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  • When the Big One Hits Portland, Cargo Bikers Will Save You | WIRED
    Monday, September 26, 2022
    Community groups in Portland, Seattle, and Tsukuba, Japan, are preparing for earthquakes by hosting bike races. Cyclists who participate solve a variety of challenges that might face communities days after a devastating earthquake, demonstrating the capabilities of cargo bikes in a disaster and familiarizing the cyclists with local emergency response patterns. Quoted is graduate student Elizabeth Davis, who participated in the Portland event and organizes similar efforts in Seattle. Read More
  • Deepest scientific ocean drilling effort sheds light on Japan's next 'big one'
    Thursday, September 22, 2022

    Scientists who drilled deeper into an undersea earthquake fault than ever before have found that the tectonic stress in Japan's Nankai subduction zone is less than expected.

    The results of the study led by the University of Washington and the University of Texas at Austin, published Sept. 5 in Geology, are a puzzle, since the fault produces a great earthquake almost every century and was thought to be building for another big one.

    Although the Nankai fault has been stuck for decades, the findings reveal that it is not yet showing major signs of pent-up tectonic stress. Authors say the result doesn't alter the long-term outlook for the fault, which last ruptured in 1946, when it caused a tsunami that killed thousands, and is expected to do so again during the next 50 years.

    The findings will help scientists home in on the link between tectonic forces and the earthquake cycle. This could potentially lead to better earthquake forecasts, both at Nankai and other megathrust faults, like the Cascadia subduction zone off the coast of Washington and Oregon.

    White ship seen from below

    The deep-sea scientific drilling vessel Chikyu, which in 2018 performed the deepest drilling of a subduction zone earthquake fault.Wikimedia/Gleam

    Harold Tobin of the University Washington inspects drilling pipes. Researchers used similar equipment during a record-breaking attempt to drill Japan's Nankai fault in 2018.University of Washington

    "Right now, we have no way of knowing if the big one for Cascadia -- a magnitude-9 scale earthquake and tsunami -- will happen this afternoon or 200 years from now," said lead author Harold Tobin, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences and co-chief scientist on the drilling expedition. "But I have some optimism that with more and more direct observations like this one from Japan we can start to recognize when something anomalous is occurring and that the risk of an earthquake is heightened in a way that could help people prepare.

    “We learn how these faults work by studying them all over the world, and that knowledge will directly translate into insight into the Cascadia hazard as well."

    Megathrust faults such as Nankai and Cascadia, and the tsunamis they generate, are among the most powerful and damaging on the globe. Scientists say they currently have no reliable way of knowing when and where the next big one will hit.

    The hope is that by directly measuring the force felt between tectonic plates pushing on each other -- tectonic stress -- scientists can learn when a great earthquake is ready to happen.

    "This is the heart of the subduction zone, right above where the fault is locked, where the expectation was that the system should be storing energy between earthquakes," said co-author Demian Saffer at University of Texas at Austin, who also co-led the scientific drilling expedition. "It changes the way we're thinking about stress in these systems."

    The nature of tectonics means that the great earthquake faults are found in deep ocean, miles under the seafloor, making them incredibly challenging to measure directly. Tobin and Saffer's drilling expedition is the closest scientists have come.

    Their record-breaking feat took place in 2018 aboard a Japanese scientific drilling ship, the Chikyu, which drilled almost 2 miles, or just over 3 kilometers, into the tectonic plate before the borehole got too unstable to continue -- 1 mile short of the fault.

    Nevertheless, the researchers gathered invaluable data about subsurface conditions near the fault, including stress. To do that, they measured how much the borehole changed shape as the Earth squeezed it from the sides, then pumped water to see what it took to force its walls back out. That told them the direction and strength of horizontal stress felt by the plate pushing on the fault.

    Contrary to predictions, the horizontal stress expected to have built up since the most recent great earthquake was close to zero, as if the system had already released its pent-up energy.

    The researchers suggested several explanations: It could be that the fault simply needs less pent-up energy than thought to slip in a big earthquake, or that the stresses are lurking nearer to the fault than the drilling reached. Or it could be that the tectonic push will come suddenly in the coming years. Either way, the researchers said the drilling showed the need for further investigation and long-term monitoring of the fault.

    "Findings like this can seem like they muddy the picture, because things aren’t as simple as our theory or models predicted they were," Tobin said. "But that just means we’re gaining more understanding of how the real world works, and the real world is messy and complicated."

    The research was funded by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, or JAMSTEC. Other co-authors are Takehiro Hirose at JAMSTEC and David Castillo at Insight GeoMechanics in Australia.



    For more information, contact Tobin at or Saffer at

    Adapted from an article by the University of Texas at Austin.

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  • Alaskan glaciers advance and retreat in satellite imagery | Eos
    Thursday, September 15, 2022
    Scientists tracked 19 maritime glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park over several decades and found that tidewater glaciers tended to experience less ice loss than other types of glaciers. Taryn Black, a doctoral student in Earth and space sciences at UW, is quoted. Read More
  • Artemis mission to the moon | KOMO Radio
    Friday, September 2, 2022
    NASA's upcoming Artemis mission will collect rocks on the moon that could show traces of water or ice. Baptiste Journaux, acting assistant professor of Earth and space sciences, is interviewed. Read More
  • How the White House nutrition conference may tackle Americans' unhealthy diets | NPR
    Wednesday, August 31, 2022
    The data are stark: the typical American diet is shortening the lives of many Americans. Diet-related deaths outrank deaths from smoking, and about half of U.S. deaths from heart disease - nearly 900 deaths a day - are linked to poor diet. The pandemic highlighted the problem, with much worse outcomes for people with obesity and other diet-related diseases. David Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted Read More
  • The new ESS / UW Photonic Sensing Facility
    Wednesday, August 17, 2022
    In a fantastic video, ESS assistant professors Marine Denolle and Brad Lipovsky explain the power and potential of the new Photonic Sensing Facility, which was recently funded by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. Read More
  • Bob Holzworth's research in the NY Times
    Friday, August 12, 2022
    Results from Bob Holzworth's lightning network -- and with both Holzworth and Atmospheric Sciences colleague Joel Thornton -- were highlighted in the NY Times on Friday, August 12th. See also the Read More
  • Salty Sea Spray Keeps Lightning Strikes Away
    Monday, August 8, 2022
    Although most rain on Earth falls over the oceans, lightning at sea is rarer than expected—and for decades, scientists were not sure why. A new study published on Tuesday in Nature Communications suggests salt spray could be getting in the way of clouds charging up for a lightning strike. Lightning data from WWLLN (ESS, Univ. of Washington) Read More
  • Lightning rises Sharply in the Arctic
    Monday, August 8, 2022
    A study recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters finds that Arctic lightning has tripled in the last decade alone. The researchers, led by Bob Holzworth of the University of Washington, analyzed data collected by the World Wide Lightning Location Network between 2010 and 2020. The network, operated by the University of Washington, has lightning sensors all over the world. Read More
  • Study shows changing glaciers could impact wildlife and tourism at national parks | Discover Magazine
    Monday, August 8, 2022
    The new data, published by researchers at the UW and the National Park Service, can help national parks predict how the changing glaciers will impact wildlife and tourism. Taryn Black, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences, is quoted. Read More