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GeoHazards Initiative to take an interdisciplinary look into seismic events in PNW

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GeoHazards Initiative to take an interdisciplinary look into seismic events in PNW

Seattle, it appears, is the prime location for a natural disaster of the geohazardous variety. Luckily, the UW is launching the new GeoHazards Initiative which will focus on studying the threat of earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and landslides in the region.

Geohazards refers to geological and environmental conditions that may result in natural disaster, as opposed to meteorological or biological conditions.

The $4 million initiative will be led by Harold Tobin, the newly named Paros Endowed Chair of Seismology and Geohazards, and will aim to develop and promote detection and safety systems that reduce the potential loss of human life and property. It is funded by the UW and Jerome Paros, a leader in the industry of geophysical measurements.

Specifically designed to be interdisciplinary, the initiative will first partner up with the UW School of Oceanography and UW Applied Physics Lab to better coordinate research and understanding of seismic movements offshore and on land. They will do this by further wiring up sensors on the ocean floor and on land to understand how stress in the Earth’s crust is building up.

 “We have a mandate to bring people together from different groups, and now the hard work is going to be to prioritize; out of all the fantastic ideas for research, what are the things that make the most sense to pursue?” Tobin said. 

From there, they intend to move on into other relevant topics, looping in other departments such as civil engineering, political science, and urban planning as they become increasingly related and necessary for the mission.

The UW’s M9 Project was an earlier similar initiative that involved seismologists, geologists, and civil engineers to create better detection systems and building codes, and social scientists to develop and push for the implementation of response plans to disaster events. 

“We hope to translate our geological sciences into information about the likelihood, the severity, [and] the location of geohazards that can be used to plan and mitigate against future disasters,” Tobin said. “It’s only a disaster if something bad actually comes from it. The earthquake itself isn't the disaster, it’s the building or bridge collapsing, but these are things we can influence.”

The M9 Project is named after the high potential of a magnitude 9 earthquake along the Cascadia fault line within the next two centuries, sometimes referred to as “The Big One.” Understanding the coming disaster event is a central priority of the current GeoHazards Initiative.

 “UW and Seattle are situated in this amazing place where plate tectonics are really active,” Tobin said. “We have volcanoes, we have potential for earthquakes, we sit in what is called a subduction zone … The assumption is that the Earth’s crust in our area is building up the stresses that could trigger large earthquakes and [a] tsunami off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.”

However, despite its focus on the potential for geological disaster, Tobin remains excited and hopeful for the new initiative.

“I’m really excited to use this opportunity to open up some new avenues of research that will be both really interesting science and will also have actual, practical benefit for people in our region,” Tobin said.

Reach reporter Katherine Lin at Twitter: @linkat18

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