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Outreach

Tsunami News Conference in Menlo Park, CA, Puts USGS in Media Spotlight


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A comparison between the subduction zone off Sumatra, where the tsunami-triggering earthquake occurred, and the Cascadia subduction zone off the U.S. Pacific Northwest was one of the items that captivated reporters at the February 17 press conference in Menlo Park, CA.
Above: A comparison between the subduction zone off Sumatra, where the tsunami-triggering earthquake occurred, and the Cascadia subduction zone off the U.S. Pacific Northwest was one of the items that captivated reporters at the February 17 press conference in Menlo Park, CA. (Modified from figure by Pat McCrory, USGS Earthquake Hazards.) [larger version]

A news conference about U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) studies of last December's Indian Ocean tsunami, held February 17, 2005, at the USGS science center in Menlo Park, CA, prompted several news stories in major media outlets in the San Francisco Bay area. Sam Johnson, chief scientist of the Western Coastal and Marine Geology (WCMG) team, which hosted the event, led off the conference with a brief introduction to USGS geologic-hazards research, then turned the podium over to the tsunami experts.

Geophysicist Eric Geist described the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that occurred near Sumatra on December 26, 2004, and used computer animation to explain how the earthquake generated the powerful tsunami (see Tsunami Generation from the 2004 M=9.0 Sumatra Earthquake). He compared the subduction zone off Sumatra with the Cascadia subduction zone off the U.S. Pacific Northwest and discussed the possibility of a large earthquake and tsunami in that region. Geist also described new earthquake- and tsunami-notification technology developed by the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) under funding from the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. The new Internet-based application "pushes" real-time earthquake information and notices of the availability of tsunami-warning messages to the user's desktop computer; it can be configured to relay this information by e-mail and trigger both audible and visual alarms. Notification can also be provided to cell phones and pagers, a feature that would be particularly useful in countries where public warning systems, such as sirens, are impractical but cell phones are quite common.

Geologists Guy Gelfenbaum and Bruce Jaffe described the initial findings of international tsunami-survey teams in Indonesia (Gelfenbaum) and Sri Lanka (Jaffe). Measurements of immense waves (more than 30 m high) in northwestern Sumatra and huge tsunami sand deposits (more than 2 million m3) in Sri Lanka, plus striking photos from both regions, were among the items that captured the reporters' attention. One member of the survey team in Sri Lanka, Bob Morton, a geologist at the USGS St. Petersburg Science Center in St. Petersburg, FL, was not present at the Menlo Park news conference but shared his observations a few weeks earlier with the news media in Florida.

Also absent from the news conference was WCMG team member Bruce Richmond, who was preparing to leave for the Republic of Maldives to lend his expertise to a tsunami-survey team in the low-lying atolls of that island nation (see related Sound Waves article, USGS Geologist Invited to Map Tsunami Impacts in the Maldives).

During the question-and-answer session at the end of the conference, Bill Ellsworth, chief scientist of the USGS Earthquake Hazards team, joined the marine scientists to field questions about the earthquake and tsunami.

The hour-long news conference resulted in stories that evening on three local television stations (affiliates of Fox, CBS, and ABC), interviews on a major San Francisco Bay area radio station (KCBS), a front-page story in the San Francisco Chronicle, and interest from the Portland Oregonian, the Menlo Park Almanac (a local weekly), and the Ming Pao News Service, based in Hong Kong.

Later that day, Gelfenbaum and Jaffe presented a lecture on their tsunami fieldwork to a standing-room-only crowd in a large lecture hall on the Menlo Park campus. The presentation was videostreamed online to more than 300 additional viewers, and an archived copy can be accessed from URL http://video.wr.usgs.gov/science/tsunami05.wmv (requires Windows Media Player for viewing).


Related Sound Waves Stories
Astonishing Wave Heights Among the Findings of an International Tsunami Survey Team on Sumatra
March 2005
USGS Geologist Invited to Map Tsunami Impacts in the Maldives
March 2005
USGS Scientists Study Sediment Deposited by 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami
February 2005
Indian Ocean Earthquake Triggers Deadly Tsunami
Dec. 2004 / Jan. 2005
Could It Happen Here?
Dec. 2004 / Jan. 2005
Group Aims to Distinguish Tsunami Deposits from Large-Storm Deposits in the Geologic Record
October 2002

Related Web Sites
Tsunami Generation from the 2004 M=9.0 Sumatra Earthquake
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Comparable Rupture Area
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Western Coastal and Marine Geology
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Santa Cruz & Menlo Park, CA

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Updated April 15, 2014 @ 01:53 PM (JSS)