As the world tunes in to the disaster following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan today — and with waves rattling nerves along the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii — a question rises to the fore: Could such a disaster happen here?
The short answer is yes. It already has. Major quakes of a similar style rupture along the 680-mile-long Cascadia subduction zone, a fault that runs from Northern California to British Columbia, every few hundred years. They trigger tsunami waves reaching up to 15 feet high that hit the shore about 10 to 15 minutes later.
The fault last ruptured in 1700 – a magnitude-9 event that sent tsunami waves crashing into Japan. Experts believe it is a matter of when, not if, the next one will happen, according to Brian Atwater, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington and an expert on the 1700 event.
“There’s no reason to question the history here,” he told me today.