Land-sea experiment will track earthquakes, volcanoes along Alaska Peninsula

a close-up profile photo of Emily Roland
Emily Roland, assistant professor in the School of Oceanography and one of nine principal investigators in the study

The National Science Foundation is funding the largest marine seismic-monitoring effort yet along the Alaska Peninsula, a region with frequent and diverse earthquake and volcanic activity. Involving aircraft and ships, the new Alaska Amphibious Community Seismic Experiment will be led by Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, with partners at the University of Washington and seven other research institutions.

“This effort will really change the information we have at our disposal for understanding the seismic properties of subduction zones,” said Emily Roland, a UW assistant professor of oceanography and one of nine principal investigators on the project.

The experiment will place seismic instruments on and off a 435-mile stretch of coast that includes the communities of Kodiak, King Salmon and Sand Point. The instruments will be deployed starting next spring and will record for 15 months, spanning two summer seasons.

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Distant earthquakes can cause underwater landslides

Paul Johnson headshot
The School of Oceanography’s Paul Johnson, lead author of a new study that shows earthquakes can trigger underwater landslides thousands of miles away.

New research finds that large earthquakes can trigger underwater landslides thousands of miles away, weeks or months after the quake occurs.

Researchers analyzing data from ocean-bottom seismometers off the Washington-Oregon coast tied a series of underwater landslides on the Cascadia Subduction Zone to a 2012 magnitude-8.6 earthquake in the Indian Ocean — more than 8,000 miles away. These underwater landslides occurred intermittently for nearly four months after the April earthquake. Previous work has shown that earthquakes can trigger additional earthquakes on other faults, but this study shows they can also initiate undersea landslides far from the quake.

“The basic assumption is that these marine landslides are generated by the local earthquakes,” said Paul Johnson, an oceanographer at the University of Washington and lead author of the new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. “But what our paper said is, ‘No, you can generate them from earthquakes anywhere on the globe.’”

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UW seismologist John Vidale elected to National Academy of Sciences

John E. Vidale, a University of Washington professor of Earth and space sciences, is among 84 new members and 21 foreign associates elected this week as members of the National Academy of Sciences. Academy members are recognized for their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research, according to a news release from the academy.

Vidale studies Earth’s interior, including earthquakes and volcanoes. Some of his research at the UW has looked at how volcanoes ‘scream’ before they erupt, how silent earthquakes release energy beneath Puget Sound, and mapping the volcanic plumbing beneath Mount St. Helens using seismic ultrasound. He is director of the UW’s M9 Project, an interdisciplinary effort to prepare for a magnitude-9 earthquake.

Vidale is also active in applied work and public communication about natural hazards. Since 2006 he has directed the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, which tracks all seismic activity in the region, and serves as Washington’s state seismologist. He also is involved in the current effort to build a West Coast earthquake early warning system, which would provide seconds to minutes of warning for the damaging effects of a large earthquake.

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Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, USGS and partners launch West Coast earthquake early warning system

University of Washington Professor John Vidale at the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning event on April 10, 2017.

University of Washington
University of Washington Professor John Vidale at the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning event on April 10, 2017.

The U.S. Geological Survey and university, public and private partners held an event April 10 at the University of Washington to introduce the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning program as a unified, West Coast-wide system. The event also introduced the first pilot uses of the earthquake early warning in Washington and Oregon.

The first Pacific Northwest pilot users of the system are Bothell, Wash.-based RH2 Engineering, which will use the alerts to secure municipal water and sewer systems so these structures remain usable after a major quake. Oregon’s first test user, the Eugene Water & Electricity Board, will use alerts to lower water levels in a canal above a residential area in Oregon, and to stop turbines at a river power plant. Both utility providers participated in a beta test group that has been learning about the system since early 2015 from the UW-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, which coordinates the system in Washington and Oregon.

“We are thrilled to take the first steps in integrating earthquake early warning into life in the Pacific Northwest,” John Vidale, UW professor of Earth and space sciences and director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. “Our teamwork has made it possible to reach this milestone so quickly.”

The ShakeAlert system will provide seconds to minutes of warning before damaging shaking arrives. That would be enough time to get out of a dangerous building, turn off a vehicle, stop surgeries and other delicate activities, and prepare for the imminent ground shaking.

Read more at UW Today »

The Interface between Natural Hazards and People

Associate Professor and M9 Project investigator, Joe Wartman, recently published an op-ed on the interface between natural hazards and people. The opinion article, titled “What we’ve learned from the deadly Oso, Washington landslide two years on”, can be accessed here.

Civil Engeneering Faculty and staff studio portrait
Joe Wartman, Civil Engineering, UW

Seattle Times editorial and Eugene Mayor call for earthquake early warning

Seattle Times editorial

“Congress is finally waking up to the need for better earthquake preparedness in the Pacific Northwest.”


Register-Guard opinion piece

Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy – “A can-do, action-oriented approach to individual preparedness, a civic emphasis on resilience, and public and private investment in earthquake early warning are all steps that will keep us safer.”

M9 Meeting: Timothy McDaniels (UBC)


Dr. Timothy McDaniels (UBC)
Dr. Timothy McDaniels (UBC)

Professor Tim McDaniels (UBC) will speak about “A yawning governance gap that degrades regional infrastructure resilience” at the M9 All-Hands Meeting on Tuesday, February 9. M9 Meetings are held from 2:30-3:30 PM in Molecular Engineering room 115.

Read more about Tim’s work on his website.


UW awarded private, public grants to develop earthquake early warning tool

The University of Washington is among West Coast universities awarded new funding for earthquake early warning systems, announced Feb. 2 as part of a White House Earthquake Resilience Summit.

The UW-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network is helping to develop ShakeAlert, an automated alert system that could save lives and prevent millions of dollars in damages by providing seconds to minutes of warning before shaking begins.

The UW; the University of California, Berkeley; California Institute of Technology; and the U.S. Geological Survey were awarded $3.6 million in funding today from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to help advance the earthquake early warning system. The UW group will study the implementation of a network of sensors on the ocean floor to provide early warning for earthquakes from the Cascadia subduction zone, the largest threat for a catastrophic earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.

“Earthquakes pose tremendous risk to our communities, and so researchers from the UW and our partners are working with private funders and city, state and federal governments to create an accurate, responsive early warning system,” said John Vidale, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences and director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, who spoke at the summit.

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UW seismologist speaking at White House earthquake preparedness summit

A University of Washington seismologist is participating in a White House summit Tuesday that will focus on national earthquake preparedness. The event will be webcast live from 9:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Pacific time.

Sally Jewell, secretary of the Department of the Interior, and John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, are scheduled to give the introductory remarks.

John Vidale, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences, is among the speakers for the first session of the day, which will focus on the promise of earthquake early warning. Later sessions will focus on building for earthquake safety, the evolution of early earthquake warning, and how the federal government is committed to ensuring a future with greater earthquake readiness.

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Earthquake Authority: Q&A with UW’s John Vidale

John Vidale
Earth and Space Sciences’ professor John Vidale

Earth and Space SciencesJohn Vidale has been interested in the earth and its inner workings since he was a young boy, thanks to his mother, a geologist. His longtime love for geology, math and physics brought him to Yale and Caltech for his undergraduate and graduate studies, respectively, followed by years as a researcher and professor across California before moving to Seattle.

Now, he’s nearing a decade at the UW, where he works with the state and federal government for public hazard mitigation and serves as Washington’s resident earthquake expert, where he’s tasked, among many other things, with collaborating with others to create an earthquake preparedness plan for at-risk areas—Seattle included.

“Seeing the city take action based on our research really gives me a feeling that I’m not working on something that might one day benefit people, but that will have an immediate impact. It keeps the University more connected to the community because it’s not just ivory tower research.”

Follow the link to learn more about John Vidale and his team’s work on earthquake early warning technology!

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