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Scientists Uncover New Aspects of 1700 Tsunami Along Oregon Coast

Published 08/23/21 at 9:58 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Scientists Uncover New Aspects of 1700 Tsunami Along Oregon Coast

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(Newport, Oregon) – Scientists from the central Oregon coast's Hatfield Marine Science Center and from Washington State recently made a discovery about the 1700 tsunami affected trees in the area. Working with growth rings in trees that dated back to the 1600s, researchers found the great inundation slowed tree growth. (Photo courtesy Hatfield Marine Science Center)

The core samples were taken from a stand of old growth Douglas-fir in the South Beach area of Newport, as far as about a mile inland from the ocean. The discovery also confirms what scientists thought about the reach of the January 1700 quake, which rattled from the Cascadia Subduction Zone – the last one to do so.

Leading the project was Robert Dziak, a Hatfield Marine Science Center-based scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

Dziak said this event significantly affected growth of the trees that year. Dziak's team also studied other old growth trees not in the tsunami zone and compared them, finding a normal growth rate in those.

As of yet, scientists don't know exactly why this was so detrimental to the trees, but working theories include the fact the ground shook so heavily during the earthquake and the heavy presence of sea water surrounding them.

“The salty seawater from a tsunami typically drains pretty quickly, but there is a pond area in Mike Miller Park where the seawater likely settled and remained for a longer period of time,” Dziak said.

These bits and pieces of how tsunamis worked and affected the areas are important to figuring out the bigger picture along the Oregon and Washington coast, he said.

“It helps us understand what we might expect when the next ‘big one' hits,” Dziak said.

The findings were published recently in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences.

Also see Explanations of Neskowin Ghost Forest Wrong, Say Oregon Coast Geologists Those inimitable and freaky stumps of mystery are subject of rumor and bad info

Finding such trees proved to be a major challenge: Dziak and the team were surprised to discover some at all, much less a stand of trees that had not been logged already. They managed to work with nearly 40 Douglas-fir, and used a technique that did not disturb their future growth or damage them overall.

The next step is to do some isotopic analysis on the wood from 1700, then compare it to tsunami-inundated wood from 2011 in Japan. According to Bryan Black of the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona, Tucson, this could enable researchers to create a prehistoric map of tsunami zones up and down the Oregon coast.

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Mike Miller Park, courtesy Hatfield - More South Beach below


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