It was March. There was a chill in the air, and snow flurries, but no snow on the ground. Nor, from the feel of it, was there ground on the ground. The earth snapped and popped and rippled. It was, Goldfinger thought, like driving through rocky terrain in a vehicle with no shocks, if both the vehicle and the terrain were also on a raft in high seas. The quake passed the two-minute mark. The trees, still hung with the previous autumn’s dead leaves, were making a strange rattling sound. The flagpole atop the building he and his colleagues had just vacated was whipping through an arc of forty degrees. The building itself was base-isolated, a seismic-safety technology in which the body of a structure rests on movable bearings rather than directly on its foundation. Goldfinger lurched over to take a look. The base was lurching, too, back and forth a foot at a time, digging a trench in the yard. He thought better of it, and lurched away. His watch swept past the three-minute mark and kept going.
Chris Goldfinger, a seismologist, was ironically at a seismology conference in Tohoku when the March 11, 2011 earthquake struck Japan. What is truly scary is not the story of his experience there, but that of the high likelihood that “The Really Big One” could strike, not heavily-fortified Japan, but the completely un-protected West coast of the USA, causing damage on an unprecedented scale. What is more, this is not the first time in history.
The story of his research is absolutely fascinating and should be a serious wake-up call for everyone From Washington State to Portland.