Pacific Basin At Risk From Russian Far East

Communism in the Soviet Union was responsible for a lot of heartache, but one of the lesser known problems that arose out of the closed boundaries of Russia during the middle portion of the last century is the restriction to scientific locations.

The Kamchatka Peninsula and Kuril Islands lie off the east coast of continental Russia and are a seismic and volcanic hotbed, according to researchers from the University of Washington.

Russian Far East Holds Seismic Hazards for the Pacific Rim

In 1952 a magnitude 9 earthquake devastated the region and sent tsunamis throughout the Pacific Rim.

“There’s not a large population in the Russian Far East, but it’s obviously important to the people who live there. Thousands of people were killed in tsunamis because of the earthquake in 1952. And tsunamis don’t stay home,” said Jody Bourgeois, a University of Washington professor of Earth and space sciences.

More recently an earthquake in 2006 that struck central Kurils produced a local tsunami up to 50 feet and sent smaller tsunamis across the Pacific, eventually causing over $10 million in damages at Crescent City, California.

In 2009 the Sarychev Peak in the Kurils erupted disruptig air traffic over the North Pacific. Clearly, determining the frequency of such events is important to many people over a broad area, Bourgeois said.

Russian Far East Holds Seismic Hazards for the Pacific Rim

“Let’s say you decide to build a nuclear power plant in Crescent City. You have to consider local events, but you also have to consider non-local events, worst-case scenarios, which includes tsunamis coming across the Pacific,” she said.

The historic record for the region is relatively short, sadly, and what information there is has only been available for a relatively short amount of time due to the obvious earlier political repercussions of Soviet Russia’s attitude towards the world.

There has been a lot learned in the past 10 years thanks to the examination of tsunami deposits and other evidence in the region, but there is a greater need for more field work in the Kamchatka-Kurils subduction zone is required to get a clearer picture.

“For hazard analysis, you should just assume that a subduction zone can produce a magnitude 9 earthquake,” she said. So it is important to “pay attention to the prehistoric record” to know where, and how often, such major events occur.

Source: University of Washington
Image Source: Google Earth and University of Washington

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