Recently in Science Category

Very cool announcement - science

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We were told that a major announcement was coming today and they did not dissapoint - from National Geographic:

In a First, Gravitational Waves Linked to Neutron Star Crash
Around 130 million years ago, two dead stars violently collided and set off a sequence of events that, over the last two months, have whipped astronomers on Earth into an absolute frenzy.

At press conferences held across continents, scientists today announced the first detection of gravitational waves created by two neutron stars smashing into each other.

First theorized by Albert Einstein in 1916, gravitational waves are kinks or distortions in the fabric of spacetime caused by extremely violent cosmic events. Until now, all confirmed detections involved a deadly dance between two black holes, which leave no visible signature on the sky.

But with this latest event, teams using about a hundred instruments at roughly 70 observatories were able to track down and watch the cataclysm in multiple wavelengths of light, allowing astronomers to scrutinize the source of these cosmic ripples for the first time.

“We saw a totally new phenomenon that has never before been seen by humans,” says Andy Howell of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s an amazing thing that may not be duplicated in our lifetimes.”

Incredibly cool - they were able to see the source of the waves in physical light. So 299,792,458 meters per second is not just a good idea, it's the law! No wonder that three of the primary researchers got the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.

Happy Birthday - the Atomic Second

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From IDW / Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt:

The "atomic second" turns 50
The "atomic second" was the beginning of a revolutionary era: it was born as early as 1955, when the first cesium atomic clock was put into operation. In the fall of 1967, it was included in the International System of Units. This was the beginning of a development which will, in all likelihood, come to an end in the fall of 2018 when the 26th General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) decides that the entire International System of Units (SI) is to be based on invariable properties of nature – on fundamental constants. In this development the second came next to the meter, but in the race for accuracy it has an outstanding role: no other unit can be realized with such accuracy. Today's cesium atomic clocks – such as the four primary clocks of the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), which are responsible for realizing and disseminating legal time in Germany –provide the time unit with the unimaginable accuracy up to 16 decimal places!

"You are giving us a beautiful topic to meditate about: measuring the trajectory of the stars in the infinite depth of space based on the oscillation of an infinitesimally small atom." This is how poetically the then French foreign minister, Couve de Murville, expressed what was about to happen in Paris. In 1967, the scientists and politicians gathered in Paris for the 13th General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) decided to re-define the second. The decision fell on 13 October 1967: "The second is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium ¹³³ atom."

Now, you can purchase used Cesium clocks on eBay for a few hundred bucks.

Talk about an earth shattering Kaboom!

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From Washington State University:

Gases from ancient Inland Northwest volcanic eruptions blocked out sun, cooling planet
The Pacific Northwest was home to one of the Earth’s largest known volcanic eruptions, a millennia-long spewing of sulfuric gas that blocked out the sun and cooled the planet, Washington State University researchers have determined.

Only two other eruptions — the basalt floods of the Siberian Traps and the Deccan Traps — were larger, and they led to two of the Earth’s great extinctions.

“This would have been devastating regionally because of the acid-rain effect from the eruptions,” said John Wolff, a professor in the WSU School of the Environment. “It did have a global effect on temperatures, but not drastic enough to start killing things, or it did not kill enough of them to affect the fossil record.”

The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, appears in Geology, the top journal in the field. Starting 16.5 million years ago, they say, vents in southeast Washington and northeast Oregon put out a series of flows that reached nearly to Canada and all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The flows created the Wapshilla Ridge Member of the Grande Ronde Basalt, a kilometer-thick block familiar to travelers in the Columbia Gorge and most of Eastern Washington. The researchers say it is “the largest mapped flood basalt unit on Earth.”

Quite the Kaboom - origin of the reference here and here

What is time

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Say hello to our new little friends

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When you discover a new species, you get to name it. A politically correct professor and his grad students did just this - from EurekAlert:

Discovery: Bernie Sanders spider
A scientist at the University of Vermont and four of his undergraduate students have discovered 15 new species of "smiley-faced" spiders--and named them after, among others, David Attenborough, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

You won't find them in Washington, DC, Hollywood, or Vermont--but on Caribbean islands and other southern spots you might now get a glimpse of Spintharus davidattenboroughi, S. barackobamai, S. michelleobamaae, and S. berniesandersi as well as S. davidbowiei and S. leonardodicaprioi.

"This was an undergraduate research project," says Ingi Agnarsson, a spider expert and professor of biology at UVM who led the new study. "In naming these spiders, the students and I wanted to honor people who stood up for both human rights and warned about climate change--leaders and artists who promoted sensible approaches for a better world."

Their research took them to the Caribbean Islands - talk about roughing it. Wonder if it was publicly funded?

Say hello to our little friend - Mt. Agung. From the New Zealand website Stuff:

240,000 flee 'imminent' Bali volcano eruption
About 240,000 people are fleeing Bali's Mount Agung precinct in eastern Indonesia, with the volcano threatening to erupt at any moment.

The warning was raised to the maximum level four on Friday night, which means a hazardous eruption is imminent for the first time in 54 years. This could happen within 24 hours.

Locals reported monkeys and snakes fleeing the mountain. 

It last erupted in 1963 killing over 1,100 people - prediction has gotten a lot better since then. The Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program has up-to-date warnings.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

With 8 threatening volcanoes, USGS says California deserves close monitoring
With the world's top volcanologists heading to Portland, Ore., on Aug. 14 for the first international volcanology assembly held in the U.S. since 1989, the many famous, prominent and dangerous volcanoes of the West Coast will be the subject of field trips and much discussion.

Throughout the Cascade Range to southern California, the West Coast is home to most of the country's highest-threat volcanoes, as ranked by the United State Geological Survey. And California has its share.

While Mount Shasta unsurprisingly tops USGS's list of very-high threat volcanoes in California, there are seven other volcanic areas in the state that are also young, nervy, jacked up on magma and "likely to erupt."

Scientists know from geophysical and geochemical research that these volcanoes have molten rock, magma, "in their roots," said Margaret Mangan, Scientist-in-Charge at the California Volcano Observatory. "I call them the watch-list volcanoes."

Not only do we live in interesting times, we live in an interesting location. I wll be looking for YouTubes of some of the presentations - this would be a fascinating conference to attend.

An interesting drill - Black Sky

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Hat tip to reader Deb - from Peak Oil:

“Black Sky Event”: Feds Preparing For Widespread Power Outages Across U.S.
An exercise sponsored by FEMA and the U.S. Department of Energy set to take place on August 23 called EarthEX2017 will wargame responses to catastrophes such as mega earthquakes, cyber terrorism or high altitude electromagnetic pulse attacks.

The exercise will simulate a “subcontinent-scale, long duration power outage, with cascading failures of all other infrastructures,” according to the official Earth Ex website.

“Black sky events” are defined as, “Catastrophic occurrences caused by man or nature that bring society to its knees.”

“Cars would have no fuel. Restaurants and grocery stores would be bare. Electricity could be out for months in such an event,” writes Mike Vasilinda.

Given the soaring tensions between the United States and North Korea, which has threatened to attack the U.S. territory of Guam, the timing of the EarthEX2017 exercise couldn’t be more appropriate.

Sobering possibility - North Korea has two satellites in polar orbits. I doubt they have nukes on board (their devices are still too heavy to lift) but if they did, they could take out much of the North American power grid with one detonation. Polar orbits are also termed "Ball of String" orbits as they do not go over the same piece of land every time - they precess and given time, can cover every part of this planet. Want to shut someone down, just wait a few days until you are directly overhead and then give the signal.

An interesting world that we live in but glad the emergency services people are drilling for such an event.

Pot use - something to watch out for

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No corroboration but it should be easy enough to duplicate - from Reuters:

Marijuana use holds three-fold blood pressure death risk: study
People who smoke marijuana have a three times greater risk of dying from hypertension, or high blood pressure, than those who have never used the drug, scientists said on Wednesday.

The risk grows with every year of use, they said.

The findings, from a study of some 1,200 people, could have implications in the United States among other countries. Several states have legalized marijuana and others are moving toward it. It is decriminalized in a number of other countries.

"Support for liberal marijuana use is partly due to claims that it is beneficial and possibly not harmful to health," said Barbara Yankey, who co-led the research at the school of public health at Georgia State University in the United States.

I have not had time to read the whole thing but it is here: Effect of marijuana use on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular mortality: A study using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey linked mortality file

No word if this is out of the Reefer Madness playbook or will show up at Retraction Watch in a week or so.

Yikes - earthquake in China

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Details are still trickling in - from the American Geophysical Union's Landslide Blog:

Jiuzhaigou County: a shallow magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Sichuan Province on 8th August 2017
At 13:49 UT  (21:49 local time) on 8th August 2017 an earthquake struck Jiuzhaigou County in Sichuan Province in China. At the time of writing the magnitude of this event is unclear – the Chinese media are reporting M=7.0, whilst the USGS currently has M=6.5 – but either way this is a significant event.  In both cases the depth is considered to be very shallow – c. 10-20 km – which means that there is a high potential for landslides. Currently, the level of loss is not clear, and is unlikely to be so until the sun comes up in a few hours, but estimates range from 40 to 190 fatalities, with a median  value of 102, according to James Daniell of EDIM – CAT news.

Of course this area is no stranger to significant earthquakes. The earthquake in Jiuzhaigou County has occurred to the west of the ruptures that generated the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.  It is a characteristic of earthquakes in this area that they generate large numbers of landslides.  The landscape in this region of China is steep and high, and the slopes have been preconditioned for failure by frequent earthquakes and intense rainfall events. Early indications are that this was predominantly a strike-slip earthquake – experience suggests that these events tend to generate intense landsliding close to he fault rupture, with rapid attenuation of landslide density away from the fault. It will be interesting to see if this event matches this pattern.

Strike-slip is what we have to look forward to with the Cascadian Subduction Zone - nasty stuff.

A fun experiment - hydrogen

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A very cool experiment from Swansea University in south-west Wales, UK:

First observation of the hyperfine splitting in Antihydrogen
Swansea University scientists working at CERN have again made a landmark finding, taking them one step closer to answering the question of why matter exists and illuminating the mysteries of the Big Bang and the birth of the Universe.

In their paper published in Nature the physicists from the University’s College of Science, working with an international collaborative team at CERN, describe the first observation of spectral line shapes in antihydrogen, the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen.

Professor Mike Charlton said: “The existence of antimatter is well established in physics, and it is buried deep in the heart of some of the most successful theories ever developed. But we have yet to answer a central question of why didn’t matter and antimatter, which it is believed were created in equal amounts when the Big Bang started the Universe, mutually self-annihilate?

“We also have yet to address why there is any matter left in the Universe at all. This conundrum is one of the central open questions in fundamental science, and one way to search for the answer is to bring the power of precision atomic physics to bear upon antimatter.”

Very clever idea - we know the properties of hydrogen very well - the hyperfine splitting has been determined to within one part in ten trillion and this transition is at the core of our most precise clocks - the Hydrogen Masers. To measure the same transition in anti-Hydrogen will open a door on its physical properties. It should be identical but who knows...

Red sprites and blue jets

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These are electrical discharges seen above large thunderstorms. They were first theorized in the 1920's and were observed by aircraft pilots but these reports were discounted until 1989. Now that we know what to look for, we are seeing them everywhere. This gorgeous creature was filmed by the Gemini Cloudcam on July  24, 2017. From the report at Spaceweather:

Gigantic Jet Lightning Near Hawaii
Taken by Frankie Lucena on July 24, 2017 @ Mauna Kea Observatory
These images were captured by the Gemini Cloudcam at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii on the night of July 24, 2017. This amazing lightning phenomena is known as Gigantic Jet Lightning. They are more powerful than sprites and are easier to see with the naked eye.

I downloaded these images from the Gemini cloudcam website and enhanced them by processing them in Adobe Premiere first and then in photoshop.

There were also ripples in the sky above the storm that is known as gravity waves. They are more noticeable in the right hand side of the video. These gravity waves could have been caused by the strong convection present in the thunderstorm. These gravity waves are very near the Ionosphere at about 85-90 Km. They can be seen in this video that I downloaded from the Gemini Cloudcam website and enhanced it to better show the color of the Gigantic Jets.

A special thanks to Steve Cullen for finding the gigantic jet at the beginning of the time-lapse.

Here is a snap from one of the frames:


Genetics and Petunias

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I like Petunias and usually have them in a basket outside my store along with some other flowers - makes the place look inviting. Did not know about this - from Science Magazine:

How the transgenic petunia carnage of 2017 began
Two years ago, plant biologist Teemu Teeri was walking by a train station in Helsinki when he noticed some vivid orange petunias in a planter. The flowers reminded Teeri, who has studied plant pigments at the University of Helsinki, of blooms created in a landmark gene-engineering experiment some 30 years earlier. As far as he knew, those flowers never made it to market. But he was curious, and he stuck a stem in his backpack.

Now, that chance encounter has ended up forcing flower sellers on two continents to destroy vast numbers of petunias. Teeri ultimately confirmed that the plants contained foreign DNA, and he tipped off regulators in Europe and the United States, who have identified other commercial strains that are genetically engineered (GE). Although officials say the GE petunias pose no threat to human health or the environment—and likely were unknowingly sold for years—they’ve asked sellers to destroy the flowers, because it’s illegal to sell them in the United States and Europe without a permit.

Ironically, proposed revisions to U.S. biotechnology rules now under discussion might have exempted the harmless petunias from regulation. But the petunia carnage highlights the growing complexity of regulating GE plants, which have a long history of showing up where they aren’t allowed and can be hard to track.

Much more at the site. Harmless to humans and more a problem of overarching regulations. Common sense should have prevailed but not in this bureaucratic world... Here is the page from the United States Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Another science paper sting

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This is delightful and I should mention that these are not the frontline publishing houses, this guy sent his paper in to second tier journals. From Discover Magazine:

Predatory Journals Hit By ‘Star Wars’ Sting
A number of so-called scientific journals have accepted a Star Wars-themed spoof paper. The manuscript is an absurd mess of factual errors, plagiarism and movie quotes. I know because I wrote it.

Inspired by previous publishing “stings”, I wanted to test whether ‘predatory‘ journals would publish an obviously absurd paper. So I created a spoof manuscript about “midi-chlorians” – the fictional entities which live inside cells and give Jedi their powers in Star Wars. I filled it with other references to the galaxy far, far away, and submitted it to nine journals under the names of Dr Lucas McGeorge and Dr Annette Kin.

Four journals fell for the sting. The American Journal of Medical and Biological Research (SciEP) accepted the paper, but asked for a $360 fee, which I didn’t pay. Amazingly, three other journals not only accepted but actually published the spoof. Here’s the paper from the International Journal of Molecular Biology: Open Access (MedCrave), Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Austin) and American Research Journal of Biosciences (ARJ) I hadn’t expected this, as all those journals charge publication fees, but I never paid them a penny.

So what did they publish? A travesty, which they should have rejected within about 5 minutes – or 2 minutes if the reviewer was familiar with Star Wars. Some highlights:

    • “Beyond supplying cellular energy, midichloria perform functions such as Force sensitivity…”
    • “Involved in ATP production is the citric acid cycle, also referred to as the Kyloren cycle after its discoverer”
    • “Midi-chlorians are microscopic life-forms that reside in all living cells – without the midi-chlorians, life couldn’t exist, and we’d have no knowledge of the force. Midichlorial disorders often erupt as brain diseases, such as autism.”
    • “midichloria DNA (mtDNRey)” and “ReyTP”

Heh - I bet some faces are red - this damages the credibility of these journals. The papers are supposed to be reviewed before they are accepted for publication, not just slapped up on their websites.

This is big - from Stanford University:

An experiment proposed by Stanford theorists finds evidence for the Majorana fermion, a particle that’s its own antiparticle
In 1928, physicist Paul Dirac made the stunning prediction that every fundamental particle in the universe has an antiparticle – its identical twin but with opposite charge. When particle and antiparticle met they would be annihilated, releasing a poof of energy. Sure enough, a few years later the first antimatter particle – the electron’s opposite, the positron – was discovered, and antimatter quickly became part of popular culture.

But in 1937, another brilliant physicist, Ettore Majorana, introduced a new twist: He predicted that in the class of particles known as fermions, which includes the proton, neutron, electron, neutrino and quark, there should be particles that are their own antiparticles.

Now a team including Stanford scientists says it has found the first firm evidence of such a Majorana fermion. It was discovered in a series of lab experiments on exotic materials at the University of California in collaboration with Stanford University. The team was led by UC-Irvine Associate Professor Jing Xia and UCLA Professor Kang Wang, and followed a plan proposed by Shoucheng Zhang, professor of physics at Stanford, and colleagues. The team reported the results July 20 in Science.

“Our team predicted exactly where to find the Majorana fermion and what to look for as its ‘smoking gun’ experimental signature,” said Zhang, a theoretical physicist and one of the senior authors of the research paper. “This discovery concludes one of the most intensive searches in fundamental physics, which spanned exactly 80 years.”

A lot more at the site including a description of the experiment. Very clever idea and implementation. The abstract and paper are here (paper is behind a paywall): Signatures of Majorana Fermions in Hybrid Superconductor-Semiconductor Nanowire Devices

An interesting spin-off

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The loss of  Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 with 239 people is one of the greater aviation mysteries but there is one good thing to come from it - from gCaptain:

MH370 Search Data Unveils Fishing Hotspots, Ancient Geological Movements
Detailed sea-floor maps made during the unsuccessful search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, released by Australia on Wednesday, could help increase the knowledge of rich fisheries and the prehistoric movement of the earth’s southern continents.

The Indian Ocean search ended in January after covering a lonely stretch of open water where under-sea mountains larger than Mount Everest rise and a rift valley dotted with subsea volcanoes runs hundreds of kilometers long.

The data that was collected:

...information gathered during painstaking surveys of some 120,000 sq km (46,000 sq miles) of the remote waters west of Australia should provide fishermen, oceanographers and geologists insight into the region in unprecedented detail, said Charitha Pattiaratchi, professor of coastal oceanography at the University of Western Australia.

“There are the locations of seamounts which will attract a lot of international deep sea fishermen to the area,” Pattiaratchi told Reuters by phone.

High-priced fish such as tuna, toothfish, orange roughy, alfonsino and trevally are known to gather near the seamounts, where plankton swirl in the currents in the inhospitable waters.

Pattiaratchi said the location of seamounts would also help model the impact of tsunamis in the region, given undersea mountains help dissipate their destructive energy, and potentially change our understanding of the break-up of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana.

46,000 sq. miles is about the area of the state of Pennsylvania - a big area to be gathering such crystal clear data. Quite the addition to the world's body of knowledge.

“It is estimated that only 10 to 15 percent of the world’s oceans have been surveyed with the kind of technology used in the search for MH370, making this remote part of the Indian Ocean among the most thoroughly mapped regions of the deep ocean on the planet,” said Stuart Minchin, chief of Geoscience Australia’s environmental geoscience division.

Here is the website for the project at Geoscience Australia: MH370 - Phase One Data Release

Just wonderful - northern lights

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A bust - we need to get a six or above to get displays at this latitude.20170716-K-index-01.gif

Look to the North this evening

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Our sun had a flare a few days ago and the CME is hitting Earth right now - the K-Index is high enough that we should be getting aurora borealis tonight.


Crap - RIP Maryam Mirzakhani

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From The Wire:

Maryam Mirzakhani, First Woman and Iranian to Win Fields Medal, Dies at 40
Maryam Mirzakhani, the world’s first woman as well as the first Iranian to win the Fields Medal, one of the most prestigious prizes for mathematical research, passed away on July 15 after a four-year battle with breast cancer. She was only 40. News of her death on Saturday was confirmed by her relatives. Mirzakhani is survived by her husband Jan Vondrák, a theoretical computer scientist, and their daughter.

Mirzakhani had been teaching mathematics at Stanford University. Before that, between 2004 and 2008, she had been a research fellow at the Clay Mathematics Institute, Peterborough (North Hampshire), and an assistant professor of mathematics at Princeton University, New Jersey. Mirzakhani had been awarded the Fields Medal in 2014 alongside Artur Avila, Manjul Bhargava and Martin Hairer. The citation for her medal singled out her work in “the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces”.

Her work overall dealt with such areas of mathematics as topology, dynamical systems and hyperbolic geometry (some of her papers are available to view here).

A brilliant mind taken from us too soon.

The ecology of oil in the ocean

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Our attention is drawn to major oil spills like Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez but more oil goes into the Oceans every year from naturally occurring seeps and spills.

And the critters do just fine - from Max-Planck-Gesellschaft:

Oil as energy source for deep-sea creatures
At asphalt volcanoes in the Gulf of Mexico that spew oil, gas and tar, mussels and sponges live in symbiosis with bacteria providing them with food. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology and colleagues from the USA have now discovered deep-sea animals living in symbiosis with bacteria that use oil as an energy source and appear to thrive on short-chained alkanes in the oil. According to the researchers, bacteria closely related to the symbionts, which bloomed during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, used this ability to degrade the oil in the sea.

Stench and heat when a road is paved, black tar clumps at the beach that stick to your feet – asphalt does not make for a homey habitat. And yet it forms the basis for a flourishing ecosystem of mussels, crabs, worms, sponges and many other animals.

In the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, oil and tar seep from the ocean floor and form bizarre structures reminiscent of cooled lava – so-called asphalt volcanoes. Researchers from Bremen, Germany, and the USA discovered these volcanoes nearly 15 years ago. These exotic environments still have many surprises in store, such as the one shown now in a study published in Nature Microbiology by an international research group led by Maxim Rubin-Blum and Nicole Dubilier from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany.

You need to remember that these critters hit the genetic lottery - there are a lot of other species that are killed by oil in the environment so this is not saying that we should not be careful. What this is saying is that the path is very much open to ways to remediate from a spill the next time one happens.

Culture these organisms and disperse them at an oil spill. They will break down the oil and die off as their food becomes scarcer and scarcer so you are not changing the native population that much. Very cool!

Slept right through it - earthquake

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From the USGS: - M 3.0 - 4km S of Marietta, Washington

From the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

Not a big one but I would have felt it had I been awake.

The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake

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Had a small glitch in the system this afternoon. I subscribe to the US Geological Service email list for earthquakes. This notice came in a short while ago:


First screwy thing to notice is the date - June 29th, 2025 - today is June 21st, 2017... Turns out that the data from The Great Santa Barbara Earthquake of 1925 was entered into the system by mistake.

From the Los Angeles Times:

False alarm: Caltech staffer accidentally sends alert for large 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake
A staffer at Caltech mistakenly sent out an alert for a large magnitude 6.8 earthquake off the Santa Barbara coast — from 1925.

The error happened when someone tried to correct the exact location of the Prohibition-era Santa Barbara earthquake, which happened 92 years ago.

From the Archives — June 1925: Earthquake devastates Santa Barbara »

The erroneous report went out at around 4:51 p.m. A closer look at the alert, however, would have shown that something was amiss. The time of the alert was dated June 29, 2025 at 7:42 a.m. But it corresponds with a real earthquake that occurred a century earlier.

“That’s a mistake. It’s not real,” said Caltech seismologist Egill Hauksson. He said that scientists at UC Santa Barbara had recently complained that earthquakes from the region were actually located about 6 miles from where records indicated.

Someone on Hauksson’s team made a change, which inadvertently sent an email out on the U.S. Geological Survey’s email server that typically sends alerts of new earthquakes.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the USGS said the revision of the 1925 earthquake was “misinterpreted by software as a current event. We are working to resolve the issue.”

Well... Shit happens. Very glad it was a false alarm - the 1925 one was serious but this area has been built up a lot in the 92 years and a repeat event would be catastrophic.

Shit just got interesting - physics

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The abstract from Nature:

A challenge to lepton universality in B-meson decays
One of the key assumptions of the standard model of particle physics is that the interactions of the charged leptons, namely electrons, muons and taus, differ only because of their different masses. Whereas precision tests comparing processes involving electrons and muons have not revealed any definite violation of this assumption, recent studies of B-meson decays involving the higher-mass tau lepton have resulted in observations that challenge lepton universality at the level of four standard deviations. A confirmation of these results would point to new particles or interactions, and could have profound implications for our understanding of particle physics.

And in relatively plainer English - from Futurism:

Physicists Discover a Possible Break in the Standard Model of Physics
In order to make sense of the physical world, scientists have worked hard to discover theories and principles that govern the physics of matter. This is what’s called the Standard Model of Physics, which includes all the laws and principles concerning matter in all its forms and sizes. Bascially, the Standard Model applies to even particle physics. Or so it should.

Scientists from the University of California at Santa Barbara (USCB) and colleagues from various other institutions have recently discovered that there might be a break in the application of the Standard Model, particularly with a fundamental principle called the lepton universality. Their discovery comes from reviewing the data from three separate experiments conducted in the United States, Switzerland, and Japan.

Their conclusion:

Initial reading into these results would seem to indicate that there is indeed a deviation from the Standard Model of particle physics. This could mean that an entirely different model of physics is needed to explain the peculiar behavior of the tau particle. In other words, new physics is required. That’s not a simple thing, as these principles often correlate with one another. A change in one could affect the others.

We live in interesting times indeed!

From World Nuclear News:

Rolls-Royce elaborates on its SMR plans
Rolls-Royce's director of technology and engineering, John Molyneux gave more details on Rolls-Royce's new reactor design and the next steps in its development when speaking to the European Young Nuclear Generation Forum event in Manchester, organised by the European Nuclear Society and the UK Nuclear Institute.

Still without a publicised name, Rolls-Royce's design is a pressurized water reactor in a close-coupled four-loop configuration. A team of about 150 people have been working on it for around two years. The first months were taken with major design decisions including the use of a light-water as coolant and moderator and to select the close-coupled arrangement of steam generators as opposed to integrating them into the reactor vessel, or adopting a more spread out design similar to today's large reactors. At 450 MWe the output is higher than other innovative designs, and actually outside the usual range considered to define the SMR market of up to 300 MWe.

Molyneux said, "I do not believe light water reactors have got to the end of their evolution" and it is not necessary to move beyond them to find improvements. "It's easy to get swept away with technology, and as an engineer I'd love to. But as an industry we have to look at economics. The challenge for the industry is how you get a 40% cut in the levelised cost of electricity, to get down to what gas is at."

Because they are small and modular, the reactors can be carried to the site on a flatbed truck. Refueling is a matter of swapping out the old core and swapping in a new one. Like I said, this is not Thorium but it is a good move away from the huge reactors that are so expensive to build and operate.

What a wonderful thing - France

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A perfect time to clear out all the liberals, global warmists, cultural marxists, watermelon environmentalists and Gang Green (but I repeat myself) - from France24:

'Your new homeland': France's Macron launches website to woo US scientists
French President Emmanuel Macron this week launched a website which aims to encourage US scientists and researchers frustrated with President Donald Trump’s position on climate change to move to France.

The website "Make Our Planet Great Again" was a clear dig at Trump and his June 1 announcement that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, but also made good on an appeal Macron made back in February.

The website said senior university faculty members, but also junior researchers and PhD candidates, were eligible to move to France to work on climate change, earth system science or energy transition projects, promising generous financing and help with moving to the country.

It said senior researchers could apply for grants up €1.5 million, which would cover researchers' salaries, as well as compensation for additional staff and work expenses. Junior researchers could apply for grants of up to €1 million.

“There is no restriction on your husband / wife working in France,” the site reassured scientists, adding: “If you have children, note that French public schools are free, and the tuition fees of universities and “grandes écoles” [highly competitive French universities] are very low compared to the American system.”

Great - a wonderful time to clean house, get rid of all of the warmists and start over - with actual science this time - not computer models. Thank you France for taking these dregs of academe...

They went looking for one thing and found something entirely different - from Dan's Wild Wild Science Journal at the American Geophysical Union:

The Remarkable Things You See in Ice Cores-Like the Black Death
new paper is out in the AGU journal GeoHealth and it shows something that is truly remarkable.

Researchers looked at lead concentrations in an ice core from a glacier on the Swiss-Italy border. They wanted to know if there was a natural background of lead pollution and they pretty much got there answer.

There is not.

What’s remarkable though is how they found out: The Black Death.
When the mass dying began in 1348, iron smelting stopped. No one needed new iron, because there was plenty of iron around since many of those who owned it were now dead. The atmospheric lead levels dropped to almost undetectable levels during the great dying, and the graph below shows it:


Click to embiggen

Yet another thing that Global Warming is causing - a glacier in the arctic is getting bigger. From the London Daily Mail:

Satellites spot surging glacier in the Arctic moving at 13 metres a DAY for the first time since the 1930s
Dramatic new images from ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites reveal the Arctic’s Negribreen glacier is speeding up.

According to the space agency, the recent ‘surge’ saw the glacier’s ice surface speed jump from 1 meter to 13 meters a day this past winter.

The phenomenon is thought to be linked to changes in heat or water at the bottom of a glacier, and scientists say the effect observed at Negribreen is now steadily increasing.

The glacier was retreating from 1930 to 2016 - now it is advancing.

From the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network's blog:

Earthquake swarm NE of Bremerton
The Seattle Fault Zone runs West to East right through downtown Seattle and has the potential of being the source of a large (M6+) earthquake. It was therefore quite exciting when a small earthquake (Ml=3.3) happened right below the Seattle Fault Zone near Bremerton last week and was followed by aftershocks, and then again by a Ml=3.4 earthquake and another Ml=3.6 earthquake last night (as I am writing this our prototype Early Warning App is telling me another earthquake just happened, it is 10:57PDT on the 11th, this one turns out to be near Whidbey Island instead).

Rather than call it a mainshock-aftershock pattern, we can now call it a swarm, which basically means a cluster of earthquakes close in space and time that doesn't have an obvious mainshock. Swarms of small earthquakes are not unusual in our region. In fact, I found at least 6 more PNSN blog posts about swarms in WA or OR (links at the bottom of this post). However, this swarm is interesting in that it might be related to the Seattle Fault Zone.

See the mapview below for locations of the earthquakes in this swarm. Important to know is that the smallest dots on the map are probably not in the correct location. These earthquakes are so small that they are not well-recorded on all the nearby seismometers, which makes it difficult to locate them well. We are quite convinced that these ocurred in the same area as the bigger ones (except for one, but more about that later) because their waveforms look similar to the bigger ones on those seismometers that did see all of them.


The joys of living in a very geologically active area.

Our quiet sun

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We have had a record five months of low sunspot counts - from Spaceweather:

Today the sun is blank--no sunspots. The disk of our star is completely featureless.

This is the 31st day in 2017 that the sun has been without spots. Cumulatively, it adds up to an entire month of spotlessness--and it's only May. For comparison, the sun was blank on 32 days in the whole of 2016. The accelerating pace of spotless suns is a sign that Solar Minimum is approaching.

Solar Minimum is yin to the yang of Solar Maximum, a natural part of the sun's ~11 year sunspot cycle. Contrary to popular belief, Solar Minimum is not boring ...only different. It brings a time of enhanced cosmic rays, pink auroras, a collapsing ionosphere and accumulating space junk. With action like that, who needs sunspots? Stay tuned for more blank suns.

Sunspots are a great proxy for solar output - the fewer sunspots, the cooler our Sun is. The solar output is measured directly by the Dominion Observatory in Penticton, British Columbia - here is their chart for 2000 through 2017 - it says NOAA/SWPC but the data is gathered from Dominion:


Time to buy a good winter coat and stock up on firewood...

We had a small cluster of quakes in Puget Sound on May 3rd. The same fault just had another one - from the USGS. It was 24.5 km deep so not much surface movement.

From the United States Department of Energy - Hanford Emergency Operations Center:

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Richland Operations Office declared an emergency at the Hanford Site at approximately 8:30 a.m. this morning after a cave-in of a 20-foot section of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long that is used to store contaminated materials. The tunnel is located next to the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX, which is located in the center of the Hanford Site, in an area known as the 200 East Area. No contamination has been detected following the cave-in. Crews are continuing to survey the area for contamination. Workers are preparing to fill the hole created by the cave-in in order to stabilize the tunnel. All personnel in the vicinity of the PUREX facility were accounted for and there are no reports of injuries.

And something to take note of:

No action is currently required for residents of counties surrounding the Hanford Site.

Don't start taking your Potasium Iodide pills quite yet. There is a lot more at the site including a timeline of events along with the history of the tunnel.

Van Zandt

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The small town of Van Zandt lies about 10 miles away to the Southwest. It is home to a wonderful store and deli, a couple of churches, it has its own low-power FM radio station and that is about it.

It is also home to a potential large landslide and this has happened before. Here are two blog posts about the landslide and LIDAR

First - from The Landslide Blog:

The Van Zandt landslide: another great example of landslide mapping using LIDAR
I recently came across another great example of the use of LIDAR for mapping landslides in difficult terrain.  The Washington Geological Survey has a wonderful mapping tool online that gives the user the ability to look at a range of geological data.  The Bellingham Herald has a nice article about the LIDAR dataset, which can be accessed through the portal, in which they highlight the example of the Van Zandt landslide on the Nooksack River.  This landslide is located at 48.803, -122.151 if you want to take a look on Google Earth.  Imagery of the location suggests that there might be a landslide here – below is a Google Earth perspective of the site showing a huge scoop out of the ridge and a river that may have been pushed over to the opposite side of the valley.  However, the area between the ridge is densely forested in places, with vegetation of various types covering almost all of the landscape.  It is extremely difficult to map a landslide deposit in these circumstances:


The author - Dave Petley - talks about using topographic maps and direct visualization and then come out with the money shot:

But a LIDAR system fires many pulses of laser energy at the ground in the process of mapping.  Even in a forested area a few of these make it through the vegetation canopy to strike the ground before being reflected back to the instrument.  Whilst the proportion of laser pulses that make this journey is small, the high density of pulses sent by the laser means that these can be used to map the underlying terrain.  So the pulses that have reflected off the tree canopy are removed through processing, leaving just those that reached the ground.  These are then combined to produce a bare earth LIDAR hillshade.  The spatial resolution of this is less good, but the ability to capture the underlying relief is amazing.  Here is the bare earth hillshade for the Van Zandt landslide:


And suddenly the hummocky topography of the landslide deposit is plain to see, and is easily mapped. And what becomes evident from this is that this was another highly mobile landslide with a long runout. Interestingly, a back of the envelope calculation suggests that the H/L ratio for this landslide is about 0.132, close to the supposedly extraordinary mobility value of 0.105 for the Oso landslide.

The Oso landslide in 2014 killed 43 people.

Second, from local geologist Dan McShane's Reading the Washington Landscape:

The Van Zandt Slide Gets Some More Attention
Dave Petley calls attention to the use of LiDAR (light detecting and raging) and the Van Zandt landslide in Whatcom County ( His post is in part derived from a Bellingham Herald article that covers the recent work of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources Division of Geology and Earth Resources (DNRGER). He also gave my blog a nice compliment - I did a short write up on the Van Zandt Landslide (van-zandt-landslide-introduction) a while back after a trip to the slide with Geoff Malick. Goeff is getting near completion of his thesis on the slide.

The DNRGER has developed and recently expanded their geology information map portal The portal provides geologic maps but has also recently added LiDAR coverage.

I typically do not use the portal very often as I have most of the maps I need and their accompanying pamphlets/booklets. However, a separate portal of really good LiDAR imagery has recently been developed by the DNRGER ( This portal does not include as much LiDAR derived imagery as the main geology portal as a lot of LiDAR areas have yet to be added. But the quality of the imagery is sharper and allows one to pick which LiDAR flight to view when there are multiple LiDAR flights available. It also allows turning on or off the bare earth imagery. The site can also be used to download the raw data.

The LIDAR portal is an excellent way to spend a few hours - looking for existing slides in the area. I know of several in one valley over and they show up loud and clear on the map.

Nice to hear about science being done and not the agenda-driven global warming crap. From Watts Up With That:

Spaceweather protection bill passes the Senate
From the “a single Carrington event can ruin your whole day, er, life” department:

WASHINGTON — The Senate unanimously passed a bill May 2 intended to support space weather research and planning to protect critical infrastructure from solar storms.

The Senate passed, via unanimous consent, the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act. The bill cleared the Senate Commerce Committee in January, which had approved a similar bill in 2016.

The bill is designed to outline roles and responsibilities for various U.S. government agencies to research, forecast and respond to space weather, which can affect communications, the power grid and other systems. 

Basically replacing the 20-year old solar observing satellites with current technologies. Much overdue.

FromOlympia, WA The Olympian:

Their Mount Rainier erupted, now Colombians sharing lessons
A contingent from Colombia is visiting Pierce County this week to discuss how to best handle the possibility of Mount Rainier or Mount St. Helens erupting.

The group of scientists, emergency managers and first responders have checked out both Washington volcanoes and will hold a community meeting in Orting Thursday night (May 4).

Both countries have experienced deadly volcano eruptions in the past.

Mount St. Helens erupted in May 1980, killing 57 people and destroying hundreds of homes.

In the Andes Mountains of Colombia, Nevado del Ruiz erupted in 1985 and caused lahars that killed more than 23,000 people, injured more than 5,000 and destroyed 5,000 homes.

Nevado del Ruiz is an ice-clad volcano similar to Mount Rainier, which the U.S. Geological Survey dubbed one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because volcanic mudflows would bury numerous communities in the foothills.

After the Nevado del Ruiz eruption, our US Geological Survey started the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program. From the website:

In response to the tragic 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz Volcano in Colombia, where more than 23,000 people lost their lives, the USGS and the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) established the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP) to help prevent crises from becoming disasters. Over 30 successful years, VDAP has deployed scientific teams in response to 30 major crises, provided technical assistance with hundreds of additional volcanic events, and strengthened response capacity in 12 countries.

At the request of governments of affected countries, VDAP helps foreign colleagues monitor volcanic activity, assess hazards, generate eruption forecasts, and develop early warning capabilities, which help get people out of harm's way. Experienced teams of VDAP scientists can rapidly respond to developing crises worldwide. VDAP teams collaborate in the background, providing support to international partners who are the responsible parties for hazard communication. Between crises, VDAP scientists work with counterparts to build and improve volcano monitoring systems and to conduct joint activities to reduce volcanic risk and improve understanding of volcanic hazards.

Read more about the 30 years of VDAP on the OFDA website.

Looks like a great program for the big picture.

And, Columbia is not without its share of other disasters - from the Associated Press two days ago:

Desperation sets in as flood death toll in Colombia tops 200
Townspeople desperately searched their ruined homes and the local hospital for loved ones Sunday after a torrent of water, mud and debris swept through a city in southern Colombia, causing more than 200 deaths, many of them children, and leaving hundreds more missing and injured.

Neighborhoods were left strewn with rocks, wooden planks, tree limbs and brown muck after heavy rain caused the three rivers that surround Mocoa to rise up and surge through the city of 40,000 Friday night and early Saturday as people slept. The deluge smashed houses, tore trees out by the roots and washed cars and trucks away.

Search-and-rescue teams combed through the debris and helped people who had been clawing at huge mounds of mud by hand. Many had little left to search.

“People went to their houses and found nothing but the floor,” said Gilma Diaz, a 42-year-old woman from another town who came to search for a cousin.

And of course, the potential had been identified in 1989:

The danger has grown worse in recent years because of deforestation, which eliminates some protection from runoff, and because many people built their homes close to the water. But the triggering event was rainfall of more than 5 inches (130 millimeters) that began late Friday.

“The rain fell on Mocoa with an intensity and force that was without precedent and devastating,” Santos said. “It rained in two hours what falls in a month in Bogota.”

A 1989 hydrology report for the Agricultural Ministry warned that just such a disaster could happen unless steps were taken to reinforce the riverbanks, channel water away from the town and restore some of the forest. It was not immediately clear why those steps had not been taken.

This shit is serious - it can and will kill you in a heartbeat. We had our own example with the Oso landslide of March 22, 2014

It would have been a life-saver if this system had been installed at Oso - from The Landslide Blog:

Community Slope SAFE
Community Slope SAFE is a landslide early warning system that has been under development for some years by Professor Neil Dixon and colleagues at Loughborough University I have covered this work before – in essence it uses technology to listen to acoustic emissions generated when a landslide moves, and then uses electronics to process that information to provide a warning.  Of course that very simple description hides a great deal of complexity – how to collect the signal and not background noise, and how to interpret that signal as indicating that the slope is on the move, for example.  One aspect of this work has been the development of a low cost system designed to be used in vulnerable communities in less affluent countries, called Community Slope SAFE.  The team have just installed their first system in Malaysia, working with an NGO FHI 360 and various other partners.

Much more here: Slope Alarms

I rest my case - Bill Nye

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Not that bright, a television entertainer and very serious cognitive bias towards dodgy science:


Kind of hearkens back to the "dance, monkey, DANCE!" from a few posts ago.

March for Science

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A great essay on the "march for science" phenomenon - the politicizing of something that should be apolitical. From Robert Tracinski writing at The Federalist:

The ‘March For Science’ Shows How Carl Sagan Ruined Science
I am a Carl Sagan fan from way back. His 1980 TV miniseries “Cosmos” hit me at just the right age and inflamed a lifelong love of science. But we’ve had nearly 40 years to assess the long-term effects and see how Sagan unwittingly contributed to a trend that muddled public understanding of science. This weekend’s so-called “March for Science” is a perfect example of what went wrong.

All you really need to know about the “March for Science” is that it is scheduled for Earth Day. The organizers may say the march is nonpartisan and has a variety of goals, but it’s mostly just about global warming. It’s not just about whether global warming is actually happening, or whether it is caused by human activity, but about a specific political program for dealing with global warming.

To be sure, there are other goals involved in the march and some contention, even among the organizers, about the extent to which the march should embrace causes like “diversity.” So the goals run the gamut from the left to the far-left. And that’s the problem. The “March for Science” is an attempt to equate the Left’s political goals with Science Itself, claiming the intellectual and moral authority of science for the Left’s agenda.

A bit more about what this movement is seeking to do:

Science has its own unique language and methods: the language of mathematics and a method of systematic observation and experimentation. The reason science tends to be opaque to the public is because it ultimately requires that they understand its language and learn to use its methods. But how do you communicate the history and meaning of science to those who don’t yet speak its language? You turn science into something they can understand. You make it into a narrative, a story.

This is what I consider to be the key difference between the liberal and the conservative thought process - the liberal mind seeks out a narrative, a story. Many of the failed liberal policies started because they sounded good without people looking at the consequences. In philosophy, this is called rhetoric. The conservative mind looks for numbers and analysis. This sounds good but what if? This is dialectic - not to be confused with Karl Marx's appropriation of this word for his own fuzzy-headed scribblings.

Go and read the whole thing - you will not be dissapointed

Governor Moonbeam just does not give up - from Larry Hamlin writing at Watts Up With That:

California Governor Brown acknowledges other states aren’t buying his climate hype…
The L A Times interviewed California Governor Brown about the states climate campaign with the results presented in an April 15, 2017 article entitled “I’m  not giving up hope” which revealed his frustrations, concerns and views about lack of support among other states regarding California’s climate change program.

The Times presented a series of questions to Governor Brown addressing key topics regarding California’s efforts to address global climate issues at a state level. He readily acknowledged that other states are not buying his climate alarmist hype and moving in California’s direction and expressed frustration about this outcome.

When asked about greater support for his climate change program outside the U.S. he attributed this to Republicans “belief” that global warming is a hoax, irrelevant or not a problem but failed to address the significant and well documented climate science flaws and failures which are clearly undermining the scientific legitimacy of climate alarmist positions and claims.

Blaming the Republicans is a certain indicator that he considers this to be a political grab and not a matter of science. Pure watermelon environmentalism - green on the outside but red marxist on the inside. Much more at the site.

Interesting news from CERN

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Another layer of the onion being peeled back? From Science:

Physicists detect whiff of new particle at the Large Hadron Collider
For decades, particle physicists have yearned for physics beyond their tried-and-true standard model. Now, they are finding signs of something unexpected at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s biggest atom smasher at CERN, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. The hints come not from the LHC’s two large detectors, which have yielded no new particles since they bagged the last missing piece of the standard model, the Higgs boson, in 2012, but from a smaller detector, called LHCb, that precisely measures the decays of familiar particles.

The latest signal involves deviations in the decays of particles called B mesons—weak evidence on its own. But together with other hints, it could point to new particles lying on the high-energy horizon. “This has never happened before, to observe a set of coherent deviations that could be explained in a very economical way with one single new physics contribution,” says Joaquim Matias, a theorist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain. Matias says the evidence is strong enough for a discovery claim, but others urge caution.

The LHC smashes protons together at unprecedented energy to try to blast into existence massive new particles, which its two big detectors, ATLAS and CMS, would spot. LHCb focuses on familiar particles, in particular B mesons, using an exquisitely sensitive tracking detector to sniff out the tiny explosive decays.

I am still pissed as hell that Bill Clinton axed the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas. Construction was well under way and it was rated for 40TeV while the facility at CERN is only 14TeV - the USA could have had the Higgs Boson ten years earlier. Congratulations to the team at CERN though - this could be big.

Earthquakes in the news

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Each year, the Oregon town of Seaside hosts a large amateur radio conference and I have been attending the last couple of years. I really love the town of Seaside - great people and beautiful area. The only problem is that there is a massive potential for a large earthquake and tsunami sitting about 80 miles off the shoreline. Their warning system just got a nice upgrade. From The Daily Astorian:

Southern Exposure: Seismometer gives early warning of ground motion
Who do you call when you need to upgrade a seismometer?

That’s easy: the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, a partner of the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Washington and the University of Oregon among others.

The Seaside seismometer is one of many along the coast of Oregon and Washington state to provide the ShakeAlert early warning system. Hidden in an equipment room in the back of the Seaside Museum and Historical Society, the seismometer may have a crucial role in history of its own in the not-so-distant future.

“A seismometer is an instrument that detects ground motion in the form of acceleration of the ground itself,” the University of Oregon’s field technician and ShakeAlert Project Manager Leland O’Driscoll said.

Now I will be able to rest a bit easier knowing that I would have a good fifteen minutes of warning should something let go offshore.

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