Living within the Cascadia Subduction Zone presents serious questions for North Coast residents, who must grapple with the very real threat of a severe, high magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that could lay waste to the area.
“Do you leave? Do you organize your life around it? It creates a very interesting human problem,” said Bonnie Henderson, author of “The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast.” “These are questions each of us need to ask ourselves.”
Henderson will confront these questions — and sign and read from “The Next Tsunami”— at Seaside’s Beach Books, 616 Broadway, at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 5.
Henderson first became acquainted with Seaside as the assistant editor of the Seaside Signal in the early 1980s, and, as she researched “The Next Tsunami,” she was struck by the scientific progression since then.
“I didn’t realize how recent tectonic plate theory was,” Henderson said. “Nothing was really known about the seismicity of the coast until 1986.”
“The Next Tsunami” traces this growing tectonic knowledge through the life and career of local geologist Tom Horning, whom Henderson met in 2008 while visiting her brother in Gearhart.
Henderson was floored by his account of the 1964 tsunami, which hit Seaside when Horning was 10 and became his abiding passion.
In the book’s introduction, Henderson describes the story as “the quest to understand the geologic history of the Earth, and of one corner of the Earth in particular.”
And, after a couple hours of chatting with Horning over coffee and muffins at Pacific Way Bakery back in 2008, Henderson knew that it was a story she wanted to tell.
“It’s such an amazing story,” she said.
The more Henderson learned about the Cascadia Subduction Zone, the more intrigued she became by Seaside’s place in the story: Map after map shows the city is especially vulnerable to a tsunami-causing earthquake, which is why, as Henderson writes, Horning has dubbed Seaside “Tsunamitopia.”
For Henderson, the interesting part comes after one acknowledges Seaside’s vulnerability to a catastrophic tsunami.
“Once you have this knowledge,” she said, “what do you do with it?”
Henderson said she is not interested in laying out solutions but in fostering a frank discussion of the reality of living in Tsunamitopia.
“The Next Tsunami” aims “not to give an answer, but present that problem,” Henderson said. “These are questions each of us needs to ask ourselves.”
As Henderson’s research accumulated, she began to truly understand how severe a Cascadia Subduction Zone event would be compared to, say, an earthquake on California’s San Andreas Fault.
“It’ll be huge,” Henderson said of a local earthquake and tsunami; the 1964 tsunami was a distant tsunami, and a high magnitude local event will be far more damaging to Seaside, according to Henderson.
“When there is an earthquake, it will be devastating,” she said.
But the impossibility of knowing when a local tsunami will hit Seaside is what makes the situation especially vexing.
“It may not happen in our lifetimes,” Henderson said. “… It looks as though either it could be as much as 700 years or we’re kind of due.”
This tsunami uncertainty can engender apathy or even downright denial in Seaside residents.
But Henderson hopes that understanding the science of the Cascadia Subduction Zone can inspire wonder and awe, not denial and dread.
“The scientific process is an incredibly intuitive, serendipitous process,” she said. “That whole process of scientific discovery is so interesting to me.”
Henderson cited the work of Julia Parrish, a marine conservationist and professor at the University of Washington, as an example of how to appreciate the savage science of tsunamis and the ever-shifting ocean floor.
“She’s developed this matrix,” Henderson said. “Scientists are on this continuum of discovery, from wonder to worry.”
Adults tend to focus on the worry: What will happen to our homes, our neighborhoods, our children?
Children, Henderson explained, tend to view science with wide-eyed wonder, and she believes that worried adults can learn something from them.
“Part of what I wanted to do with this book is, let’s get back to the wonder part,” she said.
And who knows: Perhaps 300 years from now, Henderson imagined, a coastal resident dealing with the aftermath of a tsunami will ask, “Didn’t somebody write a book about that?”
“The Next Tsunami” (Oregon State University Press) is available for preorder at www.powells.com or www.amazon.com. Henderson and Horning will appear at Beach Books at 5 p.m. April 5 for the book’s official launch.
The Seaside Signal, 3.24.14. Link: http://goo.gl/RmxH1i