Scientist will work with state on tsunami prediction

LONGVIEW – A scientist who warned that a Pacific Ocean quake could drive waves to the Northwest coast between 65 and 98 feet high – more than triple the size anticipated in state evacuation plans – says he’ll work with Washington state geologists to fine-tune his calculations.

University of Rhode Island ocean engineering professor Stephan Grilli’s calculations of Northwest tsunami prospects were based on data collected after the disastrous 2004 Asian Tsunami.

He made the analysis at the request of the Discovery Channel, which partially funded his research and used his analysis to promote a Dec. 18 program called, “America’s Tsunami: Are We Next?”

A news release about his research described the Cascadia subduction zone off the Northwest coast as a “mirror image” of Indian Ocean fault lines. Grilli has since called that characterization “too alarmist.”

A University of Rhode Island news release quoted Grilli as saying Washington and Oregon communities “need to be even better prepared” than they are now.

But this past week, Grilli told The (Longview) Daily News that his analysis didn’t take into account the coastal topography, which would affect the size of waves that actually reached shore. Nor did he pinpoint where the largest waves would come in.

“The numbers don’t really mean anything right now,” he said Friday. “A lot more work needs to be done.”

Grilli said he’d had no plans to follow up his analysis until it generated interest and skepticism in the Northwest.

He said he’s already been in contact with one of the skeptics, state Department of Natural Resources geologic-hazards manager Tim Walsh.

Grilli said he and Walsh will study whether the unexpectedly massive uplift that occurred in the Indian Ocean floor last year could happen in the Cascadia subduction zone, and what the consequences would be.

“The question is still in the air whether it’s fully realistic for Cascadia,” Grilli said. “I think the message is, we ought to take a look in light of what happened” in the Indian Ocean.

The last great Cascadia earthquake occurred in 1700. The temblor ripped the sea floor off the Washington coast and created a tsunami that is believed to have crested around 10 feet in Japan.

Written records collected from villages on the Japanese island of Honshu show the coast was hit by a series of waves on Jan. 28, 1700.

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