Despite speculation, scientists see no Fukushima radiation risk in albacore

Japan’s nuclear disaster released hundreds of millions of gallons of radioactive water in 2011, sparking rampant speculation that a contaminated plume would reach the waters of North America’s West Coast.

Three years later, such speculation is alive and well on the Internet. But scientists in Oregon and California have collected samples of tuna, a fish known to migrate back and forth across the Pacific, analyzed them for radioactive isotopes, Cesium-134 in particular, from Fukushima – and found levels so low they are barely detectable.

Delvan Neville labels albacore samplesDelvan Neville, a PhD candidate in Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University, has tested dozens of samples of albacore tuna for radioactivity. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s intervention levels for cesium 134 and cesium 137 is 1200 becquerels per kilogram. The highest levels he’s seen in his albacore, of both cesium 134 and cesium 137 combined, is 1 becquerel per kilogram – a level so low that his device couldn’t pick it up until he concentrated the samples.

“That’s more than 1,000 times lower than the point where the FDA would even think about whether they need to let people eat that food still,” he said.

Neville, along with OSU fisheries graduate Jason Phillips, is working with Dr. Lorenzo Cianelli, a marine biologist with OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences , to learn more about the migration patterns of Pacific albacore. Their initial work was funded in part by Oregon Sea Grant and NOAA.

It was only the timing of their research – coinciding with the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster – that led the scientists to consider radiation as a possible marker for learning which waters fish caught off the US Pacific coast might have traveled.

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Highest-risk town faces up to tsunami threat

Modeling tsunami wavesSEASIDE – Scientists agree that the “big one” — an earthquake reaching  magnitude 9.0 or higher — has a 10 to 15 percent chance of striking somewhere off the U.S. west coast in the Cascadia Subduction Zone within the next 50 years. Fifteen to 20 minutes later, a tsunami will move in and drown many coastal communities.

Geologists consider the town of Seaside – much of which sits at sea level –  “the highest-risk community on the Oregon coast,” said Yumei Wang, a geotechnical engineer at the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

Little wonder that earthquake and tsunami preparedness is one of the Seaside School District’s main selling points for bond measure 4-168, which would fund a new $128.8 million K-12 campus to be built in the wooded hills east of Seaside Heights Elementary School. In the event of a natural catastrophe, the building housing the schools would double as an emergency shelter for the community.

These two concerns — a new learning environment for schools above the 80-foot tsunami inundation zone and the need for a refuge from a Japanese-style disaster — are the basis for SAFE (Support a Future for Education), a political action committee formed to generate support for the bond.

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TERRA: Scientists and Engineers Plan for the Big One

Terra Magazine cover“The last great earthquake to strike the Pacific Northwest occurred on January 26, 1700, at about 9 p.m. Parts of the coastline dropped three to six feet in an instant. It set off landslides throughout the Oregon Coast Range. Some of them are still moving. If you could hear soil, rocks and trees creep inch-by-inch downhill, some of those sounds would echo that massive jolt. At sea, it generated tsunamis that reshaped the Northwest coastline, traveled across the Pacific and swept through bays and coastal communities in Japan. …”

The latest issue of Terra, Oregon State University’s research magazine, delves into the ways in which OSU scientists and engineers are helping the state prepare for the next big Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, which a growing number of researchers calculate could happen within the next 50-100 years. Learn how such a powerful near-short “megathrust” quake could affect the state and region, and what’s being done to plan for, and mitigate against, such disasters.

The spring edition also looks at how people like Oregon Sea Grant’s Tim Miller-Morgan care for the fish and other aquatic animals that make up more than 80 percent of the animals used in the university’s research labs and the public exhibits at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. The past few decades have witnessed great changes in how institutions like OSU treat the animals in their care; as Miller-Morgan puts it, ““Now we understand that we shouldn’t look at these animals as disposable. We brought them into captivity, and we have an obligation to keep them as long as we can, as close to their natural lifespan as possible — or even longer.”

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Japan Times: Washed-up dock stirs awareness in Oregon

NEWPORT  – When a massive dock drifted across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to the U.S. West Coast after the Great East Japan Earthquake, it brought along more than the invasive “wakame” kelp and mussels that were attached to it. The city of Newport, Oregon, where the docked beached itself last June, noticed the high interest it was generating and put it to good use.

Oregon Sea Grant’s Mark Farley, manager of the Visitor Center at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, describes how a piece of a 20-meter, 100-ton concrete and metal dock, ripped from its moorings in Misawa, Japan by the devasting 2011 earthquake and tsunami and deposited over a year later on the Oregon coast, is serving as a tool to educate visitors and coastal residents about our own risks of disaster.

Read the complete story in the KYODO/Japan Times

Tsunami dock piece to be dedicated March 10

Cleaning the tsunami dock (Photo: OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center)NEWPORT – A new tsunami awareness exhibit, featuring a piece of the massive Japanese dock that washed ashore at Agate beach last year, will be dedicated at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in a public ceremony and grand opening on Sunday, March 10.

The public ceremony, which runs from 2-4 pm,  marks the two-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan. Sponsors include Oregon Sea Grant, the HMSC and the City of Newport.

The dock was among the first – and largest – fragments of debris to wash up on Pacific Northwest shores more than a year after the magnitude 9.03 undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan on March 11, 2011. The dock’s arrival on Agate Beach last June, sparked concern over the potential spread of non-native plants and marine animals, thousands of which were found alive and clinging to the dock.

Teams of state Parks and Recreation workers, scientists and volunteers scoured the dock’s surface and scorched it with blow-torches to destroy the organisms – and also collected specimens for identification and analysis by researchers at the HMSC.

The dock, roughly the size of a railroad boxcar and weighing tons, was sawn into pieces for disposal, and one section was saved to be placed at the Hatfield Center as a memorial to the Japanese disaster – and to aid in educating visitors about the risks of similar tsunamis generated by subduction zone quakes off the Oregon coast.  On initial delivery, however, the concrete-and-steel segment was discovered to be too big for its site, and was hauled to the Port of Newport docks to be recut to fit the space.

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Oregon Sea Grant publishes booklet on drinking-water systems in coastal Oregon

The following publication is available as a free download from Oregon Sea Grant.

The print version may be purchased from Oregon Sea Grant’s e-commerce store.

Planning for Resilience in Oregon’s Coastal Drinking Water Systems

On Oregon’s rugged coast, large-scale infrastructure for public utilities is virtually nonexistent, meaning that drinking water must be obtained through small systems, domestic wells, or springs. While a portion of Oregon’s coastal population utilizes a domestic or private source, the vast majority of residents rely on small public systems for their drinking water. Unfortunately, risks associated with small drinking-water systems are not widely documented nor well understood.

Planning for Resilience in Oregon’s Coastal Drinking Water Systems is the result of case studies of 13 drinking-water sytems in coastal Oregon. It examines risks to these systems including infrastructure issues, contamination, climate change, earthquakes, and tsunamis, and explores actions to increase resilience, such as planning, backup supply, source water protection, infrastructure improvements, and communication. The publication will be of value to coastal water system managers, city planners, and coastal residents interested in water supply issues.


OSU unveils new maps of Oregon ocean

Map of sea floor off Cape AragoCORVALLIS – After more than two years of intense field work and digital cartography, researchers have unveiled new maps of the seafloor off Oregon that cover more than half of the state’s territorial waters – a collaborative project that will provide new data for scientists, marine spatial planners, and the fishing industry.

The most immediate benefit will be improved tsunami inundation modeling for the Oregon coast, according to Chris Goldfinger, director of the Active Tectonics and Seafloor Mapping Laboratory at Oregon State University, who led much of the field work.

“Understanding the nature of Oregon’s Territorial Sea is critical to sustaining sport and commercial fisheries, coastal tourism, the future of wave energy, and a range of other ocean-derived ecosystem services valued by Oregonians,” Goldfinger said. “The most immediate focus, though, is the threat posed by a major tsunami.

“Knowing what lies beneath the surface of coastal waters will allow much more accurate predictions of how a tsunami will propagate as it comes ashore,” he added. “We’ve also found and mapped a number of unknown reefs and other new features we’re just starting to investigate, now that the processing work is done.”

The mapping project was a collaborative effort of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, David Evans and Associations, and Fugro. It was funded by NOAA and the Oregon Department of State Lands.

The primary mapping platform was the vessel Pacific Storm, operated by the OSU Marine Mammal Institute. Oregon-based fishing vessels taking part in Oregon Sea Grant’s Scientist and Fisherman Exchange program – the F/V Michelle Ann, the F/V Delma Ann, and the F/V Miss Linda – assisted with ground truth sampling and video surveys.

Netcasts – Pat Corcoran, Coastal Hazards Specialist

In this episode of Netcasts, we travel to Astoria to visit Pat Corcoran, coastal hazards specialist for Oregon Sea Grant Extension.   Corcoran works with coastal community members and researchers around the world to prepare coastal residents for natural hazards, such as erosion and tsunamis.  Corcoran talks about his experiences bringing the findings of research conducted by OSU’s Peter Ruggiero to the community of Neskowin, where residents are exploring strategies to mitigate shoreline retreat.  Corcoran also shares some photographs and wisdom from his recent visit to Japan, where he was able to view the aftermath of the March 2011 tsunami.  Stay tuned to Sea Grant’s YouTube channel for more Netcasts.


PBS features OSU tsunami-proofing research

PBS Newshour’s Science Thursday looks at research occurring in Japan and the US to try to harden coastal communities against the human loss and devastation caused by powerful tsunamis. Featured research includes work being done by Dan Cox’s team at OSU’s Hinsdale Wave Research Center on potential vertical evacuation towers:


(Text transcript here)

Learn more about Sea Grant-supported tsunami research and public education

Interactive tsunami inundation maps online

NANOOs Tsunami Evacuation pageNew, interactive maps pinpointing how and where a tsunami might flood the Oregon and Washington coastlines – and the closest uphill evacuation spots – are online now at NANOOS, the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems.

The new Tsunami Evacuation Zone portal is a joint project of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and  the NANOOS Visualization System team.

The new maps allow users to enter an address, or click on the map, and see if their location is in a danger zone. Users can create multiple places, and if they sign up for a free myNANOOS account, save their own personalized maps for future use.

The maps show areas projected to be at risk of flooding by close and distant tsunamis, and the approximate time residents would have to evacuate those areas before the waves arrive. They also show nearby areas of high ground where residents and visitors can expect to be out of the reach of the incoming water.

All low-lying coastal areas, harbors, streams, and rivers in Oregon are vulnerable to tsunami inundation.  While the waves from distant earthquakes like the one that struck Japan in March 2011 can take several hours to arrive, a sea-floor earthquake in the seismically active Cascadia Subduction Zone, just off the coast, could generate devastating waves in a matter of minutes. Undersea landslides can also generate powerful, localized tsunamis.

Recent research suggests that powerful near-shore quakes have occurred off the Oregon coast at relatively regular intervals; scientists now put the chance of a magnitude 8-9 earthquake striking the region  at 37% within the next 50 years.

The new NANOOS site is tied to NOAA’s  West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, and displays earthquake and tsunami alerts in real time. It also contains printable PDF versions of local tsunami evacuation brochures for specific coastal communities in Oregon and Washington. The brochures are also widely available in printed form at visitor centers, motels and other locations on the coast.

A powerful nearshore earthquake could disrupt communications, including Internet service, on the coast. The site emphasizes preparing in advance:  Developing family and workplace evacuation plans, obtaining or printing out evacuation brochures, walking local evacuation routes, and figuring out how you will reconnect with family members once the immediate danger has passed.

For more information about tsunami preparedness, visit Oregon Sea Grant’s Coastal Natural Hazards page.