OSU researchers work to prepare cities before the next "Big One"

Earthquake researchers

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Experts say it's only a matter of time before the next Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, better known as the next "big one."

316 years ago Tuesday, a magnitude 9 earthquake shook the Cascadia region and scientists say another massive quake could happen at any time.

Marine geologist Chris Goldfinger from Oregon State University has dedicated his entire career to studying the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Before much was known about the zone, massive cities began developing on the giant fault. Many structures don't stand a chance if a large earthquake or tsunami were to hit.

"Suddenly we find we're sitting on a time bomb after the fact, and so how people are responding to that is probably the real story these days," Goldfinger said.

He says Oregon will not be ready for the "big one" when it hits. In order to withstand the shock, it will take a lot more time and money. He says bond measures need to pass to retrofit important infrastructures.

At the Hinsdale Wave Lab in Corvallis, OSU Professor Daniel Borello is brewing something new.

Previous studies show the hydro dynamics of tsunamis responding to structures. This is aiding ongoing research.

"What we are doing now is the opposite. We know now the hydro dynamics but now we want to see how the structure is going to respond to that," said Pedro Lomonaco, Hinsdale Wave Lab director.

This tsunami research lab has been making great strides over the years and it's helping state officials write a new chapter in the building code.

"So that there is now going to be adopted by the American Society of Civil Engineers a new building code to help people build tsunami resistant structures," said Alicia Lyman-Hold, education outreach coordinator.

Researchers can't predict the future, but they can learn from the past. Goldfinger discovered the Cascadia Zone has several pieces with different repeat zones.

"So we know we have higher frequency quakes in the southern half and the repeat time is 250 years," Goldfinger said.

According to the last earthquake, we might be running out of time. The earthquakes that occur frequently off shore are indicators that the subduction zone is turning.

"So you can think of that as more of clicks on a racket wrench as you tighten it up more than relieving stress," Goldfinger described.

The south part of the coast has a 35 to 40 percent probability rate that a substantial quake will hit in the next 50 years. But, as Goldfinger points out, "If you're ready, then it doesn't matter so much when it happens."

Since it is the 316th anniversary, the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries is hosting a week-long social media campaign.

There's a Twitter conversation going on using #CascadiaEQ - The conversation is designed to get people to look at local government resources that will help them understand and prepare for future earthquakes.

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