Threat of tsunamis to Pacific Basin seen

Dec. 3, 2012 at 6:26 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Russia's Far East holds seismic and volcanic hazards that could trigger tsunamis and pose a risk to the rest of the Pacific Basin, a U.S. researcher says.

Studies in the last 20 years have revealed the dangerous side of the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands, sources of powerful earthquakes and volcanic activity long kept hidden from outsiders by Russia, Jody Bourgeois, a University of Washington professor of Earth and space sciences, says.

A magnitude-9 earthquake in that region in 1952 caused significant damage elsewhere on the Pacific Rim, she said, and even less-powerful quakes have had effects throughout the Pacific Basin.

"There's not a large population in the Russian Far East, but it's obviously important to the people who live there," she said in a university release. "Thousands of people were killed in tsunamis because of the earthquake in 1952. And tsunamis don't stay home."

A tsunami caused by a smaller 2006 earthquake crossed the Pacific and did more than $10 million in damage at Crescent City, Calif.

The historic record for earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions in Kamchatka and the Kurils is relatively short, Bourgeois said, and because the region was closed off from much of the world for decades information has started becoming available only recently.

Learning more about the region is important to many people over a broad area, she said.

"Let's say you decide to build a nuclear power plant in Crescent City. You have to consider local events, but you also have to consider non-local events, worst-case scenarios, which includes tsunamis coming across the Pacific."

Bourgeois talked about the seismic and volcanic threats in the Kamchatka-Kurils region Monday at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

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