The Science of Sustainability

The San Francisco Impact of the 2010 Japan Tsunami

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Courtesy of NASA

On March 12, a one-foot tidal wave was filmed as it slowly surged across the San Francisco Bay. The wave traveling 5000 miles from Japan started out as a 23-foot tsunami off the Japanese coast. It was created by a devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0. The earthquake was the largest earthquake in Japan’s history and the fourth largest earthquake since 1900. It shifted the planet’s axis and opened a rift that moved Japan closer to the United States by thirteen feet.

We were lucky to have such a slight nudge from such a devastating natural disaster. Crescent City was not so lucky. Six to eight foot surges hit the harbor of Crescent City creating flooding, splintered docks, and damage to boats and marinas alike.

Crescent City’s claim to fame is it the only town in the continental US where a tsunami has killed residents. On March 28, 1964, a 21-foot tsunami wave created by a earthquake in nearby Alaska surged into the town of 7,500 doing extensive damage and killing 11 people. Underwater topography can tunnel these massive waves to direct them towards a certain point, which increases the power by centralizing their force. Such was the case with the wave that hit Crescent City; the underwater topography leading to Crescent City created a funnel for the wave in 1964.

With such a powerful wave, it is a blessing that more people were not killed. Early sirens warned of the wave and many residents retreated to higher ground. UGGS put out a report in 2005 of how to survive a tsunami taking much information from the survivors of Tsunamis in Chile, Hawaii and Japan. From their extensive research, the following points were given:

• Many will survive the earthquake that will later trigger a tsunami

• Look for natural warnings; An earthquake or rise and fall of coastal waters may serve as an early warning as well as wildlife heading for higher ground

• Listen for official warnings; Take sirens and evacuation notices seriously

• There is usually not just one wave; Generally small waves are then followed by higher intensity waves

• Head for higher ground and stay put; It may take several hours for the Tsunami force wave to hit

• Abandon belongings; Many people died concerning themselves with belonging rather than heading to higher ground

• Roads may not be an escape route; They might be made impassable by earthquakes or earlier waves

• If getting to higher ground is not an option:
Go to an upper floor or roof of a building; Climb a tree; If you are near wave, find something that can act as a raft

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Category: Climate, Environment, Geology

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Cat

About the Author ()

Cathleen (Cat) is the former Special Projects Manager at California Academy of Sciences and worked in the public programs division. Before working at the Academy, Cat got her start as an intern at Lindsay Wildlife Museum for four years and worked with animals ranging from snakes and hawks to foxes and bobcats. She has a deep curiosity about the natural world and native California wildlife.
  • charlene

    Note–"Continental US" includes Alaska. Thus Crescent City is not the only place in the "Continental US" to have suffered deaths from tsunami's.

    "Contiguous US" would have been the correct term to refer to the lower 48 states. ;-)