Shaken and Stirred: Northwest Earthquake and Tsunami

Washington 9.0 earthquake--Are you ready? Oregon 9.0 Earthquake--Are you ready?Suddenly the Pacific Northwest is on the national stage for its earthquake and tsunami vulnerability, thanks to a New Yorker article. “The Really Big One,” by Kathryn Schulz, has triggered attention from dozens of local papers and news sites. Yet even before the New Yorker shook the Northwest (pun intended), Oregon Public Broadcasting had been featuring Hart Crowser engineer Allison Pyrch in its “Unprepared” series, to alert the region to the impending disaster in hopes that we will get prepared.

Also, Allison recently gave a presentation for the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network: “Surviving a 9.0, Lessons Learned from Japan and Beyond.” If you are involved in emergency management or just plain interested in massive disasters and their aftermaths, settle in for some powerful visuals and easy-to-follow explanations about earthquakes in Japan and Chile, how the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami will happen in the Pacific Northwest, and what you can to do to be resilient.

Watch the whole “Surviving a 9.0” video to get unusual insight into what’s ahead, or if you’re pressed for time, skip to one of these minute points:

  • 9:00 Jan Castle introduces Allison Pyrch 10:56 Allison Pyrch’s presentation begins with how the Pacific Northwest 9.0 earthquake will happen
  • 14:25 Comparing the Japan and Chile quakes “It didn’t stop shaking for a day”
  • 21:45 Fire damage/natural gas 22:30 Water, wastewater, and electrical systems; liquid fuel; natural gas
  • 24:25 Lifelines/infrastructure/airports “PDX will not be up and running”
  • 28:35 Port damage/economics
  • 31:45 How prepared is the Pacific Northwest? When will it happen? “We are 9 ½ months pregnant”
  • 35:00 What will it look like?
  • 37:32 What you can do
  • 40:30 What businesses can do
  • 42:11 Can you be sustainable without being resilient?
  • 43:33 What about a resiliency rating system similar to LEED?
  • 53:30 Will utilities, transportation, hospitals be useable after the 9.0? “We’re toast”
  • 1:01:30 End of Allison’s presentation; additional information from Jan Castle on how to prepare
  • 1:19:19 How sustainability measures in your home lead to resiliency

Applying Net Environmental Benefit Analysis to Contaminated Sites

Exxon Valdez oil spill site

Exxon Valdez oil spill site.

First, do no harm….

Or at least don’t do more harm than good.

That’s the idea behind NEBA—Net Environmental Benefit Analysis—as applied to the cleanup of contaminated sites. As defined by a vintage 1990s Department of Energy paper on the subject, net environmental benefits are:

“…the gains in environmental services or other ecological properties attained by remediation or ecological restoration, minus the environmental injuries caused by those actions.”

Spills like Exxon Valdez Spurred the NEBA
The NEBA concept originated with the cleanup of large marine oil spills. One of the first formal considerations of Net Environmental Benefits was the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989. After the spill, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) looked at whether high-pressure, hot water washing of unconsolidated beaches might actually do more harm to the intertidal habitat—and the plants and animals that depend on it—than just simply letting the oil degrade naturally.

Since then, NEBAs have been used for a few other types of cleanups, including metals contamination in wetlands and organic contamination in sub-tidal sediment, but only infrequently and on an ad hoc basis.

No current NEBA Guidelines, However…
Formal consideration of net environmental benefits has not been more widespread in cleanup decisions, probably because federal and state cleanup frameworks, such as Washington’s Model Toxic Control Act (MTCA), do not explicitly allow consideration of the harm of the cleanup itself and don’t provide guidelines for when the process would apply and how the benefits and impacts should be evaluated.

But that might be changing. At least it is in Washington State, where the Department of Ecology thinks that the NEBA’s time has come. Ecology is working on new draft Terrestrial Ecological Evaluation (TEE) guidance that, for the first time, lays out the implementation of NEBA at cleanup sites under MTCA.

NEBA and Abandoned Underground Mines
In conjunction with Ecology, Hart Crowser has already “test driven” the NEBA concept as it applies to the cleanup of abandoned underground mines. Many of these sites pose risks to terrestrial plants and animals because of the toxic metals such as copper and zinc left behind in tailings and waste rock.

Although the risks to individual organisms living on the waste material might be high, the overall risk to plant or wildlife populations are often fairly low because the extent of the waste material is so small. Nonetheless, the remedy selection process under MTCA would typically lead to a decision to cap the contaminated material with clean soil or to dig it up and haul it away to be disposed of elsewhere.

Bringing Common Sense into Cleanup Decisions
But what if the cleanup involved building an access road? Through mature forest? Or up a steep, exposed mountain side? Or across a stream or wetland? How are those habitat or ecosystem injuries balanced against the benefits of the cleanup itself? Ecology’s upcoming NEBA guidance should go a long way to addressing these dilemmas and bringing some common sense into certain cleanup decisions.

“Especially Valuable Habitat”
The new guidance is expected to introduce the concept of “Especially Valuable Habitat” and how to use it as a threshold for judging whether or not a NEBA may be appropriate for a particular site. It’s also expected to allow some flexibility regarding how injuries and benefits are quantified and balanced.

In the meantime, check for updates on when the new guidance is expected at Ecology’s website.

eDNA: A Powerful Tool for Scientists and Managers

Sampling eDNA in a stream

Using a pump to filter stream water to get an eDNA sample to determine whether salmon are in the stream.

Detecting the presence or absence of a species of interest is a common challenge for scientists and fisheries managers. Whether you’re interested in protecting an endangered species or removing an invasive species, knowing where they are or are not is crucial. Many techniques can be time-consuming or damaging to the local environment, and they don’t always work on more cryptic species. An emerging technique has the potential to address some of these pitfalls: environmental DNA, or eDNA.

eDNA is DNA fragments found in the environment (usually in soil or water) that come from an animal. Animals shed cells from their bodies through routes such as mucous, feces, or skin flakes. Each cell contains a full set of nuclear DNA and many copies of mitochondrial DNA. As these cells break down, the DNA is released into the environment. A researcher can collect samples (such as water or soil samples) and analyze any DNA present (typically mitochondrial DNA) for a match with the target species.

A useful application of this technology is to learn when and where endangered/threatened salmonids are present. Knowing which drainage systems these fish spawn and rear in is essential to managing and restoring their populations. Scientists can take water samples along river and creek systems where they suspect salmon will be. They then analyze the water samples for salmon DNA, and generate maps of fish distribution. If sampling is repeated over time, temporal trends along with spatial trends in salmon populations can be mapped, providing powerful information to managers and policy-makers.

In the future, eDNA may also help determine how many of each species of interest are in a given area. Research into the relationship between quantity of eDNA obtained and population numbers is ongoing.

For more information on eDNA methodologies, see this USGS factsheet.

First Tsunami Safe Haven Building in the United States

Ocosta School Construction

The City of Westport stands sentry at the tip of a narrow peninsula between the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and the protection of Grays Harbor. The Cascadia Subduction Zone, a 700-mile-long earthquake fault zone, lurks approximately 90 miles off the shore. Experts predict this submerged fault zone will release a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and unleash a tsunami that will hit the coasts of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. The last such “megaquake” struck just over 300 years ago.

As was recently seen in Chile, Indonesia, and Japan, tsunamis ravage low-lying areas such as Westport. There, it is expected that a tsunami from a Cascadia Subduction Zone megaquake could reach the coast in as little as 20 minutes. However, evacuation of Westport and neighboring Ocosta Elementary, Junior and Senior High Schools could take nearly double that time. Therefore, in 2013 residents of the Ocosta School District approved re-construction of an aging elementary school that will include the nation’s first tsunami “refuge” structure.

Construction of the school started in November 2014. The school’s gym has been designed to withstand the impact of a tsunami and the debris it carries, while sheltering nearly 1,000 people on its roof. The roof is 30 feet above the ground (nearly 55 feet above sea level) to keep people dry and safe. The gym’s roof is supported by heavily reinforced concrete towers in each corner that are designed to remain intact during shaking from the initial megaquake, associated aftershocks, and the resulting tsunami surges.

Because of the potential for over 10 feet of scour (soil erosion adjacent to the building) caused by tsunami surges and liquefaction of the native sandy soils, the gymnasium is supported on nearly 50-foot deep piles. The remainder of the school is supported on shorter piles designed to withstand earthquake shaking and liquefaction, but not necessarily tsunami surge forces.

Links below lead to more information on the Ocosta building and general tsunami research. Note that the maps on the last link (Project Safe Haven) illustrate how impossible it would be to escape a tsunami in the Ocosta area.

Rooftop Refuge Washington Disaster News, Washington Military Department Emergency Management Division
Grays Harbor County school to build first U.S. vertical-tsunami refuge Seattle Times
First tsunami-proof building to be built in Westport Komo News
Rising above the risk: America’s first tsunami refuge the Geological Society of America
Project Safe Haven: Tsunami Vertical Evacuation in Washington State

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Resiliency Blitz Starts January 26

Allison Pyrch of Hart Crowser

Allison Pyrch at a base isolated hospital near Ishinomaki, Japan, talking to Ed Jahn, OPB Producer. With Jay Wilson, Clackamas County Emergency Manager (left) and the hospital engineer. Listen January 26-28 on OPB radio’s Morning Edition between 7 and 9 am and at www.OPBnews.org.

For the last year, Allison Pyrch, a geotechnical engineer with Hart Crowser in Portland, Oregon has been the American Society of Civil Engineers representative to support Oregon Public Broadcasting in the preparation of a 2015 “media blitz” highlighting Oregon’s dire need for improved seismic resiliency.

Allison, the section secretary and a member of the ASCE Technical Committee on Lifeline Earthquake Engineering, travelled to Japan with the OPB Field Guide crew in September to highlight the damage and engineering successes that were observed after the 2011 subduction zone earthquake and tsunami.

The Japan footage, as well as footage from within Oregon, will be used throughout the year to bring awareness to the need for seismic resiliency here at home. The work will culminate with an hour-long documentary in October 2015.

The first segment of coverage will air January 26-28 on OPB radio’s morning Edition between 7 and 9 am can be found now on the OPB website here and here. The series will discuss critical structures in tsunami zones. The January 28th segment will feature Allison and cover how Japan constructs base isolated hospitals that are ready for business immediately after a major seismic event. Tune in and listen!

The Aftermath of the Big One

Building Damage – Concepcion, Chile 2010

Building Damage – Concepcion, Chile 2010

Collapsed Bridge – Route 5 – Chile 2010

Collapsed Bridge – Route 5 – Chile 2010

Tsunami Building Damage – Japan 2011

Tsunami Building Damage – Japan 2011

Tsunami-Damaged Sea Wall, Geotechnical Engineer Allison Pyrch – Japan 2011

Tsunami-Damaged Sea Wall, Geotechnical Engineer Allison Pyrch – Japan 2011

Investing in “resiliency” now can make the difference between thriving or not recovering at all.

To be resilient is to be able to restore to a strong, healthy, and/or successful state within a short period of time after experiencing misfortune or change. Because many global communities have recently experienced a string of natural disasters, we are now considering how “resiliency” applies to society and our infrastructure and, of course, we’re asking about our own communities in the Pacific Northwest. How will we fare after a major natural disaster?

The Pacific Northwest is reasonably resilient when it comes to storms, flooding, and landslides—all natural occurrences we have dealt with on a regular basis. Our public agencies have well-tested plans to get basic, and then full services up and running within hours or days. However, the current projections for damages due to global warming or earthquakes and tsunamis are not so optimistic. Based on the most current data, the Pacific Northwest is overdue for an 8 to 9 magnitude subduction zone earthquake and the resulting tsunami, much like those that hit Chile in 2010 and Japan in 2011. Based on evaluations recently completed by Oregon and Washington, widespread damage and casualties are anticipated. Deaths due to collapsing unreinforced or under reinforced masonry and concrete structures are anticipated including those in many historic downtown areas, schools, and public buildings. Widespread damage to utilities and infrastructure is also expected.

The resiliency plans passed by both Oregon and Washington legislatures predict these specific things:

  • Utilities—including electricity, water, wastewater, and natural gas services—will be out for months, if not years;
  • Our aging transportation infrastructure (already rated poor under normal conditions) will not perform well during the design seismic event; and
  • Total destruction is anticipated in tsunami inundation areas.

Both reports indicate that as things now stand, the Pacific Northwest is not seismically resilient. Not by a long shot.

Achievable?

Getting to “resilient” is a formidable and expensive task for communities. The Cascadia scenario includes an overwhelming list of damage and problems that seems impossible to solve in a timely way, especially given current funding challenges. However, the scale and complexity of the problem does not allow communities to ignore the problem altogether. The Oregon and Washington resilience plans proposed a timeline of 50 years to significantly increase the region’s sustainability, and have proposed putting seismic resiliency at the forefront of planning for the states. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) have both started down the path to resiliency.

Having recently completed a large-scale evaluation of their systems, ODOT developed a prioritization plan based on infrastructure quality, the anticipated damage, and public priorities after a Cascadia event. They incorporated this into their overall master improvement plan. As funding becomes available, seismic considerations are now included in design, and repairs and upgrades are completed in a manner that will create large resilient sections of their systems. Further, with their seismic evaluation and agency resilience plan in place, they are in a good position to apply for funding to continue needed upgrades. This model is a good example for other public and private organizations in making resiliency an affordable and attainable goal.

Another idea to consider is how resiliency relates to sustainability. Sustainability has been ingrained in our society and almost every public and private entity generally has a person or position that is responsible for facilitating sustainability. Private and public entities put money into sustainability and it is valued by consumers. But the real question is: Can we be sustainable without being resilient? If a new sustainable building is constructed with the intention of saving additional costs over a 20- to 50-year period (we anticipate the Cascadia earthquake within that time frame) and the structure is not designed to be usable after the quake, can it really be considered sustainable?

The cost of not being resilient deserves serious consideration. If seismic resiliency is not addressed in our long-term planning, our region will not recover from the Cascadia event. Businesses will fail or leave; many residents will also choose to move instead of rebuild; and without the tax base, local agencies will be hard hit and will have trouble rebuilding. The currently booming towns of Seattle and Portland will no longer be destinations for travel or for business.

The path forward—what can we do?

As engineers and scientists who are well educated in the failings of our current infrastructure and our seismic hazard, it is our responsibility to educate the public so that resilience—especially seismic resiliency—becomes a priority. In looking at ways to make resiliency a priority, it is valuable to consider what the resiliency movement can learn from the success of the sustainability push. Engineers, architects, and planners need to find a way to educate the public about seismic risks and to make resiliency something that people understand and are willing to spend money to achieve. When projects are in the planning stages, the additional cost to design the structure for resilience should be factored into the cost analysis. Further, creating a LEED-type rating system for resiliency and seismic safety should be considered. If office buildings, homes, and apartment buildings have resilience or seismic safety ratings, consumers and business owners would start to demand and be willing to pay for the real estate with higher ratings. If a business rents a space that can be used within a week after the expected earthquake, even on emergency systems, it would be significantly more valuable and allow commerce to continue after an emergency.

Statewide resiliency plans, as well as the national push for resiliency after Hurricane Sandy, have brought attention to our lack of resilience as a society. In Oregon and Washington, where the Cascadia event is imminent, resiliency is becoming a more focused goal. Hart Crowser has put together a team to help agencies and private organizations evaluate their resiliency with regard to the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and tsunami. The team includes an architect, structural engineers, planners, emergency managers, public involvement specialists, and experts in finding funding for projects such as these. We are working with private and public organizations to put proposals together to help evaluate and develop resilience plans on a smaller scale. These plans can be used to apply for funding and be incorporated into master planning initiatives so that resilience becomes a reality.

In addition to this planning, as professionals who are responsible for the design in infrastructure, it is our responsibility to educate the public, as well as our clients, on the risks of not being resilient. A few ways this can be accomplished are:

  • Discussions with public and private clients on the additional cost and benefits of designing new and rehabilitated structures to be resilient beyond code requirements, so that they are resilient beyond the standard life safety requirements of the building codes;
  • Support for legislation and laws that require seismic upgrades and provide funding for resiliency;
  • Support for development of a LEED-like rating system for resiliency of structures and other measures to make “resiliency” the new buzz word in real estate and infrastructure spending; and
  • Education of the public about infrastructure risks and the need to become resilient.

Chase the Rainbow (Smelt)

Kuskokwim River

Kuskokwim River

Individual Rainbow Smelt Eggs

Individual Rainbow Smelt Eggs

We got the call at 3:30 in the afternoon that they were 10 miles below Kalskag. At 6 a.m. the following morning we were on plane, bound for the Alaskan Bush on the Kuskokwim River in search of spawning rainbow smelt. These are river spawners and an important subsistence species for remote Alaskan villages. Concerns that proposed increases in barge traffic may disrupt or scour spawning areas prompted a study to identify where fish spawn and the types of habitats they use. And on the Kuskokwim, they travel fast; getting there in time to study them is one of the biggest challenges.

Rainbow smelt begin their spawning migrations shortly after the ice breaks up in spring. Through word of mouth, Alaskan villagers begin fishing as smelt move upstream. In 2014, smelt moved rapidly, moving upstream from village to village for nearly 200 miles at rate of about 30 miles per day. They spawn just as quickly and immediately leave the river for the ocean. Scientists must plug themselves into this word of mouth network and be ready to fly to remote areas on a moment’s notice.

Upon arriving, we began helicopter and boat surveys covering over 50 miles of river to find and follow the fish, and document the uppermost extent of the migration. This lasted a mere two days before the fish were gone, presumably having spawned and moving back downstream. Next, discrete spawning grounds needed to be identified in a river that flows more than 50,000 cubic feet per second. Eggs are also tiny (0.5 millimeter). Sampling included collecting and examining fish for spawn condition, collecting substrate samples, and sieving substrates for eggs and grain size to determine spawning locations and substrate preferences. All studies needed to be conducted in as little as two weeks before the eggs hatched and all traces of the fish were gone.

Despite all of the challenges, field efforts were successful. Results show that fish spawn on large, low gradient gravel bars in water between 5 and 14 feet deep. Gravel to cobble substrates were most commonly used. Data will be used to better define the potential impacts of barge routes and as a tool to help manage the resource. The ultimate goal is to allow the safe transport of commerce in the river while minimizing impacts to this unique resource for native Alaskans in this remote part of the state.

Rainbow Smelt

Rainbow Smelt

Digital Coast Act Introduced to Aid Communities with Coastal Planning and Disaster Response

Digital Coast Website Snapshot

Those of you involved with GIS or coastal mapping may be familiar with NOAA’s Digital Coast Project, which consists of a free, online database of the most up-to-date coastal data throughout the U.S. Established in 2007, this project not only provides essential data, but also the tools and training coastal communities need to respond to emergencies and make sound planning decisions. Due, in part, to its collaborative nature and broad datasets ranging from land use to aquatic habitat to socioeconomics, the Digital Coast has quickly become one of the most widely used management resources in the coastal management community.

Accurate and up-to-date coastal information is becoming increasingly important in the U.S. Coastal watershed counties were home to nearly 164 million Americans in 2010, approximately 52% of the U.S. population. This number is expected to increase by more than 15 million by 2020. These counties also contribute over 58% ($8.3 trillion) of our gross domestic product. As vital as our nation’s coasts are to the local and national economy, they are equally as vulnerable. In the Pacific Northwest, growing demand for coastal development, combined with an increase in natural hazards such as sea-level rise, extreme weather, and flooding events, will continue to exert significant pressures on coastal communities. Storm damage from coastal flooding and erosion result in response costs, lost productivity, and lowered economic productivity that we all pay for one way or another. The Digital Coast Program provides accurate data and integrated information that enables coastal communities to adapt to changing environmental conditions and protect their local economies.

In September 2014, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, with support from Senator Maria Cantwell (WA) and others, introduced the Digital Coast Act of 2014. This legislation authorizes further development of the Digital Coast Project by increasing access to uniform, up-to-date data, identifying data gaps, and ensuring that coastal communities get the data they need to respond to emergencies, plan for economic development, and protect shoreline resources. The bill would provide funding for a national mapping effort of coastal waters that includes improved data on coastal elevations, land use/land cover, structures, habitat data, and aerial imagery, all of which could be of great benefit to Puget Sound and the Pacific Northwest. This legislation has been assigned to a congressional committee but it is unclear if and when it will be enacted. However, many coastal planners and scientists view the Digital Coast Act as critical legislation that is needed to help ensure the protection of coastal resources and communities in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the nation.

More information on NOAA’s Digital Coast Project or pending legislation to enact the Digital Coast Act

Three Reasons Eelgrass is Declining—What’s Being Done?

Dredging

In an earlier post we showed how important eelgrass is to fish, and noted that eelgrass is declining worldwide. West coast eelgrass is affected by a combination of coastal development and nutrient pollution, direct displacement (such as dredging activities), and climate change.

Here’s why:

Eelgrass needs light. Urbanization and construction activities in coastal areas remove vegetated buffers, allowing more runoff into the water. Runoff carries sediment, which reduces water clarity. Also, nutrients from wastewater, stormwater, and other human activities can promote algae blooms, which also block light.

Dredging uproots eelgrass; filling buries it. These activities can completely decimate an eelgrass meadow even beyond the footprint of direct impact. It can take ten years or more for eelgrass to recover, if at all.

Climate change: as ocean temperatures rise, native plants feel the heat. Evidence shows that northern eelgrass populations will not adapt to warmer waters as easily as southern eelgrass populations might. Their photosynthetic engines just can’t keep cool enough. Also, as a consequence of climate change, sea level is rising, meaning eelgrass will have to move to keep the same relative depth. It can’t move far before a hardened structure such as bluff or even a seawall stops it.

The State of Washington is acting to restore eelgrass across Puget Sound. The Puget Sound Leadership Council established a target of expanding the total area of eelgrass beds by 20 percent by 2020. Major restoration efforts have already been undertaken, and more are underway. New plantings are proposed for the Nisqually, Skokomish and Elwha river deltas. In these places, restoration may have a better chance to succeed because of improved sandy substrate and restored water quality.

Section3B_Marine-Nearshore_AcresEelgrass

Acres of Eelgrass in Puget Sound

More information: shedding new light on eelgrass recovery and threats and human impacts on eelgrass.

Eelgrass—Nowhere to Hide

Bay Pipefish in Eelgrass

Bay Pipefish (Syngnathus leptorhynchus)–one of many species that depend on eelgrass habitat for survival.

A marine ecologist in Hart Crowser’s Anchorage, Alaska office, overheard a recent complaint, “When I go fishing I can’t stand all this ‘eelweed’ getting in my prop and fouling my lines.”

“Then why do you fish where there is eelgrass?” asked the marine ecologist.

“Because that is where fishing is best.”

That was the crucial connection. Eelgrass is essential fish habitat. Without it, even migratory fish (including our beloved salmon), don’t have a place to call home.

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is native to shallow waters of most temperate oceans and seas, including Puget Sound, Oregon, northern California, British Columbia, and Alaska. It is not a seaweed like kelp, but a flowering plant that evolved from terrestrial flora (similar to what you might find in your front yard).

Eelgrass is important to many fish and invertebrates. Juvenile salmon, rockfish, and Dungeness crab find shelter in eelgrass meadows in early life. Herring, in particular, spawn on eelgrass, making it crucial to its survival. Many species (including commercially important ones) use it to live, eat, spawn, and hide from predators.

Eelgrass is also very good at converting carbon dioxide into tissue that may get buried, taking it out of the system (blue carbon). An acre of eelgrass can remove nearly 150 kg of carbon from the atmosphere every year, making it important to the issues of ocean acidification and global climate change.

Eelgrass is pretty hearty, dealing with coastal storms, being exposed at low tide, and spending part of each year under sea ice (in northern areas). Yet, as hearty and important as eelgrass is, it is on the decline, leaving fish and invertebrates that depend on it with nowhere to hide. Stay tuned for the reasons why, and what’s being done about it.