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Tales of a great Pacific Coast earthquake passed down in legend

Last year, the Eastern coast of Japan was struck by a massive 9.0 earthquake and tsunami. Since that happened, you've heard researchers talk about how it was not the first time that region had experienced an earthquake that large. Although the 2011 Tohoku earthquake has been called the biggest earthquake in Japan's recorded history, that's really only describing the relatively short history of scientifically measured earthquakes. The Japanese have kept written records, describing earthquakes that sound as though they could have been every bit as destructive. And those records date back 1600 years.

But written records aren't the only way of preserving local memories, or warning future generations about the destructive power of the Earth.

Geologic evidence shows that North America's Pacific Coast has experienced earthquakes on the scale of the Tohoku earthquake. (In fact, the Pacific Northwest is probably due for one of these large quakes. It's not an "if", but a "when".) The last time it happened, nobody in the area was keeping written documents. Instead, the story of a massive earthquake and a devastating tsunami—which probably occurred around the year 1700—have become a part of oral storytelling traditions. Ruth Ludwin, a seismologist at the University of Washington, has been collecting these stories since the early 1990s.

"There was a shaking, jumping up and trembling of the earth beneath, and a rolling up of the great waters."

So says an ancient tale told to generations of Quilleute and Hoh Indians. Variations of this saga of an epic battle between the Thunderbird and the Whale are found among Pacific Northwest Tribes from Vancouver Island to Oregon's Tillamook tribe.

The Whale was a monster, killing other whales and depriving the people of meat and oil. The Thunderbird, a benevolent supernatural being, saw from its home high in the mountains that the people were starving. The great bird soared out over the coastal waters, then plunged into the ocean and seized the Whale.

A struggle ensued first in the water, the tribal tale says. "The waters receded and rose again. Many canoes came down in trees and were destroyed and numerous lives were lost."

The Thunderbird eventually succeeds in lifting the evil Whale out of the ocean, carrying it "high into the air (and then) dropping it to the land surface at Beaver prairie. Then at this place there was another great battle."

"A picture began to emerge that looked a lot like what you'd expect from a major quake," she said. One tribe even had what sounds like an explanation for aftershocks, noting Whale had a son, Subbus, who took Thunderbird several more days to locate and kill. The earth-rumbling struggle persisted, but eventually Subbus was subdued.

"I can't say for certain this was the 1700 event, but it sure sounds like it," Ludwin said. "You hear the same story from tribes all along the coast."

Read more about how Ruth Ludwin connected the story of the Whale and the Thunderbird to the 1700 Pacific Coast earthquake.

Image: Simulation from a U.S. Geological Survey research report, showing how the 1700 Cascadia earthquake might have created a tsunami that reached Japan. Written documents in Japan describe a tsunami from that year with no "parent" earthquake. Cascadia might be the source of the so-called "orphan" tsunami. You can read the full paper online.

Must-listen radio: "Nuclear Power After Fukushima," documentary from BURN: An Energy Journal


Veteran radio journalist and master storyteller Alex Chadwick (who's also a personal friend—he's taught me so much about journalism over the years) hosts a must-listen radio documentary premiering this weekend on public radio stations throughout the US.

BURN: An Energy Journal is a four-hour, four-part broadcast and digital documentary series exploring "the most pressing energy issues of our times."

Part One of the series, titled "Particles: Nuclear Power After Fukushima," coincides with March 11, the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. I've listened in entirety, and followed along as the BURN team researched and produced over the past few months, and I can tell you this is truly powerful work. The show also includes PBS Newshour reporter Miles O'Brien, reporting from inside the Fukushima exclusion zone on his recent trip there.

Carve out some time and listen to it on-air, or listen online at this link.

Snip from description:

Included in the riveting premiere episode is an exclusive, first-time-ever interview with an American who was on-site at the Daiichi nuclear plant when the earthquake and tsunami struck. Carl Pillitteri, a maintenance supervisor and one of 40 Americans in Fukushima on that fateful day, describes his terrifying ordeal as he desperately attempted to lead his men to safety through the enormous, shuddering turbine buildings in total darkness.

Below, a video excerpt from Alex's interview with Pillitteri.

More about the radio series follows.

Read the rest

Haunting photos from Fukushima, one year later: "Invisible You," by Satoru Niwa

Japanese photographer Satoru Niwa, whose work I blogged in a previous Boing Boing post, has a new series from Fukushima marking the one-year anniversary of the March 11 disaster: Invisible You. Again, beautiful, evocative work. Above: a shot from the town of Namie, which is some 40 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. View the full gallery here (warning: Flash).

Inside the Fukushima exclusion zone: the photography of Satoru Niwa

Among the recent projects of London/Tokyo-based photojournalist Satoru Niwa is this stunning series of images captured near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, just days after the March 11, 2011 quake, tsunami, and ensuing nuclear disaster.

Above: a policeman wearing protective gear to guard against radiation, 15 miles from the plant, on March 25, 2011. Below, a family's photograph found in the tsunami mud, 5km from the plant in the now-abandoned town of Futaba.

Link to photo gallery: SILENCE/Fukushima.

Related works on his site include this equally powerful series of moonlit photos taken in the tsunami-devastated town of Miyagi, just two weeks after the disaster.

You can follow him on Twitter.

(via Miles O'Brien)

Sailing research cruise through the path of the Japanese tsunami to examine the resulting garbage patch


Travelina sez, "It's not your typical glamour cruise, but it's not cheap either. You travel aboard a 72-foot sailing yacht from the Marshall Islands through the great ocean vortex called the Western Pacific Gyre to Tokyo, and then from Tokyo you follow the path of the Japan tsunami debris with the purpose of sampling it, ending up in Hawaii 32 days later."

The samples they collect during several transects of the field will be used to determine and refine existing models of how fast the material is moving, how quickly it is decomposing, and the nature of the material's colonization by marine animals. Past trips to study marine debris with these organizations have attracted everyone from independent scientists to film crews and artists.

Findings gleaned from the tsunami debris are particularly significant because, unlike concentrated marine pollution elsewhere, the tsunami material's "launch" date and place of origin are known. With this information, researchers can better understand how land-based materials like plastics behave in the ocean.

One of the participants, Valerie Lecoeur, 41 of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said she hopes to see where plastic accumulates in the ocean firsthand.

"For me it's interesting to see that there is debris from the ocean coming from events like tsunami—things that you can't control—and things that you can control as well."

Japan Tsunami-Debris Cruise Attracts Travelers to Ocean Garbage Patch (Thanks, Travelina!)

What's the fallout for pets abandoned in Japan's Fukushima hot zone?

PBS NewsHour’s Jenny Marder wrote a really interesting feature about the abandoned pets inside the Fukushima evacuation zone in Japan. I encountered some of them when I traveled to the area with Safecast and PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien (our resulting PBS NewsHour report video is here).

Read the rest

Safecast draws on power of the crowd to map Japan's radiation

[Video Link: YouTube, PBS.org]

I traveled to Japan with PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O’Brien to help shoot and produce a series of NewsHour stories about the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters.

Read the rest

Hacking geigers: Safecast crowdsources radiation data in Japan after Fukushima disaster

Watch Online "Hacker" Group Crowdsources Radiation Data for Japanese Public on PBS. See more from PBS NEWSHOUR.

On PBS NewsHour tonight, a report I helped the program's science correspondent Miles O'Brien produce about the challenge people in Japan face of finding and sharing reliable data about radiation contamination, after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Embedded above, a conversation between Miles and NewsHour host Hari Sreenivasan about our report, which focuses on a grassroots group called Safecast that measures, maps, and publishes data on radiation contamination levels throughout the country.

While in Tokyo, Miles spoke to Hari Sreenivasan about his trip with Safecast workers into the voluntary exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where they detected levels reaching the equivalent of six X-rays per day.

He also filled us in on his conversations with Japanese officials working in evacuated areas and Japanese residents eager for more information about the consequences of the nuclear accident.

I'll post the video for the full feature when it's available online.

Earthquake Prediction: Could We Ever Forecast the Next Big One?

[Video Link]

I traveled to Japan recently with PBS NewsHour science correspondent Miles O'Brien, and helped shoot and produce a series of stories related to the March 11 disasters: earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. The first of those stories from Miles aired last night: on "the elusive science of earthquake prediction -- whether seismologists will ever be able to predict an earthquake with any certainty -- and how far they've come in Japan come toward making that a reality."

Read the story transcript here.

Statue outside civil defense and emergency preparedness center, Tokyo, August 2011

Coincidentally, this piece aired on the same day hundreds of cities on the U.S. West Coast took part in the 2011 Great California ShakeOut earthquake drill —and the same day as first one, then another moderate but jarring quake hit the San Francisco Bay Area. Twitter was all aflutter.

photo.JPG

Read the rest

Japanese tsunami and the birth of icebergs

Scientists have long speculated that large tsunamis could be linked to the calving of icebergs—where chunks of ice break off of the side of a glacier or ice shelf and float away. The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that happened in March off the coast of Japan finally gave them much more direct evidence of this phenomenon. Fascinating stuff, and a great reminder of how interconnected the world really is.

Video Link

Via Jeremy Hsu

Incubot shiroi "voltron + shiroi nekobot USB" Japan tsunami relief

Greetings from Tokyo! Sean Bonner, who I'll be meeting in a few days along with the Safecast crew, shares word of a nifty, limited-edition USB gadget to benefit Japan tsunami relief.
The tsunami and earthquake have faded from the headlines, but the need for aid is still real. Incubot, in conjunction with partners World Events Productions and CustomUSB, have created a line of Japan Relief customs 2G USB drives: limited edition, fully licensed, and in colors honoring the japanese flag. Packaged in "Ganbari Japan!" custom boxes. 100% of profits go to Japanese Red Cross Society and to Safecast radiation monitoring efforts.

Japan: angry Fukushima citizens confront government (video)

The video above documents what I am told is a meeting between Fukushima residents and government officials from Tokyo, said to have taken place on 19 July 2011. The citizens are demanding their government evacuate people from a broader area around the Fukushima nuclear plant, because of ever-increasing fears about the still-spreading radiation. They are demanding that their government provide financial and logistical support to get out. In the video above, you can see that some participants actually brought samples of their children's urine to the meeting, and they demanded that the government test it for radioactivity. When asked by one person at the meeting about citizens' right to live a healthy and radioactive-free life, Local Nuclear Emergency Response Team Director Akira Satoh replies "I don't know if they have that right." Boing Boing reader Rob Pongi spotted this online and sent this in to us. I asked him for more info.
The current evacuation zone in Fukushima is only 20-30 kilometers. The Japanese government has compensated the evacuees from inside that zone and has financially supported them in moving out of it. However, as more and more high levels of radiation are being discovered outside of the evacuation zone, many more Fukushima residents (and many others located nearby Fukushima) want the government to also help them logistically and financially so that they can move out further away from the nuclear plants. Especially since many children are now being exposed. But the government does not want to do this at all and many people are getting very upset. This video was filmed in Fukushima at the Corasse Fukushima Building on July 19, 2011. The meeting was entitled "Japanese Government Discussion - Demands for Evacuation Authority". This meeting was attended by residents of Fukushima and some Representatives for the Nuclear Safety Commission Of Japan. It was filmed by some anonymous members of the "Save Child" website. This site includes Japanese news about the Fukushima Nuclear disaster, advice on how to avoid contamination, and many, many related videos. This site is much like enenews.com on steroids! I checked domaintools.com and the name of the registration is private. You can see the original Japanese videos of this meeting on the Save Child website here (English), and on Youtube here. This video was translated by pejorativeglut. And, for sure, the English subtitles are correct. I was not involved in the production of this video.