A follow up study by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the discovery of prehistoric slope failure tsunamis in Douglas Channel concludes that the events would have had minimal impact on Kitimat but would have destroyed Hartley Bay.
The DFO follow up study was aimed at better understanding the dynamics of tsunamis during the two slope failure events on the southern end of Hawkesbury Island during the mid-Holecene period, between 5,000 and10,000 years ago.
The wave dynamic model study does not address the discovery by the Geological Survey of Canada of a possible fault line along Hawkesbury Island which could have been the cause of the slope failures.
The study estimates that the wave amplitude of the first tsunami reaching the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway terminal site near Kitimat would have been about .09 to .12 metres. Since the actual wave height hitting land from a tsunami is one half of the amplitude, the height of tsunami waves reaching Kitimat at the time would have been about 60 centimetres or 23 inches. At Hartley Bay, on the other hand, the maximum estimated wave amplitude from the second tsunami would have been 15 metres, meaning a wave height of 7.5 metres or about 25 feet.
The main reason for the difference is that both the submarine slope failures occurred south of the dogleg in Douglas Channel at Gertrude Point. That meant the configuration of the channel from Gertrude Point up to Kitimat would lessen the amplitude whereas because Hartley Bay was so close, it would be hit by a higher amplitude. The report says that because of their relatively short wavelengths, the tsunami waves undergo multiple reflections that the “high degree of scattering from the complex shoreline and bottom topography in Douglas Channel” would “combined with the flux of tsunami energy through adjoining waterways and channels” have caused a rapid decrease in the energy of the waves with distance south and north of the slide area.
The study also points out a crucial difference between the ancient slides and the two that occurred near Kitimat in 1974 and 1975, while the land near the head of the Kitimat arm were largely composed of material laid down by the glaciers, the large slope failures on Hawkesbury Island were blocks of an extremely hard igneous rock called diorite. Each of the prehistoric slides would have consisted of about 65 million cubic metres of rock.
The DFO report says
Coastal British Columbia is an area of steep slopes, extreme seasonal variations in soil moisture, large tidal ranges, and the highest seismicity in Canada. Hazards of this form have been well documented for the coastal region of British Columbia, and other fjord regions of the world’s oceans, including Alaska and Norway. These factors increase the potential for both submarine and subaerial slope failures in the region. Such events generally take place in relatively shallow and confined inner coastal waterways, and can present hazards in terms of tsunami wave generation.
The two prehistoric submarine slides are located about 10 kilometres apart on the
slope of southern Douglas Channel, near the southern end of Hawkesbury Island
The report says:
The failures are defined by scallop-shaped hollows located along the edge of the fiord wall and appear to be associated with detached blocks that extend out several hundred metres into the channel. The two block slides identified in Douglas Channel are characteristic of rigid-body submarine landslides, which differ considerably from the well-documented viscous submarine landslides with a lower specific gravity (density relative to water) of about 1.5 that occurred to the north of Douglas Channel along the inner slope of Kitimat Arm in 1974 and 1975.
The report’s modelling is “considered minimum values” because the do not include debris that would have spread into the fiord after initial slide. That debris is now buried by a thick layer of post-slide sediment.
The reconstruction model shows that the head of the more northern slide began at a depth of around 60 to 100 metre, while that of the more southern slide began at a depth of 75 to 120 metres.
The slides would have moved down slope at about 25 metres per second, coming to rest after about 30 seconds, 250 to 350 metres from the slope at a depth of 400 metres.
The northern slide, called by the scientists Slide A:
would have generated extremely large waves in the immediate vicinity of the failure
region within a minute of the submarine landslide. Waves in the numerical simulations reach amplitudes of 30 to 40 metres at the coast near the slide area
Submarine landslides cause delays between the arrival of the first waves and the arrival of subsequent higher waves, increasing in distance from the slide, because of “reflections and non-linear interaction” along the shoreline. For Slide A, the maximum wave amplitudes at Hartley Bay would have been six metres (meaning three metre waves) “Large amplitude waves with typical periods of around 50 seconds would continue for several tens of minutes.”
The leading tsunami waves generated by Slide A reach Kitimat Arm in roughly 20 min and have small amplitudes of only a few centimetres. Although later waves have higher amplitudes, the maximum wave amplitudes (which occur 50-55 minnutes after the failure event) are still only around 0.09 to 0.12 metres.
The southern slide on Hawkesbury, called Slide B by the scientists, would have moved 400 metres before stopping. It stared at a greater depth than Slide A, with not as much vertical displacement than Slide A. That means Slide B was slower than Slide A.
would have generated large waves in the vicinity of the failure region. Simulated waves reach the coast adjacent to the slide region within a minute of the failure event, with wave amplitudes of up to 10 metres. The waves also hit the opposite site of the channel within a minute of the failure event and then take an additional minute to reach Hartley Bay where waves reach amplitudes of 15 metres/ Powerful oscillations in the bay last for tens of minutes.
Waves with high amplitudes (more than 2 metres) also occur in the southern part of Douglas Channel, and in certain locations of Verney Passage.
According to the models, the leading tsunami waves would have reached the Kitimat Arm 22 minutes after the start of the slide. The maximum waves would have had amplitudes of 0.08 metres to 0.3 metres (6 inches), reach the Kitimat Arm 45 to 60 minutes after the start of the failure event.
The the tsunami waves generated by Slide B that impact Kitimat Arm, although still of low amplitude, were somewhat higher than those generated by Slide A, despite the fact that Slide B was located further to the south and generated less energetic waves in the source region than Slide A.
This seeming paradox is explained by the slower motion of Slide B, which causes it to generate more wave energy in the low frequency band…Due to their reduced scattering and reflection, the relatively long and lower frequency waves generated by Slide B propagate more readily through the complex fjord system than the relatively short and higher frequency waves generated by Slide A.
Specifically addressing the proposed site of the Enbridge bitumen terminal, as well as potential tanker traffic in Douglas Channel, the detailed explanation of the modelling accompanying the DFO report says:
If similar submarine slides were to occur again somewhere in the same general area, they could present a significant risk to navigation and to nearby shore installations and coastal communities….
As with the tsunami generation regions, the highest waves and strongest currents in any particular region of the coastal waterway would occur near the shoreline. Based on the numerical findings, tsunamis generated by submarine landslides of the form identified for the southern end of Douglas Channel would have heights and currents that could have major impacts on the coastline and vessel traffic at the time of the event throughout much of Douglas Channel, but a minor impact on water levels, currents and hence vessel traffic in Kitimat Arm. Hartley Bay, at the southern end of Douglas Channel, would be impacted by high waves and strong currents, whereas Kitimat, at the northern end of Kitimat Arm, would experience negligible wave effects. Additional modelling would be required to assess the characteristics of possible tsunamis originating beyond the area of the two identified slope failures.
At the estimated propagation speeds of about 65 metres per second, the detailed model says it takes roughly 10 to 15 minutes for the simulated waves to propagate approximately 40 to 45 kilometres to the intersection of Douglas Channel and Kitimat Arm, where peak wave amplitudes would be diminished to less than one metre. It takes another 15 minutes for the waves to reach sites near the proposed Enbridge facilities in Kitimat Arm where wave amplitudes would be reduced to a few tens of centimetres and associated currents to speeds less than a few tens of centimetres per second.
EmergencyInfoBC Please be advised that @EmergencyInfoBC is the only authorized emergency alert feed for Gov’t of BC.
Tweet Thu 8 Nov 11 48
The British Columbia Solicitor General’s department is asking northwest municipalities to “clarify the initial response actions” to the October 27 2012, magnitude 7.7 earthquake off Haida Gwaii and the resulting tsunami warning.
A covering letter to municipalities from Lori Wannamaker BC Deputy Solicitor General says the province is reviewing the response to the earthquake and tsunami and is “seeking input from affected community leaders.” The package includes a letter sent to Emergency Program Coordinators across British Columbia, adding: “Input will be sought in an endeavour to hear from those directly impacted as a measure of enhancing our operations and response,” adding. “Events like present all levels of government with a learning opportunity.”
In the main letter to the municipalities outlining emergency procedures, the department also offers a time line of its response to the incident.
Clarify the initial response actions
The package sent to municipalities by Rebecca Derlinger, Assistant Deputy Minister /Fire and Emergency Management Coordinator, opens by saying: “The earthquake/tsunami event on October 27, 2012 demonstrated the high level of emergency preparedness that has been undertaken by local governments in BC. Elected officials and emergency managers in all impacted communities deserve praise for a timely and effective response that was undertaken, including evacuations.”
But in the next paragraph the letter goes on to say: “Prior to the completion of the provincial debrief process, we would like to clarify the initial response actions of local government emergency management personnel including how information should be managed after an earthquake that impacts BC.”
The letter also says that “Local governments must complete a hazard risk and vulnerability analysis for their communities according to the Emergency Program Act and regulations, keeping in mind that all parts of British Columbia have a risk of earthquake impacts. Coastal communities have the added risk of tsunami.”
The letter then outlines three scenarios for various communities
Significant earthquake is felt in a community located in an area with tsunami risk
Earthquake is not felt, however, a community is located in an area with tsunami risk (teletsunami)
Earthquake is felt in a community that is not located in area that has tsunami risk
In all three scenarios it says Emergency Management BC “will provide the general public with ongoing situational awareness through:
Social media such as Twitter
Mainstream media (press conferences and releases)
For areas such as Kitimat, which is in a possible tsunami zone, the letter advises “Local governments should undertake the following emergency response activities immediately following a significant earthquake (do not wait for official notification)
Activate their local emergency response plans and if deemed necessary
Active local first responders
Undertake public alerting and initiate evacuations of low lying areas
Open an emergency operations centre in a safe location
Report to EMBC
Ensure ongoing public messaging to their citizens
Gather information to develop situational awareness
For areas that don’t feel the earthquake, the province recommends
Local governments should undertake…emergency response activities immediately following the receipt of a West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre (or WCATTWC) and/or EMBC notification of a potential tsunami event. It then calls on local emergency officials to follow the same procedure outlined above “if a notification indicates an increased risk of a tsunami (warning or advisory only)
As you can see from the Twitter profile, Emergency Info BC works during normal office hours, Monday to Friday unless there is a declared emergency
The warnings October 27
In the letter the province outlines a time line of how the emergency system worked on October 27.
It says the provincial Tsunami Notification plan was activated at 8:10 pm. October 27, approximately four minutes after the earthquake.
In a provincial acronym soup it then says
The EMBC (Emergency Management BC) Emergency Coordination Centre initiated an internal resource request to activate the PECC (Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre) and the PREOCs (Provincial Regional Operations Centres).
EMBC and Temporary Emergency Assignment Management System (TEAMS) staff were in attendance at PECC and PREOCs by 8:33 pm.
“Based on the initial bulletin from WCATTWC, social media staff sent out a message via Twitter” at 8:48 pm At that time EMBC regional offices began contacting communities with potential tsunami risk by telephone. “Subject matter experts from Natural Resources Canada and Canadian Hydrographic Service were contacted by PECC at 8:30 pm and at 9 pm to review the information received from WCATWC.
“Based on these discussions, the PENS (Provincial Emergency Notification) was initiated at 9:05 while efforts to make contact with those communities under tsunami warning continued.
At 10:45 pm a media conference call was held by the Minister of Justice.
The letter continues to say that conference calls were held with EMBC, US state emergency management offices, and the West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre hourly until the final cancellation of the west coast warning by WCATWC at 2:47 am Sunday morning and by the province at 3:03 am
It concludes “Staff responsible for social media were actively engaged in informing the public.”
Denlinger’s letter then goes on to note that the provincial debrief will include “a discussion on the information flow from the province to emergency management stakeholders and the public (for example the use of social media as a communications tool for public awareness of the event)… This information….will assist in the creation of a provincial after action report and in the enhancement of subsequent provincial earthquake and tsunami response plans.”
At 6:06 I received an automatic text message from the West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre
Tsunami Info Stmt: M6.3 085Mi SW Port Alice, British Columbia 1802PST Nov 7: Tsunami NOT expected #WCATWC
At 6:07 I received an automatic tweet from Canadaquakes : @CANADAquakes: Automatic detection of seismic event: magnitude 4.4 – 7 Nov 18:01 PST – PORT HARDY, BC region
At 6:15, I received the WCATWC message on Twitter that I had received 9 minutes earlier via text
Tsunami Info Stmt: M6.3 085Mi SW Port Alice, British Columbia 1802PST Nov 7: Tsunami NOT expected #WCATWC
@EmergencyInfoBC retweets the WCATWC message
At 6:27 Canada quakes updated their tweet with corrected information: @CANADAquakes: EARTHQUAKE Mag=6.3 on 07 Nov at 18:01 PST. Details : http://t.co/OL9RTPKC 101 km SSW of Port Alice, BC
@EmergencyInfoBC retweets the CANADAquakes message
Analysis The province didn’t get it
Read between the lines of the Solicitor General’s letter and a couple of things stand out. While at first the officials say things went fine according to procedures in the book, events appear to show that in practice, the system didn’t work as well as expected on the night of October 27.
First the province, reminds municipalities of that they “must complete a hazard risk and vulnerability analysis for the communities.”
Second, while EM BC social media staff were, according to the letter, “were actively engaged in informing the public,” there was actually scant evidence of that during the crucial first 90 minutes after the earthquake on Haida Gwaii. While the emergency coordination officials and bureaucrats apparently were well informed about what was happening, the public was not. As I pointed out in an earlier post, differences between the US and Canadian warning systems contributed to the confusion. As well there was a problem on both Twitter and Facebook of rumour, misleading and false information being posted on social media during that crucial 90 minutes.
The line about the “the use of social media as a communications tool for public awareness of the event” is a clear indication that not all went well with the EM BC Twitter feed the night of the Haida Gwaii earthquake.
While Emergency Info BC is a sort of blog, again you have to know to go there and it is only active during an emergency. There were no posting on the night of the earthquake and tsunami. The last “blog” was during the Johnson’s Landing landslide evacuation in July 2012, and even that doesn’t give much information. Looks like Emergency Info doesn’t understand that a blog entry that says “no danger, nothing much is happening” is just as important as evacuation instructions.
The main website is Emergency Management BC, with a link to the Info site—if there is an emergency—not exactly a prime example of web design for someone in a hurry, whether an official, the media or the public, since it was what the web calls “brochure ware.”
The first indication of whether or not there would be major danger to the BC coast on Oct. 27 was at Langara Island at 9:16 pm. Local officials in northwest BC were monitoring Langara and the relatively low surge indicated–at least at that time– that danger was not as great as feared. Yet it was only seven minutes earlier that EM BC activated the Provincial Notification Program at 9:05, and that was an hour after it was known that the earthquake was 7.7 in magnitude, which had the potential for catastrophic damage. The tweets that I saw about the small surge at Langara, came from Prince Rupert. It is in a situation like the Langara monitoring that the Emergency Info blog would have been relevant.
The need for constant official updates is clear. Earthquakes do not work 8:30 to 4:30, Monday to Friday. The province has to be able to activate emergency notification much faster. If a web journalist whether working for the mainstream media or a responsible individual on a small site can tweet or post in seconds, usually working from a home office or even a smart phone, emergency officials can do the same.
In these days, travel by government officials is often frowned upon. A couple of months from now, when New York and New Jersey have recovered from the Superstorm Sandy and this weeks Nor’easter, a visit from BC emergency officials is in order to see how it is done.
Kitimat, BC and New York City had one thing in common this week, the misuse and use of social media, Twitter and Facebook, that spread both accurate warnings and dangerous misinformation about an impending disaster. In the case of New York and the surrounding area, it was Superstorm Sandy that caused widespread devastation. For Kitimat it was the tsunami warning after the 7.7 earthquake off Haida Gwaii and no damage but a lot of worry for residents.
New York has a population of millions, it is the media centre for the United States, and much of the U.S. Northeast coast is still recovering from the horrendous damage from Superstorm Sandy.
Kitimat has a population of about 8,000 and my home town is off the media radar except when the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline issue pops up on the national assignment desks. If the October 27, 2012 tsunami from the Haida Gwaii earthquake did come up Douglas Channel to Kitimat harbour, it was so minimal that any water rise was scarcely noticed.
In one way New York (the state and the city) plus New Jersey and other states were ahead of Kitimat. In the US, there were numerous official sources on Twitter and Facebook, as well as those ubiquitous live TV news conferences with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or various state governors.
On October 27, neither Kitimat nor the nearby town of Terrace had any official emergency outlets on social media. In Kitimat, that may change as early as this Monday when District Council considers what happened last Saturday night.
It has been documented that there was no official response from Emergency Management British Columbia (still largely known under its former name Provincial Emergency Program) until an hour after the first earthquake report from the US Geological Survey. Only sometime later did BC’s provincial emergency officials hold a short conference call with reporters. (At the time the BC Liberals were holding a policy convention at Whistler. After the conference call, TV reporters at the convention in Whistler were doing live reports with taped clips of Attorney General Shirley Bond. It should have been easy for Bond and other senior government officials, including Premier Christy Clark–who is plummeting the polls– to hold a live news conference just as US state governors and mayors did later in the week when it came to Superstorm Sandy)
So in that hour of silence from the BC government, one question that has to be raised is: Were the tsunami warnings so completely uncoordinated–at least as far as the public is concerned– that that was one cause of the misinformation and inaccurate information on Twitter and Facebook? Or did confusing information from authorities simply compound and amplify the social media misinformation that was already spreading across British Columbia and around the world?
Here in the northwest, the two area fire chiefs Trent Bossence of Kitimat and John Klie of Terrace have said after the quake that landline phones and some cell phones were out, in some areas up to an hour after the first shock. Klie told CFTK’s Tyler Noble on Open Connection that after the landline phones came back up the Terrace fire department was flooded with calls from people “who wanted it now.” The ability of firefighters to get information was then delayed “because so many people were trying to get through.”
Kitimat has the advantage of being a small town. Emergency services already had scheduled a volunteer recruiting session last Monday night (October 29) for Emergency Social Services–the folks who run, coordinate and work in reception centres during an emergency–so it was easy to turn that meeting into a earthquake/tsunami warning post mortem. (Imagine that happening in New York?)
The most important issue on Saturday night was the false information on both Facebook and Twitter that the Kildala neighbourhood was being evacuated due to the tsunami warning. Other false information on social media indicated that the giant Bechtel work camp at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project was also being evacuated.
As Kitimat’s Emergency Plan Coordinator Bob McLeod told the earthquake post mortem about the information on Facebook and Twitter:
“Your aim is to be saving people, and you’re not saving people. There was one case where someone was going around banging on doors in Kildala, telling them to get out. I think it was over when he was in the lockup that night. But this is the type of foolishness that goes on. You have people going on Facebook saying ‘Alcan’s been evacuated. they’re evacuating Kildala.’ I am going to be generous and say it is misinformation… It was a blatant lie. And that does not help.”
(For those outside Kitimat you can check the town on Google maps) As seen on this screen grab, Kildala is a low lying part of town. The area north of Highway 37 is higher on a hill. Closer to the ocean at Douglas Channel are the Bechtel/RTA Kitimat Modernization Project work camps.
After driving from the village to the town, McFarlane told the meeting that he stopped at the town viewpoint where “people were telling me they had already been evacuated out of the Kildala neighbourhood, so my first stop after that was the fire department.” The fire hall is about a couple of blocks from the viewpoint, so it was easy to get accurate information from the fire department.
McFarlane continued, “I found the night of the earthquake that no information is just as bad as wrong information. People were calling me on my cell saying why does the Kitimat Daily say we have to evacuate.” That is because the Daily republished a warning from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre that “said tsunami warning, evacuation for the north coast. People were saying we’re on the north coast, we got to go.”
I was about fifteen to twenty minutes behind McFarlane in reaching town. (I did not leave Kitamaat Village until after we heard the first tsunami warning.) As soon as I got to back in cell range, my cell phone started to beep with saved messages from my TV and radio news clients calling for information. When I got to my home office, my landline was still dead and would be for about another twenty minutes. The only source of information at that point was Google News, Facebook and Twitter.
I saw the initial, and it turns out general, warning from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Soon I was also getting what I hoped was more specific information on my marine radio from the Canadian Coast Guard Prince Rupert communications station.
But that, too was somewhat confusing. That Coast Guard advisory mentioned various zones, for example, Zone A and Zone B, but there was little specific context and that point I had no idea what Zone A meant. Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio then went on to say evacuate low lying coastal areas. (transcript below)
With that confusion, and mindful of “when in doubt, leave it out,” I did not mention the zone system in any information I posted on Facebook and Twitter that night. I only retweeted official information or tweets from reporters I knew and trusted (and I did not see any tweeted official information from the province with a link to the page that identifies the official tsunami zones)
From the interview on CFTK, it appears that both the Kitimat and Terrace fire departments were also getting inadequate information.
“We went to our normal place to look EM BC (Emergency Management BC) and there was nothing there,so we went to Plan B to get information and went on from there,” Bossence told Tyler Noble.
Klie said: “We struggle with that every disaster big or small. Social media, I think emergency organizations are trying to tap into more and more. Up north we may be a little behind the eight ball but sure enough Twitter and Facebook information is out there instantly. Looking at Facebook with my son, I saw that they were evacuating whole cities and I knew that was not true. Because of my experience I can filter some of the information, but there is so much information out there that it’s hard to filter what’s real and not real. It’s an area where emergency coordinators have to get into because its the fastest way of getting information out.”
“Once the phone system came back online at the Fire Hall we got a flood of phone calls,” Bossence told CFTK, “it was nonstop and it was people wanting to know. ‘What’s going on? What are we going to do? Are we leaving?’ and they’re giving us ‘This is what is what I’m reading, this is what I’m being texted, on Facebook they’re saying we’re supposed to evacuate’ adding to that we had an individual going around claiming he was a fire department, he was going door to door and telling people to evacuate. That was the added issue we had to deal with. It was definitely misinformation and a sense of urgency that was coming out through the social network (and eventually the media) was big problem for us.”
In Kitimat, I was told about the man going door to door with inaccurate information and as soon as I confirmed it with reliable official sources, I posted that on both Twitter and Facebook, emphasizing there was, at that time, no evacuation order.
But every situation is different. In contrast, in Superstorm Sandy, another story about men going door to door in Williamsburg, a section of Brooklyn was not true, as can be seen in an article summing problems with Twitter in New York, where Jared Keller of Bloomberg reported
I experienced this firsthand during Hurricane Sandy. After retweeting a message warning about muggers in Williamsburg dressed as Con Ed workers as an experiment, I received two sceptical responses checking the claim within 15 minutes, both from people who work in the media industry and spend a significant amount of time on Twitter. Within an hour, I received a mass text message from friends of mine who aren’t completely plugged into the social Web with the same warning: “I just read a news alert of two separate reports of people posing as coned workers, knocking on people’s door and robbing them at gunpoint in Williamsburg. I just want to pass along the info. Stay safe and maybe don’t answer your door.” Two other friends responded with thanks.
Keller goes on to stay “I know a lot of people, especially on Facebook, who end up believing whatever they see first,” says Kate Gardiner, a social media journalist. “It’s almost impossible to track something back to its point of origin there.”
With the earthquake and tsunami warning Saturday night, Twitter misinformation spread internationally. The first hashtag I saw was #bcquake, but as the the tsunami warning gained traction (especially after the warning was extended from BC and Alaska to Washington, Oregon and California and then to Hawaii) the more common hashtag #tsunami became prominent. As people outside BC began tweeting, they began using #Canadaquake and soon #prayforcanada also began to trend. Completely inaccurate information spread on #prayforcanada (believed to have originated in Indonesia) that it was Vancouver, not the north coast that had been hit by the 7.7 magnitude earthquake.
Are you in the Zone?
At this point, one question has to be asked. The spread of information, first the well-intended but wrong, second just rumour and third, the deliberately misleading, has been seen in social media not only during the earthquake and tsunami on the West Coast last weekend, and during Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast but all the way back to the 2004 Christmas tsunami in Southeast Asia.
For the west coast in 2012, however, how much of the problem of misinformation on social media during the earthquake and tsunami warning was the fault of confusing information from the authorities? Just how were people going to interpret such general terms as “north coast” and “low lying areas.”?
From the BC Provincial Emergency Program you have to ask “What is Zone A?” It turns out by checking a day or so later that the province of British Columbia has created Tsunami Identification Zones.
Before October 27, it is likely no one outside of the provincial bureaucracy had ever heard of the provincial tsunami zones. At that time no one in BC, either on Twitter or Facebook or through the media was identifying the BC Tsunami Zones for the public. Later on, the television networks put up maps showing Zones A and B —but that was only good if you had power and were watching the right channel. Kitimat Daily and Terrace Daily posted an official update at 10:42 long after the danger was past explaining the Zone system. It was no good at all if you were listening to news reports on radio or to Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio on a fishing boat and had no access to the actual maps.
Compounding the confusion is that the US system appears to be very different from the Canadian.
Also the US system has two levels of warning. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center sends out general warnings but hands over for a more specific warning map from the Alaska -based West Coast and Alaska Pacific Tsunami warning centre. It uses its own system of lettered and numbered zones for the west coast of North America. (See the Oct 27 tsunami advisory here Note it is a Google maps plugin.)
So in case of a tsunami warning, Kitimat is in Zone B for the province of British Columbia and the Provincial Emergency Program and in Zone BZ921 for the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre. For the much more familiar fisheries management areas Kitimat is in Zone 6 (which of course has nothing to do with a tsunami, it’s simply the coastal zone system everyone is familiar with)
Adding to the confusion is the fact that the EM British Columbia map shows Terrace, far inland up the Skeena River is considered in Zone A, along with Prince Rupert for tsunami warnings (if a tsunami was big enough to reach Terrace along the Skeena River valley, then I can only assume that much of the west coast of North America would have already been wiped out).
The Monday Post mortem
At the Monday, October 29 post mortem, when McLeod outlined the events of October 27, he began by looking back three weeks, saying, “I have feeling of frustration about a couple of things. October 7, I took 4,000 brochures [How Prepared Are you if Disaster Strikes?] down to the post office to mail out to the residents of Kitimat, They were all delivered by the post office. On Sunday, I had people coming to me and saying what are we supposed to do in the case of an earthquake? It is really, really difficult to get people interested.”
McLeod said that after he felt the earthquake, he went online to check information and then went up to the fire hall, which is Kitimat’s emergency coordination centre. There he met Fire Chief Bossence, his deputy, the RCMP detachment commander Staff Sergeant Steve Corp and representatives from Bechtel and the Rio Tinto Alcan modernization project.
“For the first little while we were going on line trying to get information. The usual method of dissemination getting information it comes from the West coast and Alaska tsunami warning system, then it goes to Victoria, Victoria gives it to the geophysical specialists and they will confirm or deny what ever the information and then it goes to the Provincial Emergency Program and they shoot it out to coastal communities.
“While in this case you’re working with what you find out from different sources and you are trying to determine how reliable these sources are.”
“In our case, for me the first thing you do when you get word of an impending tidal wave [tsunami] action is check the tide. If you’re on a high tide, it’s a different situation than a low tide
“The movie version of a tidal wave is this 50 foot mountain of water roaring along and this is not what is going to happen particularly in Douglas Channel because of the depth. So you are going to see a surge such as we saw in Japan and it will be an increasing surge of water.
“We were told that potentially some sort of surge hitting Langara [the northern most island in Haida Gwaii) at 9:16, 9:16 came and went and there was no notification of a noticeable surge of water. So were down to a non event and we were on a receding tide.” (See advisory below)
“Misinformation going out is not helpful,” McLeod said. “You’ve got to set up a stream of how you get information out to people and it’s a valid point. The District Website, the Facebook page, something like that can get information out. But again if you lose power where do get it? Text can work even locally with cell phones. if you’re in a dead area with a cell phone, you can still get text”
McLeod then asked the audience, mainly people ranging from their thirties to seventies if they text. Only four or five people put up their hands. “You people are going to be saved, the rest of us…” McLeod quipped.
If a conclusion can be drawn from the earthquake and tsunami warning in the Kitimat region on October 27, it’s not just that in an emergency inaccurate, incomplete or malicious information can spread a the speed of light on social media, it’s worse that incomplete, inadequate and confusing information from the authorities is amplified and distorted by rapid posting on social media. That concept is not new for anyone who has tried the phone chain game where the outcome is often completely different from the start.
If Gardiner is correct when she says “I know a lot of people, especially on Facebook, who end up believing whatever they see first,” the BC government delays made everything worse. People Tweeted the first thing they saw and the first thing people saw came from multiple and often conflicting sources. Add that to those Tweets that were exaggeration, rumour and lies.
The problem in 2012 it is not one person talking to one person talking to one person, it is a Tweet or Facebook posting that go out to thousands, or millions of people and that’s a lot more dangerous.
McLeod said the post mortem who said emergency services is trying to get more information out to public, but he added. “The unfortunate part is that if you publish it this week, by Christmas no one will remember. If you start throwing it out every week, it becomes like a stop sign at the end of the street. Nobody sees it.”
(Coming next. If Kitimat had to evacuate)
Transcript of Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio tsunami warning.
Pan pan. Pan pan. This is Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio, Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio. Warning for coastal British Columbia issued by Environment Canada on behalf of the British Columbia Provincial Emergency Program at 2057 Pacific Daylight Time Saturday 27 October. Tsunami warning for Zone A, the north coast and Haida Gwaii,Zone B, the central coast and including Bella Coola, Bella Bella and (unintelligible). A tsunami warning has been issued, if you are in a low-lying area coastal area, you are at risk and must move to higher ground or inland now.
Do not return until directed to do so. Closely monitor local radio stations for additional information from local authorities. Please minimize phone use in affected areas, for further information contact the provincial emergency program at website www. papa echo papa period bravo charlie period charlie alpha.Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio over.
TSUNAMI BULLETIN NUMBER 003
PACIFIC TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER/NOAA/NWS
ISSUED AT 0341Z 28 OCT 2012
THIS BULLETIN APPLIES TO AREAS WITHIN AND BORDERING THE PACIFIC
OCEAN AND ADJACENT SEAS…EXCEPT ALASKA…BRITISH COLUMBIA…
WASHINGTON…OREGON AND CALIFORNIA.
… TSUNAMI INFORMATION BULLETIN …
THIS BULLETIN IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY.
THIS BULLETIN IS ISSUED AS ADVICE TO GOVERNMENT AGENCIES. ONLY
NATIONAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT AGENCIES HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO MAKE
DECISIONS REGARDING THE OFFICIAL STATE OF ALERT IN THEIR AREA AND
ANY ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN IN RESPONSE.
AN EARTHQUAKE HAS OCCURRED WITH THESE PRELIMINARY PARAMETERS
ORIGIN TIME – 0304Z 28 OCT 2012
COORDINATES – 52.9 NORTH 131.9 WEST
DEPTH – 10 KM
LOCATION – QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISLANDS REGION
MAGNITUDE – 7.7
NO DESTRUCTIVE WIDESPREAD TSUNAMI THREAT EXISTS BASED ON
HISTORICAL EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI DATA.
HOWEVER – THE WEST COAST/ALASKA TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER HAS
ISSUED A REGIONAL WARNING FOR COASTS LOCATED NEAR THE EARTHQUAKE.
THIS CENTER WILL CONTINUE TO MONITOR THE SITUATION BUT DOES NOT
EXPECT A WIDER THREAT TO OCCUR.
THIS WILL BE THE ONLY BULLETIN ISSUED FOR THIS EVENT UNLESS
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION BECOMES AVAILABLE.
THE WEST COAST/ALASKA TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER WILL ISSUE PRODUCTS
FOR ALASKA…BRITISH COLUMBIA…WASHINGTON…OREGON…CALIFORNIA.
PUBLIC TSUNAMI MESSAGE NUMBER 2
NWS WEST COAST/ALASKA TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER PALMER AK
834 PM PDT SAT OCT 27 2012
THE MAGNITUDE IS UPDATED TO 7.7. THE WARNING ZONE REMAINS THE
…THE TSUNAMI WARNING CONTINUES IN EFFECT FOR THE COASTAL
AREAS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA AND ALASKA FROM THE NORTH TIP OF
VANCOUVER ISLAND BRITISH COLUMBIA TO CAPE DECISION
ALASKA/LOCATED 85 MILES SE OF SITKA/…
…THIS MESSAGE IS INFORMATION ONLY FOR COASTAL AREAS OF
CALIFORNIA – OREGON – WASHINGTON AND BRITISH COLUMBIA FROM
THE CALIFORNIA-MEXICO BORDER TO THE NORTH TIP OF VANCOUVER
ISLAND BRITISH COLUMBIA…
…THIS MESSAGE IS INFORMATION ONLY FOR COASTAL AREAS OF
ALASKA FROM CAPE DECISION ALASKA/LOCATED 85 MILES SE OF
SITKA/ TO ATTU ALASKA…
A TSUNAMI WARNING MEANS… ALL COASTAL RESIDENTS IN THE WARNING
AREA WHO ARE NEAR THE BEACH OR IN LOW-LYING REGIONS SHOULD MOVE
IMMEDIATELY INLAND TO HIGHER GROUND AND AWAY FROM ALL HARBORS AND
INLETS INCLUDING THOSE SHELTERED DIRECTLY FROM THE SEA. THOSE
FEELING THE EARTH SHAKE… SEEING UNUSUAL WAVE ACTION… OR THE
WATER LEVEL RISING OR RECEDING MAY HAVE ONLY A FEW MINUTES BEFORE
THE TSUNAMI ARRIVAL AND SHOULD MOVE IMMEDIATELY. HOMES AND
SMALL BUILDINGS ARE NOT DESIGNED TO WITHSTAND TSUNAMI IMPACTS.
DO NOT STAY IN THESE STRUCTURES.
ALL RESIDENTS WITHIN THE WARNED AREA SHOULD BE ALERT FOR
INSTRUCTIONS BROADCAST FROM THEIR LOCAL CIVIL AUTHORITIES.
EARTHQUAKES OF THIS SIZE ARE KNOWN TO GENERATE TSUNAMIS.
AT 804 PM PACIFIC DAYLIGHT TIME ON OCTOBER 27 AN EARTHQUAKE WITH
PRELIMINARY MAGNITUDE 7.7 OCCURRED 25 MILES/40 KM SOUTH OF
SANDSPIT BRITISH COLUMBIA.
EARTHQUAKES OF THIS SIZE ARE KNOWN TO GENERATE TSUNAMIS.
IF A TSUNAMI HAS BEEN GENERATED THE WAVES WILL FIRST REACH
LANGARA ISLAND BRITISH COLUMBIA AT 916 PM PDT ON OCTOBER 27.
ESTIMATED TSUNAMI ARRIVAL TIMES AND MAPS ALONG WITH SAFETY RULES
AND OTHER INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND ON THE WEB SITE
TSUNAMIS CAN BE DANGEROUS WAVES THAT ARE NOT SURVIVABLE. WAVE
HEIGHTS ARE AMPLIFIED BY IRREGULAR SHORELINE AND ARE DIFFICULT TO
FORECAST. TSUNAMIS OFTEN APPEAR AS A STRONG SURGE AND MAY BE
PRECEDED BY A RECEDING WATER LEVEL. MARINERS IN WATER DEEPER
THAN 600 FEET SHOULD NOT BE AFFECTED BY A TSUNAMI. WAVE HEIGHTS
WILL INCREASE RAPIDLY AS WATER SHALLOWS. TSUNAMIS ARE A SERIES OF
OCEAN WAVES WHICH CAN BE DANGEROUS FOR SEVERAL HOURS AFTER THE
INITIAL WAVE ARRIVAL. DO NOT RETURN TO EVACUATED AREAS UNTIL AN
ALL CLEAR IS GIVEN BY LOCAL CIVIL AUTHORITIES.
PACIFIC COASTAL REGIONS OUTSIDE CALIFORNIA/ OREGON/ WASHINGTON/
BRITISH COLUMBIA AND ALASKA SHOULD REFER TO THE PACIFIC TSUNAMI
WARNING CENTER MESSAGES FOR INFORMATION ON THIS EVENT AT
THIS MESSAGE WILL BE UPDATED IN 30 MINUTES OR SOONER IF
THE SITUATION WARRANTS. THE TSUNAMI MESSAGE WILL REMAIN
IN EFFECT UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION STAY TUNED
TO NOAA WEATHER RADIO… YOUR LOCAL TV OR RADIO STATIONS… OR SEE
THE WEB SITE WCATWC.ARH.NOAA.GOV.
Did the media over react to the earthquake and tsunami warning?
There were also numerous Tweets on October 27, accusing the media of over reacting. The Haida Gwaii quake was 7.7 magnitude. Compare that to the Haiti earthquake on January 12, 2010 which was 7.0. The Christ Church, New Zealand earthquake on February 27, 2011 which caused major damage was 6.3 magnitude. So the Haida Gwaii earthquake was a major event. The tsunami warning that eventually reached as far off as Hawaii had to be taken seriously.
Fortunately Haida Gwaii is sparsely populated and there was minimal damage largely because most of the houses and buildings are wood and can absorb some of the shaking from an earthquake.
Given the tsunami damage in Southeast Asia in 2004 and in Japan in 2011, no media organization could ignore the developing story.
If there is justifiable criticism, it is that some media over hyped the story in the beginning, rather acting to reassure the public in a responsible manner. But the media that over hyped the earthquake and tsunami are the kind that would over hype any story. That is generally the result of management listening to “TV doctors” and media consultants who urge over hyping to increase ratings. (It often works). But those who, quite early in the event, who tweeted that the media was overreacting, were themselves guilty of overreaction in their Tweets.
The Northern Gateway Joint Review panel has allowed the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Natural Resources Canada to delay a report on historic tsunamis and a possible fault line on Douglas Channel until November 16, 2012.
The report was scheduled for release on October 31.
In a ruling released by the JRP on November 1, the panel noted:
In Ruling no. 105 dated 24 September 2012, the Panel stated that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) could provide “modelling of the potential wave heights and speeds that may have resulted from two previously unrecognized submarine slope failures in the Douglas Channel” (Modelling) and that it should do so by 31 October 2012. The letter from Justice Canada seeks an extension to 16 November 2012 as DFO “requires additional time to complete the peer review and approval processes related to this additional written evidence.”
The Panel believes the Modelling to be relevant, as noted in Ruling no. 105. The Panel is also ofthe view that there is unlikely to be any undue prejudice to any party by permitting its filing to be delayed to 16 November 2012.
Accordingly, the Federal Government Participants’ motion is granted and DFO is permitted to file the Modelling on or before 16 November 2012
The Department of Justice filed the request with the JRP on Monday Oct. 30, 2012, less than 48 hours after a major earthquake of magnitude 7.7 struck off Haida Gwaii just after 8 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, on Saturday Oct. 27, shaking much of northern BC. There have been numerous aftershocks since the main quake.
The latest aftershock from the 7.7 magnitude earthquake off Haida Gwaii occurred east of the islands, according to preliminary data released by the US Geological Survey. Canadian data, however, shows the quake west of Haida Gwaii.
The USGS marked the aftershock at 52.500°N 131.100°W at a depth of one kilometre or .6 mile. No tsunami warning was issued.
Natural Resouces Canada data puts the quake at 52.4 North 132.4 West, adding the earthquake “was felt at Queen Charlotte City and Skidegate. There are no reports of damage, and none would be expected.”
The NRC map shows the aftershock on the Queen Charlotte fault line. However, if the USGS map is correct, an aftershock on the east side of Haida Gwaii could raise questions of the potential hazard for Douglas Channel.
Both services said the aftershock occurred at 3:15 am November 1, using Universal Time. An automatic bulletin from the Canadian earthquake centre recorded the quake as 5.0 20:15 PDT. Oct, 31, 97 km SSW of Queen Charlotte City.
No tsunami warning was issued.
According to the USGS the aftershock was
181km (112mi) SSE of Masset, Canada
208km (129mi) SSW of Prince Rupert, Canada
278km (173mi) SW of Terrace, Canada
493km (306mi) NW of Campbell River, Canada
679km (422mi) SSE of Juneau, Alaska
Northwest Coast Energy News will update this story if newer data is available Thursday morning. Although no tsunami warning was issued, tonight’s event is another example of the confusion that can result from automatically generated earthquake data. If the event east of Haida Gwaii is confirmed, it means that the level of tsunami hazard for Douglas Channel will have to be reconsidered.
As a 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit off Haida Gwaii shortly after eight o’clock on Saturday, I was at the Haisla Recreation Centre as the Haisla Nation marked the return of the G’ps Golox totem pole. Like a boat being lifted by gentle waves, the Rec Centre began to quietly roll up and down, then the rolling seemed to accelerate just a bit. I realized that it was an earthquake. As I told CBC’s Ian Hanomansing later in the evening, I have been in a number of earthquakes, and for me at least, this quake, at least at Kitamaat Village, the rec centre was not shaking as badly as in some of the others I have felt.
The subsequent events of the evening show that the emergency communication system in Kitimat needs immediate improvement.
Now as a former network producer for both CBC and CTV I have handled a large number of earthquake stories from around the world over the past quarter century (sitting at a desk, I should add). With that experience, I was hoping to get a cell hit at the village so I could bring up Twitter. I already subscribe to the US Geological Survey and Canadian earthquake alert feeds. The US and Canadian computers automatically report earthquakes within seconds of detection and send out a Twitter bulletin as the same time as those computers are alerting their human masters. If I had been able to get cell service I would have known within minutes that the Haida Gwaii earthquake was a major event. (I did follow the alerts from my computer once I got back to Kitimat itself).
Recommendation One. Cell service in Kitimat, Kitamaat Village, the harbour area must be upgraded as soon as possible. Telus has applied to council to erect a new cell tower here. Given the events of the past 24 hours, District Council should make sure that all parts of the District of Kitimat and the Haisla Nation have proper cell coverage no matter what service one subscribes to, not just for the convenience of subscribers but for emergency situations.
With experience one knows that in a situation such as Saturday night, the official websites such as the US Geological Survey and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center as well as Natural Resources Canada are often overwhelmed. That is why the media use RSS feeds, Twitter feeds and e-mail alerts. It is also important to realize that these emergency organizations have their own language and procedures. It appears that a lot of the confusion on Saturday came from misinterpretation of the various Canadian and US warning systems.
Recommendation Two. If Kitimat emergency services are not familiar with how the US based earthquake and tsunami centres work, they should be trained in those systems, simply because the Americans are well ahead of Canada in these areas because the alerts go out by computer automatically and are constantly updated and as Saturday night showed, are often quicker and farther ahead than the Canadian systems.
Once I was back in Kitimat, it was clear that communications were breaking down, and this was at a time the tsunami warning was still active. There were numerous messages on Twitter and Facebook, from residents of Kitimat either trying to find out what was going on or retweeting/reposting rumours including one that the Kildala neighbourhood was being evacuated. I am told that residents were calling the RCMP to ask what was going on. This was another breakdown since North District HQ in Prince George handles all police services in this region and were likely busy with quake calls on Haida Gwaii, so that information calls in Kitimat that should have been handled by an emergency services public communications person were being handled the Mounties.
There were reports that one man was going door to door in Kildala telling people to evacuate. Whether this person was well intentioned but misinformed or a imposter intent on mischief doesn’t matter, there was an information vacuum.
It was clear from Twitter that other districts and municipalities were using that service to spread official information. (I don’t follow other areas on Facebook so it is unclear if information was being posted on Facebook. There was certainly no official presence from Kitimat on Facebook Saturday night.) It appears from reports in the Kitimat Daily and tweets about the Northern Sentinel that Kitimat emergency services was sending information out by fax. While faxing information was an advance in the 1980s, faxes are obsolete in 2012. Many major newsrooms no longer use fax machines after being inundated by junk faxes and after they laid off all the editorial assistants who would have cleared those fax machines (even by the late 90s most faxes were dumped in the garbage unless the EA had been told to look for a specific fax). Also though it is now more than two years since I returned to Kitimat and I regularly freelance for Global, CBC and Canadian Press, I had no contact from anyone in emergency services (also I don’t have a fax machine).
Recommendation Three: The District of Kitimat must immediately bring its emergency communications into the 21st century, with Twitter accounts, a Facebook page and an emergency e-mail or text message plan for media and other officials who can get the messages. ( A number of jurisdictions already use text messages for emergency alerts at various graduated levels, official, media, public). When the main means of communication today is social media, an emergency organization can no longer follow outdated procedures, an organization must be on social media immediately it becomes clear that there is an emergency (as we are seeing with all the official tweets with the Hurricane Sandy crisis on the east coast)
In an emergency situation, local radio and television are vital to communications and letting people know what is going on.
The inadequate coverage of the quake was certainly not the fault the of the current CFTK news staff who were working hard (probably on their own time and unpaid) keeping Twitter updated with what they knew. The fault lies with corporate management across the media which these days doesn’t want to spend the money and resources and training to fulfill the public service portion of their broadcast licence mandate.
(There was a similar breakdown in the May 2000, Walkerton, Ontario e-coli crisis where the local medical officer of health was initially unable to alert the public because local radio wasn’t staffed on the weekends–the local stations were taking satellite feeds from their corporate headquarters)
In 1964, long before satellites, when the microwave towers that joined CFTK to the Canadian networks were still being built, the staff of CFTK, then, of course under local management, went to a live special within an hour of the Anchorage quake being felt far off from Alaska in Kitimat. The CFTK anchors were keeping its audience updated with “rip and read” wire copy, a camera on an atlas for a map and phone interviews.
In contrast, on this Saturday night, CFTK was taking the CBC BC network feed which was a hockey rerun (hardly a show that attracts major audience numbers and certainly not a vital broadcast) until the CBC management in Vancouver decided to go to full network news special.
Since CFTK is the station that broadcasts not only to Kitimat, but to Haida Gwaii as well, CFTK should have been ahead of Vancouver on this story, called in its staff and mounted their own live special, joining the CBC feed when it began but, as on an election night, breaking away for local news when justified. CFTK has a responsibility under its licence from the CRTC to provide that service to the northwestern region, not just sending what ad revenue it generates back to Astral.
Rio Tinto Alcan
Another question that must be asked in this situation is where was Rio Tinto Alcan on Saturday night? In all areas that were under a tsunami warning the first scrutiny and clue if there was to be a problem is that region would be found by observing what has happening between the low tide line and the maximum hide tide line. In Prince Rupert, from the Twitter feeds I saw, public officials were monitoring the waterfront and the tide lines and updating the public. RTA has all the advantages of the private port of Kitimat. It appears that monitoring the water level at the tide lines at the port of Kitimat was the responsibility of Plant Protection. Was RTA communicating what was happening with emergency services? Since RTA runs the private port, unlike in other jurisdictions, RTA had a responsibility to the people of Kitimat to report promptly to the public the conditions on the waterfront. Corporate public relations cannot just be sending out news releases with “good news.” That means that RTA public relations should have used its corporate Twitter account which usually sends out a news release every few weeks, to keep Kitimat updated on a minute-by-minute basis. If RTA communications staff in Kitimat do not have access to the RTA corporate Twitter account, they should establish their own local Twitter feed.
Both in 1964 and in 2012, the tsunami that came up Douglas Channel was minimal. But we know that this region does have a record of major quakes and that Douglas Channel has also experienced major landslides that can, in some circumstances, trigger a tsunami without an earthquake. The next few years will be seeing more industrial development along Douglas Channel which can also bring other hazards to the Kitimat region. While there are always communications breakdowns in situations like happened on Saturday, it is clear that the Kitimat emergency communications system needs a major upgrade to make sure the public is informed quickly and accurately of what is going on.
Updates with statement from Natural Resources Canada, new filings by Enbridge Northern Gateway and the Attorney General of Canada (in box below)
The Geological Survey of Canada has identified a tsunami hazard and a possible seismic fault in Douglas Channel near Kitimat. A scientific paper by the Geological Survey and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says there were once two giant landslides on Douglas Channel that triggered major tsunamis and that the landslides were possibly caused by an earthquake on the fault line.
Kitimat is the proposed site of the Enbridge Northern Gateway project and at least three liquified natural gas projects.
If the projects go ahead, hundreds of supertankers with either bitumen or LNG will be sailing in the channel for years to come.
A filing by the Attorney General of Canada with the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel is asking the JRP for leave to file late written evidence long after the original deadline of December 2011. The Attorney General’s motion was filed on August 17, but went unnoticed until the Kitimat environmental group Douglas Channel Watch brought the matter up with District of Kitimat Council tonight (Sept. 17).
Appended to the Attorney General’s motion is a copy of a scientific paper from the Geological Survey “Submarine slope failures and tsunami hazards in coast British Columbia: Douglas Channel and Kitimat Arm” by Kim W Conway, J.V. Barrie of the Geological Survey and Richard E. Thomson of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The report says the scientists discovered “evidence of large submarine slope failures in southern Douglas Channel.”
It goes on to say: “The failures comprise blocks of bedrock and related materials that appear to have been detached directly from the near shore off Hawkesbury Island.” Hawkesbury Island and many of the other islands in Douglas Channel are built up with material left over from the ice age glaciers and thus are vulnerable to displacement and landslides.
The research identified two slides, one estimated at 32 million cubic metres and a second of 31 million cubic metres. The report goes on to say that the discovery of an “apparently active fault presents the possibility that they may have been triggered by ground motion or surface rupture of the fault during past earthquake events.”
The slope failure landslides are covered with thick layers of mud, and that, the scientists say, could mean that the failures could be ancient, possibly occurring 5.000 to 10,000 years ago. Further research is needed to confirm the date of the giant slides.
What is worrying about the discovery is that fact that there were two recent submarine slope failures on the Kitimat Arm of Douglas Channel. both creating tsunamis. The first slope failure occurred on October 17, 1974, triggering a 2.4 metre tsunami at low tide. Then on April 27, 1975 there was a second slope failure near low tide on the northeast slope of the Kitimat Arm that generated an 8.2 metre tsunami. The 1975 tsunami destroyed the Northland Navigation dock near Kitimat and damaged the Haisla First Nation docks at Kitamaat Village.
The paper says that “Additional geological research is required to better delineate the age of the submarine failures, their triggers, and their mechanisms of emplacement.”
Urgent new research is underway and the filing by the Attorney General says when the Department of Justice requested leave to file late evidence says it anticipates that the further research by DFO is expected to be completed by November 1. The Natural Resources Canada Earth Sciences Sector began a national assessment of submarine slope failures in Canada in late 2011 and completion of the Pacific portion of this assessment is targeted for December of 2012.
The Attorney General’s filing says that DFO is now modelling “potential wave heights and speeds that may have resulted from the two previously unrecognized submarine slope failures in the Douglas Channel.” The model will use high resolution scans of the Douglas Channel seafloor to create the models.
The survey of Douglas Channel in 2010 suggests the possible existence of a fault immediately to the south of the second ancient slide on Hawkesbury Island.
The GSC paper says that evidence for a continuous fault was observed by aligned stream beds and fractures on the south end of Hawkesbury Island, about four kilometers from the site of the second ancient slide. The possible fault then appears to terminate far to the south near Aristazabal Island on the Inside Passage. The Geological Survey says that eleven small earthquakes, all less than magnitude three, have appeared with 20 kilometres of the suspected fault over the past 25 years.
The paper says that the scientists conclude that the slides appear to have left very steep slopes at or near the shoreline that could be susceptible to future failure events.
A large potential slope failure has been identified near one of the ancient slides….
in the absence of additional evidence, the fault must be considered a potential trigger for the submarine failure events….the triggers for the failures have not been defined; however, their proximity to a potentially active fault represents one potential source. The failures probably generated tsunamis during emplacement and conditions exist for similar failures and associated tsunamis to occur along this segment of Douglas Channel in the future.
The scientists say that detailed tsunami modelling is underway to
provide an improved understanding of the generation, propagation, attenuation, and likely coastal inundation of tsunami waves that would have been created by slides… or that could be generated from similar future events. Only through the development and application of this type of tsunami modelling will it be possible to gauge the level of hazard posed by the identified submarine slope failures to shore installations and infrastructure, or to devise ways to effectively mitigate the impacts of future such events.
The filing by the Attorney General offers to bring the scientists to the Joint Review Panel to appear as witnesses sometime during the final hearings.
The filing notes that the current evidence tendered to the JRP by Enbridge, and other parties does demonstrate the potential for marine geohazards and associated tsunami events. Enbridge’s design of the proposed Northern Gateway marine terminal and its operational plans took into consideration the current state of knowledge of geohazards including earthquakes and tsunamis at the time of filing. Enbridge has said it would undertake further geological survey during the detailed design phase for the terminal.
At the time Natural Resources Canada noted that the information provided for the Environmental Review was sufficient at that time, now the Attorney General says:
the geographic scope for potential landslide induced tsunami hazards is now better understood to extend beyond the Kitimat Arm. NRCan and DFO seek by this motion to ensure that this Panel, and the Parties before the Panel, have the most up to date information on geohazards in the Douglas Channel.
Updates: DFO report in October will clarify the tsunamis in Douglas Channel.
Statement from Natural Resources Canada
Natural Resources Canada sent this statement to Northwest Coast Energy News on September 20, 2012.
In reference to the opening paragraph of your September 18th editorial entitled Geological Survey of Canada identifies tsunami hazard: Possible fault line on Douglas Channel, we would like to clarify the following. Although the ancient large submarine slope failures which our scientists have identified may have caused tsunamis, this is not a certainty. It is important to note that Fisheries and Oceans Canada is currently studying this information to model potential wave heights and speeds.
As our report states, only through the development and application of this type of tsunami modelling will it be possible to gauge the level of hazard posed by the identified submarine slope failures to shore installations and infrastructure, or to devise ways to effectively mitigate the impacts of future such events.
Northern Gateway response filed on August 31, 2012
Enbridge Northern Gateway filed this response to the Attorney General’s motion on August 31.
This motion of the Federal Government Participants requests permission to file late evidence consisting of a report entitled “Submarine Slope Failures and
Tsunami Hazard in Coastal British Columbia: Douglas Channel and Kitimat Arm” regarding tsunami hazard and additional modelling work based on that report.
Northern Gateway does not object to the filing of this late intervenor evidence.
It may be relevant and Northern Gateway accepts that theevidence could not be filed earlier. However, Northern Gateway would like the opportunity to conductits own additional modelling work which it would be prepared to provide to DFO for comment prior to the filing of any modelling work by DFO in this proceeding.
Attorney General response to Enbridge on September 10, 2012.
The Attorney General of Canada responded to Enbridge by saying:
Attorney General responds DFo is prepared to await filing its subseqent modelling work in these proceedings until such time as it has received, reviewed and commented upon additional modelling work as proposed by NGP Inc.
DFO nots howeverand wishes to alert the JRP that the NGP INc proposed may occasion a delay in the filing of the DFO moedling work which is now proposed for filing on or about October 31, 2012. Delivery of DFO comments as requested will depend on when DFO received the NGP Inc modelling work, the time and resources required by DFO to study and provide comments on the NGP modelling work and unforeseen factors which may have an impact upon completion the commentary. As such,
DFO is prepared to file its modeling work on or about October 31, 2012, but subject to any further direction or request by the panel.
The Haisla Nation has confirmed in a filing with the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel that it opposes the Enbridge Northern Gateway project.
The document, filed June 29, 2012, is one of the most significant filed with the JRP during all the years of the debate over the controversial Northern Gateway, setting out a three stage process that will govern, whether Enbridge or the federal government like it or not, the future of the Northern Gateway pipeline project.
First, the Haisla Nation affirms that it opposes the Northern Gateway project
Second, the Haisla Nation is demanding that the federal government, in recognition of aboriginal rights and title, reject the Northern Gateway project on Haisla traditional territory.
Third, probably anticipating that Stephen Harper and his government will attempt to force the Northern Gateway on British Columbia, the Haisla are demanding meaningful consultation and set out a stringent set of minimum conditions for the project on Haisla traditional territory.
The Haisla also say that there already projects that are better suited to their traditional territory, the liquified natural gas projects.
The Haisla position that Ottawa must reject the pipeline if First Nations oppose it is the opening round in the constitutional battle over not just the pipeline, but entire question of aboriginal rights and title. So far the government of Stephen Harper has said that First Nations do not have a “veto” on the pipeline and terminal project.
In the filing with the Joint Review panel, the Haisla outline nine reasons for opposition to the Northern Gateway project:
1. Northern Gateway is proposing to site its project in a location that places at risk the ecological integrity of a large portion and significant aspects of Haisla Nation Territory and resources.
2. All three aspects of the proposed project – the pipelines, the marine terminal and tankers – have the potential to impact Haisla Nation lands, waters and resources.
3. Northern Gateway has neither conducted sufficient due diligence nor provided sufficient information with respect to the assessment of a number of critical aspects of the proposed project, including but not limited to project design, impacts, risks, accidents and malfunctions, spill response, potential spill consequences and the extent, degree and duration of any significant adverse environmental effects.
4. There are significant risks of spills of diluted bitumen, synthetic crude, and condensate from corrosion, landslide hazards, seismic events along the pipeline route and at the terminal site; as well asloss of cargo or service fuels from tanker accidents, with no realistic plan provided for spill containment, cleanup, habitat restoration or regeneration of species dependent on the affected habitat.
5. Diluted bitumen, synthetic crude and condensate are all highly toxic to the environment and living systems and the consequences and effects of a spill could be devastating on the resources that support the Haisla Nation way of life, and would therefore have significant adverse effects on Haisla Nation culture and cultural heritage and aboriginal rights.
6. Risk assessments and technology have not overcome the potential for human error, wherein it is well established that 80% of oil tanker accidents that cause oil spills at sea are a result of human errors: badly handled manoeuvres, neglected maintenance, insufficient checking of systems, lack of communication between crew members, fatigue, or an inadequate response to a minor incident
causing it to escalate into a major accident often resulting in groundings and collisions (http://www.black-tides.com/uk/source/oil-tanker-accidents/causes-accidents.php). It has also become increasingly obvious that maintenance of pipeline integrity and the remote detection of pipeline ruptures is inadequate as exemplified by major environmental damage from recent pipeline ruptures in Michigan and Alberta.
7. The proposed project requires the alienation of Haisla Nation aboriginal title land, and the federal government has refused to engage in consultation with the Haisla Nation about the potential impacts of the proposed project on Haisla Nation aboriginal rights, including aboriginal title.
8. The proposed project would require the use of Haisla Nation aboriginal title land for a purpose that is inconsistent with Haisla Nation stewardship principles and with the Haisla Nation’s own aspirations for this land.
9. For the reasons set out above, the proposed project would constitute an unjustified infringement of Haisla Nation aboriginal title and rights. It would therefore be illegal for the Crown to authorize the project.
Canada is obliged to decline approval of the project
Up until now, the federal government has refused to engage First Nations in the northwestern region over the issue of the Northern Gateway pipeline and terminal, saying that the constitutionally mandated consultation will take place after the Joint Review Panel has released its report. However, the government’s Bill C-38, which gives the federal cabinet (actually the prime minister) the power to decide the pipeline means that the JRP report will be less significant than it would have been before the Conservatives gained a majority government in May, 2010.
The Haisla say the nation has “repeatedly requested early engagement by federal government decision-makers to develop, together with the Haisla Nation, a meaningful process for consultation and accommodation in relation to the proposed project.”
The filing says JRP and “the federal government’s ‘Aboriginal Consultation Framework’ have been imposed on the Haisla Nation and other First Nations, with significant aspects of the concerns expressed by the Haisla Nation about this approach being ignored.”
The Haisla says it “continues to seek a commitment from the federal government to the joint development of a meaningful process to assess the proposed project and its potential impacts on Haisla Nation aboriginal rights, including aboriginal title.”
Later in the filing the Haisla say:
The Haisla Nation has… repeatedly asked federal decision-makers to commit to the joint development of a meaningful consultation process with the Haisla Nation. The federal Crown decision-makers have made it very clear that they have no intention of meeting with the Haisla Nation until the Joint Review Panel’s review of the proposed project is complete…
The federal Crown has failed to provide any clarity, however, about what procedural aspects of consultation it has delegated to Northern Gateway. Northern Gateway has not consulted with the Haisla Nation and has not advised the Haisla Nation that Canada has delegated any aspects of the consultation process.
The Haisla then go on to say:
Canada is legally required to work with the Haisla Nation to develop and follow such a process. If the process establishes that the approval of the proposed project would constitute an unjustified infringement of Haisla Nation aboriginal rights or aboriginal title, then Canada would be legally obliged to decline approval.
Deficiencies and Conditions
Enbridge asked the Haisla that if there are conditions of approval that would nonetheless
address, in whole or in part, the Nation’s concerns; and then asked for details “on the nature of any conditions that the Haisla Nation would suggest be imposed on the Project, should it be approved.”
The Haisla reply that because there are “significant deficiencies in the evidence provided by Northern Gateway to date.” The nation goes on to say that “the acknowledged risks that have not been adequately addressed in the proposed project.” The Haisla Nation then says it “does not foresee any conditions that could be attached to the project as currently conceived and presented that would eliminate the Haisla Nation’s concerns.”
The Haisla then repeat that Enbridge has not provided sufficient information so that
it is difficult for the Haisla Nation to identify conditions to attach to the proposed project as it is still trying to fully understand the potential impacts of the project and the proposed mitigation. This is primarily because there is insufficient information provided by Northern Gateway in its application material.
Although we have attempted to elicit additional information through the JRP’s information request process, Northern Gateway has not provide adequate and complete answers to the questions posed.
The Haisla then anticipate that Stephen Harper will force the pipeline and terminal on British Columbia and say:
Nevertheless, if the project were to be approved AFTER the Crown meaningfully
consulted and accommodated the Haisla Nation with respect to the impacts of
the proposed project on its aboriginal title and rights, and if that consultation were
meaningful yet did not result in changes to the proposed project, the following
conditions would, at a minimum, have to be attached to the project.
The emphasis of the word “after” is in the original document.
The document that then goes on to present an extensive list of list of conditions the Haisla believe should be imposed on the Enbridge Northern Gateway if the project goes ahead.
The conditions include comprehensive monitoring of water quality, fisheries, wildlife and birds, vegetation throughout the Kitimat River watershed, Kitimat Arm and Douglas Channel; development of comprehensive spill response capability throughout the Kitimat River Valley, Kitmat Arm and Douglas Channel.
The Haisla also want soil and erosion control plans; water management plans; control and storage plans for fuels, lubricants and other potential contaminants; detailed plans for equipment deployment and habitat reclamation of disturbed or cleared areas.
The Haisla also want much more detailed studies before any construction, including analysis of terrain stability and slide potential throughout the pipeline corridor and at the storage tank and terminal site; engineering designs to mitigate seismic risk and local weather extremes; development of pipeline integrity specifications and procedures including best practices for leak detection; storage tank integrity specifications, maintenance and monitoring; assessment of spill containment, spill response and spill capacity requirements throughout the Kitimat River watershed, Kitimat Arm and Douglas Channel.
On tankers the Haisla want more details beyond the plans already filed by Enbridge including
detailed tanker specifications, detailed tanker and tug traffic management procedures; detailed port management specifications and procedures including operating limits for tanker operation, movement and docking.
The Haisla are also demanding “on going consultation” on all issues involved by the National Energy Board prior to any decision on any changes to or sign off on conditions and commitments to any certificate that is issued.
The Haisla want an independent third party be part of a committee to oversee the construction proecess to monitor certificate compliance during construction of the marine terminal and the pipeline.
Once the pipeline and terminal operational, the Haisla want conditions imposed on the project that include ongoing monitoring of the terrain along the pipeline, a system that would automatically shut down the pipeline shutdown whenever a leak detection alarm occurs.
The Hasila want conditions “on the disposal of any contamination that must be removed as
a result of an accident or malfunction resulting in a spill that will minimize additional habitat destruction and maximize the potential for regeneration of habitat and resources damaged by the spill.”
As well as more detailed parameters for the tankers, tugs, and pilotage procedures, the Haisla want approval of any future changes in those procedures.
The Haisla are also concerned about the “alienation” of a large area of their traditional territory by the construction of the Northern Gateway project as well as the “additional infrastructure” required by adequate spill response capability and spill response equipment cache sites.
The Haisla say “all of the land alienations required for the proposed project would profoundly
infringe Haisla Nation aboriginal title which is, in effect, a constitutionally protected ownership right” and goes on to say “proposed project would use Haisla Nation aboriginal title land in a way that is inconsistent with Haisla Nation stewardship of its lands, waters and resources and with the Haisla Nation’s own aspirations for the use of this land.”
The Haisla filing then goes on to say:
Since aboriginal title is a constitutionally protected right to use the aboriginal title land for the purposes the Haisla Nation sees fit, this adverse use would fundamentally infringe the aboriginal title of the Haisla Nation.
The report also expresses concerns about the ongoing socio-economic affects of such a large project.
It concludes by saying:
These issues are important. They go to the very heart of Haisla Nation culture.
They go to the Haisla Nation relationship with the lands, waters, and resources of
its Territory. A major spill from the pipeline at the marine terminal or from a
tanker threatens to sever us from or damage our lifestyle built on harvesting and
gathering seafood and resources throughout our Territory.
Northern Gateway proposes a pipeline across numerous tributaries to the Kitimat
River. A spill into these watercourses is likely to eventually occur. The evidence
before the Panel shows that pipeline leaks or spills occur with depressing
One of Enbridge’s own experiences, when it dumped 3,785,400 liters of diluted
bitumen into the Kalamazoo River, shows that the concern of a spill is real and
not hypothetical. A thorough understanding of this incident is critical to the
current environmental assessment since diluted bitumen is what Northern
Gateway proposes to transport. However, nothing was provided in the application
materials to address the scope of impact, the level of effort required for cleanup
and the prolonged effort required to restore the river. An analysis of this incident
would provide a basis for determining what should be in place to maintain
pipeline integrity as well as what should be in place locally to respond to any spill.
The Kalamazoo spill was aggravated by an inability to detect the spill, by an
inability to respond quickly and effectively, and by an inability to predict the fate
of the diluted bitumen in the environment. As a result, the Kalamazoo River has
suffered significant environmental damage. The long-term cumulative
environmental damage from this spill is yet to be determined.
Looking to the future, the Haisla are also asking for a plan for the eventual decommissioning of the project, pointing out that “ Northern Gateway has not provided information on decommissioning that is
detailed enough to allow the Haisla Nation to set out all its concerns about the
potential impacts from decommissioning at this point in time.”
Haisla leaders have already expressed concern about the legacy of the Eurocan paper plant. Now it tells Enbridge
This is not good enough. The Haisla Nation needs to know how Northern Gateway proposes to undertake decommissioning, what the impacts will be, and that there will be financial security in place to ensure this is done properly.
Asserts aboriginal title
The section of the report concludes by saying:
The Haisla Nation asserts aboriginal title to its Territory. Since the essence of
aboriginal title is the right of the aboriginal title holder to use land according to its
own discretion, Haisla Nation aboriginal title entails a constitutionally protected
ability of the Haisla Nation to make decisions concerning land and resource use
within Haisla Nation Territory. Any government decision concerning lands,
waters, and resource use within Haisla Nation Territory that conflicts with a
Haisla lands, waters or resources use decision is only valid to the extent that the
government can justify this infringement of Haisla Nation aboriginal title.
The Supreme Court of Canada has established that infringements of aboriginal
title can only be justified if there has been, in the case of relatively minor
infringements, consultation with the First Nation. Most infringements will require
something much deeper than consultation if the infringement is to be justified.
The Supreme Court has noted that in certain circumstances the consent of the
aboriginal nation may be required. Further, compensation will ordinarily be
required if an infringement of aboriginal title is to be justified [Delgamuukw].
The Haisla then go on to say that the preferred use of the land in question is for the liquified natural gas projects:
The Haisla Nation has a chosen use for the proposed terminal site. This land
was selected in the Haisla Nation’s treaty land offer submitted to British Columbia
and Canada in 2005, as part of the BC Treaty Negotiation process, as lands
earmarked for Haisla Nation economic development.
The Haisla Nation has had discussions with the provincial Crown seeking to
acquire these lands for economic development purposes for a liquefied natural
gas project. The Haisla Nation has had discussions with potential partners about
locating a liquefied natural gas facility on the site that Northern Gateway
proposes to acquire for the marine terminal. The Haisla Nation sees these lands
as appropriate for a liquefied natural gas project as such a project is not nearly
as detrimental to the environment as a diluted bitumen export project.
Northwest Coast Energy News is attempting to contact Enbridge Northern Gateway for comment on the Haisla filing. Response may be delayed by the Canada Day holiday.
American scientists studying the aftermath of the March 11, 2011, Tohoku, Japan earthquake and the resulting devastating tsunami say that a similar tsunami could be generated by an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.
The 9.0 magnitude Tohoku earthquake created a tsunami that was a high as 10-metres. The events killed about 18,000 people. Debris from the tsunami is now appearing on the west coast of North America.
The study, published May 8, in EOS, the Transactions of the American Geophysical Society, says:
A tsunami triggered by an earthquake along the AASZ [Alaskan-Aleutian Subduction Zone] would cross the Pacific Ocean and cause extensive damage along highly populated U.S. coasts, with ports being particularly vulnerable.
A subduction zone is where one tectonic plate, in this case, the Pacific plate, is forced down under another plate, the Alaskan continental arc.
Data from the Tohoku earthquake suggests that portions of the Alaskan-Aleutian Subduction Zone could be just as hazardous.
The study, by Holly Ryan, of the Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center of the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Ca. and colleagues says the Japanese earthquake surprised scientists because the magnitude of both the earthquake and the tsunami were much larger than expected for the Tohoku region off northeastern Japan. The scientists say the region was originally considered low risk because the deep water section of the tectonic plate boundary that ruptured had been aseismic [a fault where there are no records of earthquakes] prior to the March 2011 event and was thought to be too weak to accumulate the strain to trigger a major earthquake.
In Japan and the Aleutians, there are seldom records of earthquakes where the upper tectonic plate is made up of weak, water-laden trench sediment accreted [stuck or locked] to the margin along thrust faults. The accreted sediment is not strong enough to fail in an earthquake (stick-slip behaviour) but, rather usually deforms without causing an earthquake.
Now research from the Japan shows that deep water section of the Tohoku region was fully
locked (accumulating strain at the convergence rate). The continental basement rock lies within
20 kilometres of the trench in deep water above the boundary at Tohoku. That created major accumulation of strain on the fault.
So when the earthquake occurred, there were large amounts of slip on the Tohoku megathrust, as well as corresponding movement on a deep water branch fault. Both contributed to the displacement of large volumes of water, creating the giant Japanese tsunami that smashed into the coast.
The Alaskan-Aleutian Subduction Zone is similar to the Tohoku region. The AASZ begins at a deep trench where the Pacific plate under thrusts the Alaskan continental arc and the Aleutian Islands oceanic arc.
Part of that subduction zone triggered the March 27, 1964 Good Friday magnitude 9.2 Anchorage, Alaska, megathrust earthquake. It was the largest quake ever recorded in North America and the second largest worldwide since seismic events were recorded. The epicentre was about 20 kilometres north of Prince William Sound, where a fault ruptured 25 kilometres below the surface. That quake causing major damage in Anchorage, 125 kilometres to the west and in Valdez 64 kilometres to the east. The megathursts along the ocean floor shifts created large tsunamis as high as 67 metres that struck along the North American coast from Alaska to California.
In Anchorage, nine people were killed by the quake, much of the downtown was destroyed and one neighbourhood lost 75 homes in a massive landslide. Two villages near Anchorage were destroyed when the land sank.
According to Wikipedia, the damage to British Columbia alone was estimated at $10 million in 1964 dollars (about $75 million in 2012 dollars according to the Bank of Canada inflation calculator) The Anchorage quake actually shook Kitimat and caused minor damage in the town. Due to factors such as the location of the quake at Prince William Sound , the tides and other factors along Douglas Channel, the tsunami coming into Kitimat was just a few centimetres high. Across the northwest and down the coast, there was more damage, the tsunami that hit Prince Rupert was 1.4 metres. Again to the configuration of the coast, tides and other factors, Port Alberni on Vancouver Island was hit twice, washing away 55 homes and damaging 375 others.
In California, 12 people were killed at Crescent City. There was damage in Los Angeles and as far off as Hawaii.
The study says that an Anchorage type event occurs every 900 years, so that area appears to be out of immediate danger,
According to the study, there was a magnitude 8.6 earthquake near Uninmak Pass in the same region in 1946 that triggered a tsunami that caused damage along the west coast, killed 150 people in Hawaii and inundated shorelines on South Pacific Islands and as far away as Antarctica. Another earthquake near the Andreanof Islands in 1957 also triggered a dangerous tsunami.
The new danger zone could be at the Semidi Islands, southwest of the better known Kodiak Island, where a 400 kilometre-long section of the subduction zone ruptured in 1938, causing a 8.2 magnitude earthquake. In the 1938 earthquake, the study says, that quake was beneath relatively shallow water, so it generated only a modest tsunami.
The Semidi Islands area is now fully locked, the study says, and enough strain has built up to trigger a similar event.
In 1788, a major earthquake in the Semidi Islands was recorded by Russian settlers. It is that area that the study says could trigger a Tohoku type tsunami. The segment of the trench in deeper water has not had a rupture since 1788. Satellite observations show that strain along the fault is accumulating “at a high rate.” The trench is four to five kilometres deep, just like at Tohoku, so displacement of the ocean water could trigger a similar giant tsunami.
Potential rupture of the near-trench section of the plate boundary is worrisome in that similar to the plate boundary near Tohoku, it is composed of rigid basement rock that extends beneath the margin to water depths of four to five kilometres. The presence of rigid basement rock close to the trench allows for an earthquake source beneath deep water, which would significantly amplify the height of the resultant tsunami. In addition, the possible additional rupture of an as yet undiscovered splay or branch fault, similar to circumstances during the Tohoku earthquake, would further increase the tsunami height.
The authors of the study call for more studies to compare the Aleutian area with the Tohoku region of Japan. Scientists are now working on “Paleotsunami studies” so there is a a history of tsunamis generated in the Aleutians that can be correlated to specific earthquakes.
Most of the attention on the west coast of North America has been centred on the Cascadia fault from northern California to southern British Columbia, which could also trigger a major earthquake and tsunami. It is time that scientists, emergency planners and government paid more attention to Alaska.
My family was just sitting down for dinner in Kitimat on that Good Friday evening in 1964 when the whole house began to shake. The quake in Anchorage lasted for four minutes, the shock that hit Kitimat was probably less than a minute.
After dinner, tuning to the local TV station, CFTK, the Friday night broadcasts was interrupted by a news special, an extraordinary even for a small station, which in those days had no microwave communications with the rest of the television universe, with the local anchor telling the story based on wire service and other reports that were already trickling in, giving the people of the Kitimat-Terrace-Prince Rupert region the news of the devastation in Alaska.
Fast forward 48 years and the big question on the northwest coast is the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and whether or not the pipeline and the terminals in Kitimat harbour are vulnerable to earthquake and tsunami.
In public presentations in Kitimat, Enbridge officials have always minimized the potential danger to the Northern Gateway from earthquake and tsunami. In its latest presentation, to District of Kitimat Council on April 16, 2012, Enbridge engineer Drum Cavers told council that “all of the major earthquakes have occurred well off shore on the Queen Charlotte Fault,” and that “seismic activity is low relative to south coastal BC.” Cavers also said “the Kitsumcalum-Kitimat Valley is not the site of unusual seismic events or faults.” The presentation points to an 1973 quake in the Skeena River valley that Enbridge says was small and the planned pipeline is within “seismic design parameters.”
Cavers’ presentation said “No fault breaks to surface are known near the pipeline route, but if one should be found during further work, there are methods to mitigate fault motion if required.”
There has been no mention by Enbridge Northern Gateway of the potential problems that could be caused to the Kitimat pipeline and the terminal by a major earthquake or tsunami from the Alaska Aleutian region.
I was out of town during Cavers’ presentation but I have asked questions about the 1964 quake and potential problems from Alaska at three public meetings, including a direct question to Northern Gateway president John Carruthers at the September, 2011, public forum at Kitimat’s Mount Elizabeth Theatre. Despite promises, Enbridge has so far not responded to my questions.