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December 1, 2015

Megaquake book may give you the shakes


Review by Kellie Ann Benz

Whether we’re overdue for it is up for some debate, but we’re due for it. The big one. Yes, that big one, the megaquake that has been predicted to hit the West Coast since the late 1980s. 

If you’re a longtime resident of the coastal region, from the northern-most rainforest coast of British Columbia to Northern California – you’ve heard the warnings. Every time, it seems, when there is a slight ripple nearby or a devastating earthquake anywhere in the world, the scientists and doomsday theorists on the West Coast rise up, as if on cue. They remind us that a megaquake will likely decimate small towns on the coast and incapacitate the cities.

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A New Yorker magazine piece this summer put the issue under bright lights again. But long before that, Sandi Doughton, a science writer for The Seattle Times, literally wrote the book on the subject. Her “Full Rip 9.0,” published by Sasquatch Books in 2013, states the concerns of scientists and disaster planners but does so with a measured, even, readable tone that feels more story-telling than fear-mongering.

Doughton approaches the subject of “the big one” from an almost archaeological dig perspective, allowing the reader to marvel at the historical discoveries that are the foundations of the predictions. One such discovery, by Brian Atwater, a U.S. Geological Survey geologist, and other researchers, occurred at Copalis Beach. They used DNA from the mud preserved roots of cedar trees that were killed in the last megaquake and cross-referenced that information with agricultural records in Japan, which experienced the tsunami created by the quake. They were able to set the time as 9 p.m., Jan. 27, 1700.

The book is part historical soap opera with Doughton characterizing the many early players by way of the pains and losses they endured to pursue their scientific discoveries, part scientific journal making good use of the scant images, data and charts archived until now, and part cartographers’ diary.

The pages turn swiftly in Doughton’s book, and if you’re a prodigious Google fact checker, you’ll soon be putting down your notepad to simply enjoy the story. Doughton lets us in on a few secrets of the scientific findings and primes us for the professional theorists.

The end result is not so much scare tactics, but instead a thoughtful understanding of the inevitability of Mother Earth’s need to shift for the sake of evolution and time.

That’s not to say that the book won’t have you packing your own earthquake preparedness kit tout suite, but perhaps after reading “Full Rip 9.0” you’ll do so with a better understanding of why you need to be ready for when ‘the big one’ hits our coast.

Full Rip 9.0  by Sandi Doughton.

Sasquatch Books. 2013.

Available for purchase at sasquatchbooks.com and many bookstores.

Excerpt from “Full Rip 9.0”

The pace of geologic discovery in the Pacific Northwest has been breathtaking. Brian Atwater published the first definitive evidence of ancient megaquakes in 1987. Five years later, scientists pieced together the story of the Seattle Fault and a powerful earthquake that tore through the heart of Puget Sound. By 2005, maps were crowded with new fault lines turning up on lidar surveys, and scientists were using GPS to watch in real-time as the region’s tectonic train wreck unfolded. Findings continue to pour in. From hidden faults east of the Cascades to subterranean rumblings that might presage the next subduction zone quake, there’s no shortage of surprises. 

People who live in the Northwest might be forgiven for saying “enough already.” 

The human mind has a tendency to wander after one too many worst-case scenarios, and earthquakes are the toughest natural disaster to wrap the brain around anyway. Hurricanes, forest fires and floods follow seasonal schedules. There’s usually enough warning time to board up windows, stack sand bags, and evacuate. Earthquakes operate on a time scale that’s both inevitable and inscrutable. Another Cascadia megaquake will strike. It could be ten minutes from now, or it could hold off until today’s toddlers are great-grandparents. – Sandi Doughton

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Books, Literature