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

OSU researcher seeks better rip current forecasts

Rip current warning signRip currents – strong channels of water flowing seaward from the shore – kill more Americans than do hurricanes. Caught off guard, people are swept out to sea, where they exhaust themselves swimming against the pull of the strong, outrushing current, and drown.

While scientists and the National Weather Service have made progress predicting the probability of rip currents in given locations, they so far lack a method ot accurately forecast whether and when they’ll actually occur, and how strong they might be.

Oregon State University’s Tuba Ozkan-Haller is hoping to change all that. For the last five years, she’s been working to develop a model to identify the location of rip currents up to a day in advance – something that would be a boon to swimmers, surfers and lifeguards around the world, and could save hundreds of lives a year.

Ozkan-Haller, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences, surveys the topography of the ocean floor to figure out how waves will travel over it; this allows her to see how that mass of water can escape back from shore via a rip current. She plugs these factors into a mathematical model she developed that predicts where and when rip currents will occur – and how strong they will be.

Helping her efforts are cutting-edge surveying technologies that allow her to observe properties at the water’s surface and infer the underlying bathymetry from those observations. This is a much more efficient and accurate way to get a sense of the sea floor than the standard procedure of surveying from a boat.

“I’m totally floored by how well we can do compared to traditional surveying methods,” says Ozkan-Haller. “You can set up a radar system near a beach and get continuous estimates of the bathymetry as it evolves from day to day without ever stepping foot into the water.”

The rip current effort is part of Ozkan-Haller’s broader interest in underwater coastal topography and how it helps shape the ocean’s waves. Oregon Sea Grant has supported some of that work, including a related project to develop a model for predicting nearshore wave patterns and heights. A reliable wave forecast system would benefit navigation, fishing, transportation, beach safety and even wave-energy siting.

Learn more:

Volunteers sought for tsunami debris monitoring, cleanup

The new Oregon Marine Debris Team is looking for hundreds of coastal volunteers to keep an eye out for debris from the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami – and to help clean it up.

The team, a partnership of Oregon Sea Grant and four nonprofit groups – CoastWatch, Surfrider Foundation, SOLVE and Washed Ashore – is leading citizen-based efforts to systematically track and clean up tsunami debris that washes up on the Oregon Coast. Volunteers will be asked to systematically monitor, identify and report areas where tsunami debris accumulates, and to participate in cleanup efforts.

Interested coastal residents and visitors can sign up by subscribing to the team’s marine debris notification list and indicate their volunteer interests and geographic areas.

Public agencies, led by Oregon State Parks, have set up debris reporting hotlines, provided receptacles and will collect material too dangerous or bulky for volunteers to handle. The federal government, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced Monday that it would provide $250,000 to the five western states likely to be affected by the tsunami debris (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii). However, at $50,000 per state, the grants are expected to cover only a small fraction of cleaning up however much of the estimated 1.5 million tons of debris drifting across the Pacific winds up on US coasts.

The debris was washed from the Japanese shore by the tsunami that followed the devastating earthquake that hit northern Japan on March 5, 2011, killing thousands and sweeping away an estimated 5 million tons of buildings, fishing vessels and personal belongings. Much of that sank off the Japanese coast – but buoyant items, from fragments of plastic and paper to stray boats and cargo containers, have been floating the Pacific currents ever since, and are beginning to show up on US coastlines.

The budget-strapped West Coast states lack the resources to clean up everything that arrives.The cost of removing the single largest piece of tsunami debris to hit Oregon to date – a large dock that washed ashore last month at Agate Beach on the central Coast – will run just over $84,000, according to Oregon Parks & Recreation, which has hired a contractor to remove and dispose of the dock starting July 30. A small piece will be kept as a memorial to the tsunami victims.

“Cleaning up our beaches relies upon all of us,” said Charlie Plybon, , Surfrider Foundation Oregon Field Manager. “The key to responding to this challenge … lies with educating and activating volunteers.”

The Oregon Marine Debris Team is hoping to recruit enough volunteers to monitor every beach, cove and headland for debris, and to be on call for cleanup alerts in given areas. “Agencies are not able to do that,” Plybon said. “It is up to us, the people who care for our coastline and take responsibility for it, to step up. Our role as nonprofits is to provide the support to make that happen.”

What to do if you find tsunami debris

The state of Oregon, in coordination with NOAA, Sea Grant and multiple coastal nonprofits, has a new list of resources for people who find – or who are interested in helping clean up – debris that might be associated with last year’s devastating tsunami in Japan.

Coastal residents and visitors are invited to pick up official beach cleanup bags from any state parks office on the coast, and fill them with whatever non-hazardous trash and debris they find when they’re on the beach.   Dozens of debris drop-off stations have been established on the coast, at many state parks and local waste transfer stations.

  • If you spot
    • Debris with living organisms on it
    • Debris that appears hazardous (oil or chemical drums, for instance)
    • Items too large for you to move
  • report it – with date, location, and photos if you can take them – to beach.debris@state.or.us
  • Unusually large items, or those that pose a hazard to navigation, should be reported by calling 211 (or 1-800-SAFENET).
  • Items with markings that might trace them back to inviduals or groups in Japan, or that appear to have personal or monetary value, should be reported to either  211 (1-800-SAFENET) or beach.debris@state.or.us so the state can can make appropriate arrangements to return the items.
  • You can also download a printable sheet of wallet-sized cards with this contact information on it.

If you’d like to volunteer to help report, collect or monitor the beaches for debris, you can sign up online with Surfrider, which will pass the information to the appropriate groups.

Oregon Sea Grant has joined with organizations such as Surfrider, SOLVE and CoastWatch to form the Oregon Marine Debris Team to assist with debris monitoring, identification, cleanup and public information.

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.


Sea level rise, increasing storms and the Pacific coast

Storm waves hitting central Oregon coastNEWPORT – Oregon State University geoscientist Peter Ruggiero will speak at the Hatfield Marine Science Center tonight (Oct. 25) on “The Role of Sea Level Rise and Increasing Storminess in PNW Coastal Change and Flood Hazards.”

The talk starts at 7 pm in the Hennings Auditorium at the HMSC Visitor Center.

Ruggiero is part of a team of scientists from OSU and the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries who have been studying increased storm activity and resulting wave height off the Oregon coast, and its effects on erosion, flooding and other hazards.

This past January, the team published an assessment suggesting that maximum heights could be as much as 40 percent higher than previous record levels, especially in the stormy winter months of December and January.  The report said that the cause of these dramatically higher waves is not completely certain, but “likely due to Earth’s changing climate.”

Combined with the effects of sea level rise, higher maximum waves could have implications for erosion, flood control, property damage and development regulations up and down the Pacific Northwest coast.

Ruggiero’s team has received support for its work from Oregon Sea Grant (2008-2010) and from the NOAA Climate Program.

Tsunami preparedness brochure available online

Three Things You Need to Know About Tsunamis“Three Things You Need to Know About Tsunamis,” a new, easy-to-use brochure designed for Oregon coast residents and visitors, is available online from Oregon Sea Grant.

Written by Patrick Corcoran, Sea Grant Extension’s coastal hazards specialist, the handy,  printable brochure covers three essential facts about preparing for a tsunami:

  • The difference between local and distant tsunamis, and what that means to people trying to escape the potentially devastating inundation
  • Which coastal areas are likely to be unsafe should a tsunami strike
  • What people can do in advance to be prepared

Marine scientists say the Oregon Coast is overdue for the sort of high-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck Japan in March. Even if  “the Big One” doesn’t strike, many coastal areas are vulnerable to tsunamis generated by distant quakes in other parts of the Pacific Rim.

Corcoran, based in Astoria, works with coastal communities and state and federal agencies to increase public awareness of the risks, and make people better prepared to deal with disaster when it strikes.

The new brochure carries the same message as his community talks and a previously released Sea Grant video on the subject: It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

The largest earthquakes on earth happen along the Cascadia subduction zone, at regular geologic intervals.” As Corcoran writes, “The last Big One was in 1700 AD. Given historic averages, we are about due. We need to prepare for this inevitability.”

Designed by Sea Grant artist Patricia Andersson, the new brochure is intended for wide distribution. Coastal families can use them, along with maps of local evacuation routes, to develop their own tsunami preparedness and evacuation plans. Motels, visitor attractions and other coastal businesses can make them available to visitors. And local emergency preparedness groups can use them as guides for community presentations.

The brochure is available for free download from Oregon Sea Grant, both as a full-color, printable .pdf and in an accessible plain-text version.

Information about single-copy and bulk orders of the brochure will be added soon to the Sea Grant Web site. In the meantime, queries can be sent to sea.grant.communications@oregonstate.edu

More information: Watch the three-minute video, The Three Things You Need To Know (Flash required)

Oregon Sea Grant’s Pat Corcoran quoted in NY Times article on tsunamis

Pat Corcoran, hazards outreach specialist for Oregon Sea Grant, was quoted in an article that appeared in the February 28, 2010, NY Times, “Chilean Quake a Warning to U.S. Northwest“:

“The release of pressure between two overlapping tectonic plates along the subduction zone regularly generates massive 9.0 magnitude earthquakes –- including five over the last 1,400 years. The last ‘Big One’ was 309 years ago. We are in a geologic time when we can expect another ‘Big One,’ either in our lives or those of our children. Prudence dictates that we overcome our human tendencies to ignore this inevitability.”

He was also quoted extensively in an Associated Press article appearing in the Feb. 27 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, among other places. (“Tsunami barely registers in Pacific Northwest“).

Corcoran appears in an Oregon Sea Grant video about tsunami preparedness called Three Things You Need to Know. You can view the 3-minute video here. Oregon Sea Grant also has a 14-minute video about tsunami preparedness called Reaching Higher Ground. Watch it here.

Oregon Sea Grant-funded tsunami research featured in NSF “Discoveries”

“One of our experiments found that small seawalls cause a skyward deflection of an incoming tsunami wave, which consequently reduces wave energy and the force on structures directly landward of the wall. … As seawalls are inexpensive and easy to build, they are a sustainable tsunami defense measure applicable for most coastal communities.”

So writes Oregon State University (OSU) graduate student Mary Beth Oshnack in her article, “Building Tsunami-resistant Cities,” in the National Science Foundation’s online news feature, Discoveries. Oshnack has been working with Oregon Sea Grant researcher Dan Cox at OSU’s O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, part of the National Science Foundation’s  (NSF) Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, or NEES.