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Cascadia's Fault: The Earthquake and Tsunami That Could Devastate North America Hardcover – May 1, 2011


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The recent seismic catastrophe in Japan is a foretaste of a similar cataclysm brewing in America, according to this alarming geological exposé. Thompson, a former Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter and documentarian, investigates the Cascadia Subduction Zone, an 800-mile-long fault where the ocean floor slowly grinds away underneath the North American continental plate. The fault has a millennia-long history of causing major quakes, including magnitude-9 monsters and 90-foot waves that could lay waste to Vancouver, Seattle, and dozens of coastal towns. But because no written records of this history exist and the fault has been quiescent since 1700, geologists were unaware of the danger. How they uncovered the violent history of this deceptively placid area, long a subject of academic controversy, is the fascinating scientific detective story at the heart of Thompson's account. He follows along as researchers piece together clues from ocean sediment core samples and tree rings, antique Japanese manuscripts, and laser gadgets and GPS devices that measure the inch-a-year movements of mountain chains; he blanches as their computer models illustrate the devastating impact of tsunamis and the fatal rhythms through which skyscrapers resonate to a temblor's shocks. The result is a lucid, engrossing look at the Earth's subtle dynamics—and a timely warning about their awesome power very close to home. (June)

Review

Praise for Cascadia's Fault

"In Cascadia’s Fault, [Thompson is] primarily telling a detective story of sorts, about how scientists uncovered the subduction zone. If you’ve been listening to the subduction zone warnings and want to know more about the basis for them, Thompson’s book delivers that knowledge . . . [the] narrative is essentially a fairly calm . . . painstaking tale of scientific knowledge that’s much like the patient work of the seismologists and geologists who discovered the subduction zone." —The Seattle Sunbreak

"Part detective story, part memoir and part popular science, the narrative is crafted as a thriller . . . Thompson excels when he explains the science." —The Vancouver Sun

"Reporter Jerry Thompson puts the history of subduction earthquakes and the resultant tsunamis into clear perspective. In Cascadia’s Fault: The Coming Earthquake and Tsunami That Could Devastate North America, Thompson has written a very readable tale of how plate tectonics and earthquake science works, and what we need to know if we insist on being Left Coasters." —Sacramento News & Review

"A level-headed look at a potentially devastating natural disaster . . . fascinating." —Booklist
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; 1ST edition (May 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582436436
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582436432
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #541,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

JERRY THOMPSON's first grand ambition was to become a bush pilot and to live the idyllic life of a hermit in Canada's north woods. By some bizarre twist of fate he became a journalist, documentary filmmaker and author instead.

Born in Arkansas and raised in South Carolina, he is a graduate of the University of Delaware. He has worked as a radio and television reporter in Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver and as a network news correspondent on assignments around the world.

He has covered everything from forestry and fishing to earthquakes and tsunamis. From geo-engineering the climate, to the ozone hole in Australia, to the struggling Sandinista government in Nicaragua, to ethnic civil war in Sri Lanka, and the chemical disaster in Bhopal. On November 9th, 1989, he climbed the Berlin Wall to witness the collapse of Communism. He won two Gemini awards (Canada's equivalent of the Emmy) for his stories about Bhopal and Berlin.

In January 1994, he began writing and directing hour-long documentaries in partnership with his wife, producer Bette Thompson, through their production company, Raincoast Storylines Ltd. In between documentary projects, Jerry has written two screenplays, a television series pilot, and is currently at work on a novel.

The Thompsons live in the village of Sechelt on British Columbia's Sunshine Coast.

Customer Reviews

The book is written in a very readable and engaging style.
Amazon Customer
Everyone who lives on the Cascadia Coast (Pacific NW) needs to read this book.
Bob Berman
Government planners would do well to read this book, and get ready.
Martha Doane

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By James D. DeWitt VINE VOICE on May 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The story Jerry Thompson has to tell is critically important, intriguing for anyone interested in science and as current as the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan. I just wish Thompson had told the story better.

While the San Andreas fault gets all the publicity, it's not the most dangerous earthquake fault in America, or even on the west coast. That dubious honor goes to the Cascadia fault, where the easterly edge of the Juan de Fuca Plate is being stuffed under the northwest coast of North America. Extending from northern Vancouver Island to northern California, the plate is jammed. Locked up tight. At the rate of about 4mm a year, pressure is building. It doesn't sound like much, but the last major quake was in 1700, and based upon field work measured ML8.7-9.0, about the same magnitude (and for about the same reasons) as the disastrous 2011 quake off northeastern Japan. Geologists estimate a 37% chance of a major ML 9 quake in the next 50 years. Such a quake and attendant tsunamis would be disastrous, if anything worse than those videos of what happened in Japan.

Thompson tells the story of how the new science of plate tectonics developed, and specifically how those developments helped create an understanding of the geology and the risk the Cascadia fault presents. It's approximately what John McPhee did in By John McPhee: Annals of the Former World, but focused on the Juan de Fuca Plate. And Thompson isn't the writer that John McPhee is. Thompson very nearly makes an interesting story tedious.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes VINE VOICE on May 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"Cascadia's Fault" is at some level two books. The better of the two is the story of how geologists around the world discovered how sea floors subside between floating continents to create "subduction zones" where volcanoes and earthquakes are common and often deadly. The famous "Ring of Fire" around the Pacific Ocean, for example, is the surface manifestation of several interrelated subduction zones.

Bound up in this historical narrative is the detective story of how scientists learned that the Cascadia Subduction Zone lies offshore and beneath the Pacific Northwest. They even know, to a high degree of certainty, that the last major earthquake along this fault occurred at about 9:00 pm on January 26, 1700--it may have exceeded 9.0 on the Richter Scale, and it sent an "orphan tsunami" across the Pacific that heavily damaged Japan. Native American legends and careful study of land subsidence along the West Coast show that the tsunami waves were even more devastating on this side of the ocean.

Thompson is on shakier ground (so to speak) in the "other" book, in which he speculates about what the complete release of the Cascadia Subduction Zone would do to the West Coast. As a journalist and documentary film maker, Thompson can't resist the urge to make the earthquake as awful as possible. He argues that one outcome could be 15+ meter tsunamis that devastate essentially all of the coastal communities on the West Coast from British Columbia all the way to California, as well as trans-Pacific waves that would hit Hawaii, Japan and elsewhere. The 9.0 quake itself would be widespread enough--and more to the point, long enough--to make the tall buildings in Seattle, Vancouver, Sacramento, San Francisco and Portland behave like tuning forks, with predictably catastrophic results.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. J. Snyder on August 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Jerry Thompson writes a mix of a solid detective story and a solid bit of foreboding.

The detective story is about determining details of the Cascadia Fault to know what types of earthquake severity and damage it might produce, along with the detective story of trying to figure out the last "big one" that the fault DID cause.

We now know that happened in 1700, and, by tsunami information from Japan, know it was at least 9.0 on the Richter scale.

From that, and looking at other recent earthquakes caused by similar offshore subduction zones, Thompson tells what might happen to Seattle, Portland, or Vancouver, B.C., in his Canada. Earthquake damage, followed by a tsunami with no more warning time than was given to Japanese in the recent Fukushima earthquake is the answer.

Nothing sensationalistic in a book that deserves far more than one star. A definitely better-than-dull story that deserves more than three. My personal recommendation would be four stars, but, as with some other reviews on Amazon, I have to counterbalance for ones that just aren't right, so, this gets five stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book is written by a journalist who has been reporting on earthquakes since the mid 1980s. The book follows a fairly standard trajectory for books on earthquakes. It looks at historical earthquakes of the type it eventually wants to describe in detail and blends storytelling about the events with lessons on the history of seismology. In the case of this book, the author begins with the 1985 Mexico City quake, backtracks a bit to talk about the great Chile quake of 1960 and the Good Friday quake in Alaska of 1964 before discussing some more recent events, including the 2004 Boxing Day Quake and tsunami as well as the recent quake and tsunami in Japan. All of these earthquakes are discussed because they were megathrust earthquakes that took place around the so-called ring of fire. Along the way, some things are said about the San Andreas fault in California. In addition to describing the attributes of megathrust earthquakes, the author also talks a bit about earthquake prediction. Eventually, the focus of the book turns to the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a huge thrust fault along the west coast of the US from northern California to southern British Columbia. In addition to describing the geology of the region and the potential for a devastating earthquake and tsunami, he discuses the history of the fault and how researchers discovered evidence for previous large earthquakes, including the precise time and date of the most recent one.

Any book like this is going to have an apocalyptic feel to it, but in spite of the fact that the author is a journalist and not a scientist, the book maintains a fairly scientific orientation and doesn't delve too far into sensationalism.
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