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Oregon scientists prepare for the next big megaquake

By Candace Kellner


Construction workers check the damage after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco.

AP Photo

Construction workers check the damage after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco.

On Oct. 17, 1989, Loma Prieta, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake, took the lives of 63 people in San Francisco. To this day, Oregon, as well as other West Coast states, are worrying whether they are prepared to face another megaquake.

Chief scientist and geologist at the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries Ian Madin told CNN that Oregon is highly susceptible to experiencing earthquakes because of its location on a huge fault line that separates two of the Earth’s tectonic plates. The fault line could one day produce a massive earthquake, causing immense destruction to the Northwest region of the U.S.

This large-scale earthquake, also known as a megaquake, would consist of a violent shake that lasts for several minutes. If the quake is powerful enough, it can lead to landslides, tsunamis and floods. According to Madin, Oregon’s mountainous terrain and position near the coast makes it highly susceptible to these additional disasters.

The Oregon Resilience Plan determined that a worse-case scenario would result in approximately 10,000 deaths and power outages that could last for several months to several years. The economic losses would amount to approximately $30 billion.

Based on its findings in the Oregon Resilience Plan, the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission recommends that Oregon takes a statewide inventory of its critical buildings, launches a program of capital investment to renovate Oregon’s public structures, offers an incentive to encourage Oregon private sectors to advance seismic resilience and updates its public policies to increase preparedness.

Using scientific research on prehistoric earthquakes, scientists like Chris Goldfinger, a marine geologist and professor at Oregon State University, can predict the probability of another monstrous earthquake. According to Goldfinger, the south end of the fault line that Oregon sits on rattles on a 240-year quake cycle.

The collected data shows that these quakes have a magnitude between high sevens and low eights. Goldfinger told CNN that Oregon is currently “300 years into a 240-year cycle.” However, on the north end of the fault line, where the majority of Oregon’s population resides, there is an estimated 500-year cycle.

Although there is still plenty of time before the next earthquake, there is a considerable amount of work in store for Oregon. The institutions have been very cooperative in preparing their facilities. The Oregon Legislature is already preparing a task force to formulate specific recommendations for action in the 2015 state legislation.


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