, but not so.  They, backed up by an array of fish biologists, physical oceanographers whale biologists and other non-earthquake or tsunami experts who all stand to get nice new offices, have persisted in pushing this site, or at least falling in line with the OSU president Ed Ray.    As study of alternative sites was commissioned by OSU, only after heavy pressure from OSSPAC, DOGAMI and the Geology and Geophysics Faculty.  The study examined two alternative sites out of the tsunami zone just to the south.  Both posed no problem from landsliding or earthquake perspectives, and were 3-7% cheaper to construct, probably enough to offset the land costs.  They could also be constructed sooner due to their simplicity, and posed no problems for road or utility access.  OSU has ignored these favorable sites.

There seem to be only two arguments against the alternatives.  One is that communication between researchers would be impaired if they are not all on the sandbar together.  Most of the marine science at OSU is actually done on the Corvallis campus, and is spread among 5 buildings. I work with people at Hatfield all the time, and have no trouble with phone, email and occasional meetings.  Ideal, no, but hardly unusual or worth risking the lives of 600 people.   The other argument is that researchers need the seawater.  Hatfield pumps water out of the bay at high tide, so not really seawater.  A limited number of people and the visitor center use this water.  Building the new building on a safe site can easily be done leaving some wet labs down on the sandbar, or by simply buying a few pumps to get the water uphill.  The only other argument is that a Marine Science Center should be next to the seashore.  This seems quite silly and hardly bears comment as a serious reason when peoples lives are at risk.

Oversight?  Due to relatively weak earthquake laws in Oregon, there is no legal oversight.  The State has failed to implement a new tsunami inundation standard based on high-end research just recently completed, and instead is using  hand drawn line from 1992.  OSU is required to consult with DOGAMI, but there are no teeth in this, and having done that, they can do as they please.  OSU is no longer a State Agency, so somewhat independent.  That leaves the Board of Trustees.  These are largely big donors to OSU (a good way to get on the board) who basically rubber stamp anything OSU does.  Bottom line, there is no oversight.  Letters and meeting requests to Coastal Caucus legislators, the Senate President Peter Courtney, and the Governor, Kate Brown from me and media representatives have been ignored.

So what’s really going on?  Why would OSU persist in this, going against the best available science, the State Geologist, the OSU Geology and Geophysics Faculty, and the Chair and membership of the Oregon State Seismic Policy Advisory Council?  In spite of this strong opposition, the legislature gave $25M to OSU to match a donation (reportedly from the Valley Family) with no hearing at all.  The money was rolled into a large omnibus bill that was never discussed line by line.  No hearing regarding the construction of a disposable building putting students at risk with public funds was ever held.

Follow the Money: What has become clear from the Board of Trustees meeting held in March, 2016, is that coast legislators want OSU to show the world that it’s ok to build in a tsunami zone.  This was stated directly by Representative Gomberg at that meeting.   Wait really?  Coastal legislators, promoting coastal development, want OSU to pave the way for them.  That, in my opinion was what the $25M is for, a straight up purchase of scientific credibility.

As a scientist, and one involved in earthquake research in Cascadia for nearly 30 years, I feel that our work has been undermined, as well as traded on by OSU’s ambitions.  This frankly, is disgraceful.  Ed Ray likes to claim OSU is “World Class”.  What I’ve found is that people and organizations that are truly world class do not need to trumpet it.  OSU by its recent actions has shown that it’s a small time college willing to trade the hard-won credibility of its scientists for a few bucks.  Low class would be more accurate.  These actions send the worst possible message to the community, and make us look like fools, best case.  Someday in the not too distant future, everything on the Hatfield sandbar will be destroyed.  We can only hope that either OSU will come to its senses, or that it will be a weekend or late at night.  If not, a lot of people will be lost for nothing more than the hubris of a long-forgotten group of administrators who never took a risk themselves, but laid that risk at the feet of students who had no way to judge the risk they were taking.

The long term future of the Hatfield sandbar is to be a dog park, or kite flying park, or maybe just a sandbar after the Marine Science Center is destroyed.  Our only real choice is whether or not it will be a Memorial Park.




Written by eqgold

September 23, 2016 at 10:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Finally, a Little More Balanced View of the OSU School in a Tsunami Zone Project

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Plan for new OSU facility in tsunami zone being questioned by local leaders, professors
Posted: Sep 22, 2016 8:16 PM PST
Updated: Sep 22, 2016 10:33 PM PST
By Kaitlyn Bolduc KPTV 12

A plan by Oregon State University administrators to build a new facility in a tsunami zone has critics, including local leaders, geologists and OSU professors, questioning the proposal.
A plan by Oregon State University administrators to build a new facility in a tsunami zone has critics, including local leaders, geologists and OSU professors, questioning the proposal.

FOX 12 has uncovered Oregon State University plans to build a new marine science facility on the coast, in the center of a tsunami zone.

It is a controversial decision administrators made with the use of state funding, and a decision that went against the advice of local leaders, geologists and OSU professors.

University president Ed Ray believes the new facility can be built to sustain a 9.0 earthquake and the tsunami that follows. He hopes to become an example to the world in doing so.

There’s a growing number of people who think the university is crossing a line they should not cross, though.

No one will soon forget the devastating images from Japan in 2011, moments after one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in the country’s history brought down cities in seconds. The massive 40-foot tsunami that arose in its shadow demolished what was left.

“In my mind, we need to really approach this as the worst case could happen,” Chairman of Oregon’s Seismic and Safety Commission Jay Wilson said.

State leaders say they are trying to learn from what happened to Japan so they can prepare and protect Oregon’s coastline for when the big one hits here.

Part of that is encouraging coastal developers to build outside of a newly identified tsunami inundation zone, which is why Wilson tells FOX 12 he was dumbfounded by what Oregon State University is trying to do.

“We have a standard grant program in the state where any given school has to go through all of these hoops to get a million dollars and they’re excluded from doing anything in a tsunami zone,” Wilson said. “And, here the legislature gave $25 million in bonds to put a school in a tsunami zone without there even being a plan in place.”

Ray wants to construct a new Marine Studies Initiative building at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, in part with state funding.

So, Wilson wrote a letter to Governor Kate Brown questioning the OSU project, and once Oregon State University geologists and geophysics professors got wind of what was going on, they too tried to get administrators to think twice.

“Frankly there’s nobody in the world, not at OSU or anyone, who has experience of building a school in a tsunami zone. It’s simply not done,” OSU marine geologist Chris Goldfinger said. “The idea that they’re going to show the world and showcase how it’s done, I think is foolish.”

Goldfinger was one of 23 professors who wrote and signed a letter to President Ray.

The group wrote, in part, that building in the Tsunami Inundation Zone would “threaten lives, damage buildings, and hobble the research capacity of this flagship institute.” They pleaded with Ray to build elsewhere, to avoid putting lives at risk.

“The decision to build in the tsunami zone is not a scientific call at all. It’s a decision made by administrators that have other priorities than safety, frankly,” Goldfinger said.

That caused university administrators to take pause. OSU told FOX 12 that for months they explored the possibility of moving the project to two other sites in Newport.

Ultimately, they made the call in August to stick with their original location but now plan to build student housing on higher ground.

“I think with anything we do, whether that’s driving to the coast or going surfing, you have to be prudent and know the risks, but also the benefits,” MSI Executive Director Jack Barth said. “I think we’re not going into this without eyes closed. We’re going in knowing what the risks are, but we’re choosing to base here for the benefits.”

Those benefits, Barth said, include being close to the water.

Students currently have running sea water pumped into their classrooms at Hatfield, something that’s important for their research. The university wants to do that at the MSI building, too, and leaders say it makes sense to keep the entire campus together.

“The synergism that occurs and the collaborations that occur by being close together and passing each other in the hallways and having that direct connection is key to some of our success here,” Hatfield Marine Science Center Director Bob Cowen said.

Beyond that, administrators believe engineers will be able to construct the MSI building to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and the tsunami that would ensue. In doing so, they believe the building will provide a safe place for people to evacuate to in the event of a major earthquake.

“We can build a building that not only can survive these events and provide safety for people, but we can ensure that people get out of the building and there’s a potential for adding in a vertical evacuation location for them,” Cowen said.

But Wilson said he’s not convinced they can.

“There’s a lot of overconfidence, I think, in technologically, what we can do and what we can deliver,” he said. “What isn’t being explained here is there’s a lot of uncertainty of how this is going to happen.”

Goldfinger also admits while they know a lot about the Cascadia Subduction Zone and what will happen in the event of a major earthquake, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the force of the tsunami should it arrive in our lifetime.

He calls it a wild card and believes, in this case, the university is gambling with student lives.

“The unsinkable Titanic was engineered to be unsinkable, and that’s what everyone was told, and they hit the first iceberg and that claim lasted 30 seconds,” Goldfinger said. “I won’t work in that building, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be there when the tsunami comes.”

FOX 12 reached out to the governor’s office for comment multiple times about the state’s decision to fund the OSU project, but at the time this story aired we have not heard back from them.

Copyright 2016 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.


OMSI opens outdoor camp in tsunami zone

FOX 12 has learned Oregon State University isn’t the only organization that’s planning to build in the tsunami zone. In fact, some already have.

OMSI’s Coastal Discovery Center, an outdoor camp for kids, opened up this March. It’s also in Newport, within the tsunami inundation zone.

Anne Armstrong, the camp’s manager, said a big part of the reason they made the call to build there was because it’s in close proximity to Safe Haven Hill. The hill was established as a safe place to evacuate to in the event of a tsunami.

Administrators say one of the very first things they do during camp orientation, is teach kids how to get there.

“By sending everyone up the hill in the time they come here, the goal is they take that message and go back to their families and say, ‘This is what we did with OMSI. We went to the hill and we learned the tsunami is a potential hazard,'” Armstrong said. “Then the next time they come here, they’ll carry on the message to others and stay safe.”

OSU told FOX 12 Safe Haven Hill is also within walking distance for their students and provides an additional place for them to evacuate to in the event of a tsunami.

Copyright 2016 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

Written by eqgold

September 23, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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…Was supposed to be a comedy, not a documentary.  Donald Trump is disproving that.  But OSU is doing it’s part as well, building a school in a tsunami zone.   Is there no common sense left in America?  You be the judge.

OSU Sticks With Plans To Build New Research Center In Tsunami Zone

OSU wants to expand the Hatfield Marine Research Center within the tsunami zone in Newport.

OSU wants to expand the Hatfield Marine Research Center within the tsunami zone in Newport.

John A Winters OSU/Flickr

Oregon State University is doubling down on efforts to build a new marine studies center in the tsunami zone.

The university wants to build a new $50 million research center in Newport.

It looked at three sites, two on high-ground and a third next to its existing buildings on sandy land just a few feet above high tide.

In a statement, school president Ed Ray said not only can the center be built to sustain a magnitude nine earthquake and the associated tsunami, it can serve as a safe zone where people can evacuate to the roof.

OSU professor Chris Goldfinger called the decision shortsighted, “It basically puts students at risk and it puts development at the coast and the interests of the university ahead of student’s lives,” he said.

Goldfinger said building to withstand a tsunami is extremely expensive and the building probably wouldn’t be functional afterwards.

The state legislature approved almost $25 million last year for the project.

Written by eqgold

August 5, 2016 at 9:08 pm

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Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

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On this 316th anniversary of the 1700 Cascadia earthquake, How are we doing locally? While lots of good things are underway to prepare, we also need to avoid potholes and bad decisions as well..


Remember that show?  Often the adult challengers lost answering simple questions on history, math and other basic topics.  In a real “reality show” the kids in Seaside are beating the pants off the adults again.  The are starting a “Go Fund Me” campaign to move their schools out of the tsunami zone.    Check it out and help them out here:

Don’t Catch This Wave

How are the adults doing?  Well the people of Seaside rejected a bond measure to move the schools, Gold Beach is putting a hospital in the tsunami zone, and OSU and OMSI are putting schools in the tsunami zone.  Really, I’m not making this up.  Embarrassing.

Kids: 1  Adults: -4

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Written by eqgold

January 26, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

with 2 comments

Remember that show?  Often the adult challengers lost answering simple questions on history, math and other basic topics.  In a real “reality show” the kids in Seaside are beating the pants off the adults again.  The are starting a “Go Fund Me” campaign to move their schools out of the tsunami zone.    Check it out and help them out here:

Don’t Catch This Wave

How are the adults doing?  Well the people of Seaside rejected a bond measure to move the schools, Gold Beach is putting a hospital in the tsunami zone, and OSU and OMSI are putting schools in the tsunami zone.  Really, I’m not making this up.  Embarrassing.

Kids: 1  Adults: -4

Written by eqgold

January 8, 2016 at 5:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Unprepared: An Oregon Field Guide Special airs October 1 at 8 pm.

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Oregon Field Guide spent a year-and-a-half probing into the state of Oregon’s preparedness, and found that when it comes to bridges, schools, hospitals, building codes and energy infrastructure, Oregon lags far behind many quake-prone regions of the country. This sneak preview of the full documentary airing October 1 is a continuation of OPB’s ongoing news series “Unprepared”.

Broadcasts: October 1, 8:00 p.m. [OPB TV], October 3, 7:00 p.m. [OPB TV], October 4, 1:00 a.m. [OPB TV], October 4, 6:00 p.m. [OPB TV], October 18, 9:00 p.m. [OPB PLUS]

Written by eqgold

September 29, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“Segment D” ruptures! In Chile.

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The September 16 8.3 earthquake in Chile is a good example of what we suspect the southern most Cascadia ruptures have been like in the past, and will be in the future.  From the offshore paleoseismic record, these events extend from about Cape Blanco Oregon, to either the Mendocino Fault (southern terminus if Cascadia), or possibly a bit shorter, it’s not presently possible to tell.  The Chile version of Segment D generated a ~ 4.7 m tsunami, similar to our models for Cascadia.  Previous studies onshore for the most part have little evidence of Segment D ruptures; they appear to be below the threshold required for generation and preservation of a tsunami or land subsidence record in the areas and environments studied so far.  Bradley Lake for example contains one of the best Cascadia paleostunami records.  It’s a coastal lake with a 5.5 m berm separating it from the sea.  At an average tide, a tsunami must overtop the berm with enough vigor to leave a deposit in the lake.   The barrier largely prevents the recording tsunami from “smaller” earthquakes such as the Segment D ruptures, which also appear to terminate south of Bradley Lake, further decreasing the chance of recording them in the lake.  Of the events in Bradley Lake with potential time correlatives offshore during the past ~ 4500 years (when Bradley was a good recording site), 5 of 7 of them are Segment C, larger events that extend much farther north, and two appear to be segment D events, the rest (~7) are absent.  On the other hand, other southern Cascadia lakes further inland do seem to record these smaller events as turbidites from internal lake sidewall failures, something we published in Morey et al. (2013); ongoing work on this is coming soon.

The main value for us is to look at the Chile earthquake as a good example of what is typical of roughly half of the Cascadia earthquakes of the past are like.  They are not all “The Big One”.   Still these are big, damaging earthquakes locally.

Written by eqgold

September 28, 2015 at 9:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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