State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Observations While on Quarantine in Newport, Oregon

researchers sitting on toadstools on the beach
During a socially distanced walk, group members posed for a photo on several “toadstools” left by wave erosion. Photo: Madeleine Lucas

To prevent the science team from bringing COVID-19 onto the R/V Langseth, we were required to quarantine in Newport, Oregon at the Hallmark Resort for 1-2 weeks. In addition to quarantining, everyone received COVID-19 testing prior to travel and during quarantine to ensure we did not contract COVID-19 while traveling to Newport and staying at the hotel. Fortunately for us, the Hallmark Resort is located right on the beautiful Newport Beach with ocean views from every room. To maintain our physical and mental health during quarantine, we were allowed go outside for 1.5 hours each day. One day, the group decided to use our outdoor time to meet up at the beach for a socially distant walk. During our walk along the beach, we discovered many interesting outcrops. One of the outcrops had perfect “toadstool” seats created by wave erosion from the tide moving in and out — a perfect place to stop for a group picture.

During our quarantine, we spent long hours gazing out at the Pacific Ocean, patiently waiting for our time to set sail. We spotted the R/V Marcus G. Langseth offshore in the second week of quarantine. She was out on a complementary deployment of ocean bottom seismometers which will record seismic waves from our seismic reflection survey. We tracked the Langseth’s location and were able to welcome her back into port from the grassy dunes along the Yaquina River at Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site.

langseth research vessel offshore
The R/V Langseth, spotted offshore. Photo: Brian Boston

Seeing tsunami evacuation signs on our daily walks around Newport during quarantine reminded us of the purpose of our experiment: to better understand the megathrust earthquake and tsunami hazard from the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

In the tsunami evacuation map of Newport-South, Oregon, you can see the tsunami evacuation zones for a local Cascadia earthquake in yellow, a distant tsunami in orange, and areas outside the hazard zone in green. The black arrows point inland towards higher ground in green and the “A” marks safe assembly areas in the event of a tsunami. You can see that a local tsunami can reach more than a mile inland from the coast, flowing up river valleys and along stretches of low ground. This emphasizes how important it is to increase public awareness and preparedness for these hazardous events and to understand how large the tsunami waves might be in populated areas along the Cascadia margin such as Newport.

Just south of Yaquina River, you can see the NOAA Marine Operations Center, the Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center, and the Oregon Coast Aquarium are all located within the tsunami hazard zones, and the only safe assembly areas near these large centers is Safe Haven Hill, shown in the map inset, and the vertical evacuation structure on the roof of the Hatfield Marine Science Center. It is crucial for people who work and live near these population centers to be ready to evacuate in the event of an earthquake and tsunami and to know where exactly to go, since a tsunami from a Cascadia megathrust event could reach the coast within 15 to 20 minutes, according to the Oregon Tsunami Clearinghouse. For more info on how to prepare for a Cascadia tsunami, see their website here.

With the new seismic images collected during the our research cruise, we hope to improve our understanding of Cascadia megathrust earthquake and tsunami events, to better prepare coastal communities like Newport for these hazardous events.

Madeleine Lucas is a PhD student in earth and space sciences at the University of Washington.

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