January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Online California Tsunami Resources

Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

by Cindy Pridmore

For many of our coastal counties, the month of March has become the month of tsunami awareness and preparedness, culminating with “National Tsunami Preparedness Week” the last week of March.

This year March 11 marked the third anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku, Japan earthquake and tsunami, followed by the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Great Alaska earthquake and tsunami on March 27. For many geologists and seismologists, the recognition of these events gave quiet pause and reflection about how far we have come in our understanding of the scientific origin of these types of catastrophic events, as well as how far we still have to go to become better prepared for them. Both events had far-reaching effects on California.

In 1964 at the time of the Great Alaska earthquake and tsunami, plate tectonics was a newly evolving theory and not yet capable of explaining large magnitude 9+ earthquakes or the generation of devastating tsunamis. U.S. Geological Survey geologists were immediately deployed to Alaska following the earthquake and their field studies provided evidence to understand not only what had happened in the 1964 event, but also helped to solidify basic plate tectonic theory and the interrelationships of subduction zones, volcanic arcs, and deep ocean trenches that we all now take for granted. Fast forward to the future; just a few years back I was beginning to pay attention to what was in my own son’s elementary school science curriculum, and I was delighted to find in 6th grade earth science text books the concepts, that back in the mid-1970s, my nearing-retirement-age university professors had been unsure of teaching. We have come a long way.

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Catastrophic events, such as very large earthquakes and tsunamis, provide scientists with opportunities to gather much needed data that helps us further our scientific understanding. These events also keep us moving forward on improving the interrelationships of science and disaster management. My work over the years as a geologist working within the California Geological Survey has contributed to improving and providing better products for land-use planners, local building departments, and statewide/local levels of emergency management. In working in this realm, there are several resources and links that I would like to share that can be accessed for classroom use for examining real time or past tsunami events:

  • California’s Tsunami Inundation Maps: California’s populated coastline has been evaluated with respect to the worst likely events that could cause tsunamis along our coastline. Both distant as well as local earthquake sources were evaluated and modeled, and their cumulative tsunami effects are the basis these statewide inundation maps. Local communities use these maps to prepare their evacuation maps and response plans. The inundation lines on the maps represent the highest elevation a tsunami could reach at each location based on the worst case tsunami events. The newly launched TsunamiZone.org (similar to ShakeOut.org), provides helpful information and step by step instructions on how to “Know Your Zone,” where students can enter a coastal address and find out if that location is within a tsunami inundation zone.
  • Tsunami Events: When a large earthquake occurs around the edges of the Pacific Ocean/Plate, both the U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA’s Tsunami Warning Centers immediately process the incoming seismic data and determine preliminary magnitudes. For the California coastline the National Tsunami Warning Center (NTWC), formerly called the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, will analyze the event, and release information statements. Students can follow these statements in real time during an actual event, or look at archived past events. NTWC statements will include information on whether a Warning, Advisory, or Watch has been issued, or a confirmation that no tsunami has been generated. As a tsunami moves away from its origin it leaves a signature on tidal gauges and deep ocean buoys that is used to analyze the size of the tsunami. Computer modeling of the event is reevaluated as the tsunami encounters additional tidal gauges and buoys in its path, allowing scientists to adjust the tsunami arrival times and wave height information for areas along the California coast.
  • Information Sheet on California Tsunamis and Tsunami Basics: This two sided information note covers what a tsunami is, what the warning signs are, and describes some of the tsunamis that have affected our coastline.
  • NOAA/NGDC Tsunami Runup database: This comprehensive database contains information on locations where tsunami effects have been observed. It is part of a world-wide searchable tsunami database. A U.S. west coast searchof the database provides historical tsunami information for past tsunami effects on California locations.
  • Tsunami Curriculum and Classroom Activities: A detailed compilation of tsunami classroom activities and educational resources.
  • Links to Tsunami Videos:

“Tsunamis: Know What to Do!” – View the Emmy Award winning animated video produced by the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services. (K-6).

“Tsunamis: Know What to Do!” (Spanish subtitled version, K-6).

U.S. Geological Survey tsunami preparedness videos to help Californians better understand the tsunami hazard for the state (6-12):

Tsunami Preparedness in Northern California Area

Tsunami Preparedness in Southern California

Tsunami Preparedness in Central California and the San Francisco Bay

Tsunami Preparedness along the West Coast, USA

Video: Lessons Save Lives: The story of Tilly Smith

Learn about an eleven-year-old school girl that was on vacation in Thailand with her family when the tsunami hit in December 2004. She recognized the signs of the receding sea and warned her parents of the impending tsunami. Her efforts saved the life of dozens of people. This story highlights the critical importance of tsunami education.

All of the links to these websites have much more to offer beyond what has been highlighted here. Tsunami science and emergency preparedness concepts have an important place in the earth systems, earth and human activity, as well as human sustainability concepts captured within NGSS. By sharing these various online resources, I hope the information and maps specific to California help to make these concepts even more engaging and relevant for all students. The “science” of emergency preparedness is important for all of us.

Cindy Pridmore is an Engineering Geologist at the California Geological Survey, and a member of CSTA

 

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

One Response

  1. GREAT JOB CINDY. So important to prepare even though we hope it doesn’t happen.

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