Supercomputer Unleashes Virtual 9.0 Megaquake In Pacific Northwest

Paul Tooby of UC San Diego News Center reports:

On January 26, 1700, at about 9 p.m. local time, the Juan de Fuca plate beneath the ocean in the Pacific Northwest suddenly moved, slipping some 60 feet eastward beneath the North American plate in a monster quake of approximately magnitude 9, setting in motion large tsunamis that struck the coast of North America and traveled to the shores of Japan.

Scientists used a supercomputer-driven “virtual earthquake” to explore likely ground shaking in a magnitude 9.0 megathrust earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. Peak ground velocities are displayed in yellow and red. The legend represents speed in meters per second (m/s) with red equaling 2.3 m/s. Although the largest ground motions occur offshore near the fault and decrease eastward, sedimentary basins lying beneath some cities amplify the shaking in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver, increasing the risk of damage.

Since then, the earth beneath the region — which includes the cities of Vancouver, Seattle and Portland — has been relatively quiet. But scientists believe that earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 8, so-called “megathrust events,” occur along this fault on average every 400 to 500 years.

To help prepare for the next megathrust earthquake, a team of researchers led by seismologist Kim Olsen of San Diego State University (SDSU) used a supercomputer-powered “virtual earthquake” program to calculate for the first time realistic three-dimensional simulations that describe the possible impacts of megathrust quakes on the Pacific Northwest region. Also participating in the study were researchers from the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego and the U.S. Geological Survey.

What the scientists learned from this simulation is not reassuring, as reported in the Journal of Seismology, particularly for residents of downtown Seattle [...]

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