Brian Atwater looks at buried marsh soil coated by sand, exposed at low tide in an arm of Willapa Bay, Washington. The buried marsh soil is black; the sand forms the thin, distinct gray layers above it. The sediment sequence provides evidence for abrupt lowering of land and for ensuing surges of sandy water. These are among the effects of the 1700 Cascadia earthquake and tsunami.
A puzzling tsunami entered Japanese history in January 1700. Samurai, merchants, and villagers wrote of minor flooding and damage. Some noted that they had felt no earthquake; they wondered what had set off the waves. They had no way of knowing that the tsunami had been spawned during an earthquake along the coast of northwestern North America. Not until the middle 1990s would this orphan tsunami be linked to its parent earthquake, through an extraordinary series of discoveries in both North America and Japan. --Brian
The Sound Waters keynote will recount a scientific detective story through its North American and Japanese clues. The story underpins many of today's precautions against earthquake and tsunami hazards in the Cascadia region of northwestern North America.
Brian Atwater will explain how collaboration with specialists in geology, geophysics, forestry, history, and language led to important discoveries following years of work deciphering centuries of clues left by Nature and humans.
In 2005 Brian Atwater coauthored a book about this scientific detective story: The Orphan Tsunami of 1700-- Japanese Clues to a Parent Earthquake in North America, published by USGS, Department of the Interior, and in association with University of Washington Press. The book sold out, but a new 2016 edition is hot off the press! Sound Waters will be providing opportunities for you to purchase the paperback version; and Brian will be available to sign your copy.
The keynote will cover some aspects of this new edition as well as coastal geology affecting our area. The take home lesson: Geology reveals hazards we wouldn’t otherwise know about, allowing communities to put safety measures in place before a disaster occurs.
Brian Atwater is a research geologist with the US Geological Survey. He began working for the USGS in 1974 in California, and relocated to the Seattle office in 1985.
Brian’s forte is coastal geology: observing and interpreting rocks, sand, and mud to learn about earthquakes and tsunamis. His discoveries and basic research have led to a better understanding of such natural hazards in Washington State, Japan, Chile, Thailand, and the British Virgin Islands.
For the purpose of saving more lives from the threat of tsunamis, Brian has contributed to the writing of fact sheets and public safety booklets which circulate among the people of several countries.
Highlights of his field work include surveying remnant marshes in the San Francisco Bay estuary; mapping the geology of the Sacramento and San Joaquin River deltas; analysis of Pleistocene glacial-lake deposits of the Sanpoil River Valley in northeastern Washington; paddling a canoe through a cedar ghost forest on the Copalis River; finding the remains of a native Pac NW coastal village under a thick layer of mud; and reconnaissance geologic mapping in coastal Indonesia.
Currently Brian serves on a panel of scientists, creating solutions for the water distribution problems of the State of California. Brian is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and an affiliate professor at the University of Washington.
To use his own words, “I am just a mud geologist, a trans-Pacific detective.” And what are some of the tools of a trans-Pacific-geo-detective?--WWII trench shovels, dendrologists, a shogun’s library, tidal charts, 40 ft antique strip maps, historians, observant pioneers, the ability to read between the lines, Charles Darwin, information analysts, 7 dead trees that talk, math skills, patience, a canoe with a paddle, seismologists, diplomacy for gaining access to private property, international colleagues, a feline geodist, radiocarbon dating, and an understanding of Spanish and Japanese.
Brian is a coauthor of the January 2016 edition of The Orphan Tsunami of 1700— Japanese Clues to a Parent Earthquake in North America, by Brian F. Atwater, Musumi-Rokkaku Satoko, Satake Kenji, Tsuji Yoshinobu, Ueda Kazue, and David K. Yamaguchi.