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Scientists have recently learned about a fault line in the Pacific Ocean that has triggered at least seven large-magnitude earthquakes in the past 3,500 years. Within the next decades, the fault line is prone to trigger another massive earthquake followed by a tsunami that can render large portions of the US Pacific Northwest beyond recognition. Kathryn Schulz, a Pulitzer Prize–winning staff writer at The New Yorker, has penned a gripping scientific narrative about the impending megaquake. getAbstract believes it’s a must-read for residents of the Pacific Northwest, but recommends reading it no matter where you live.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How a little-known fault line off the US Pacific Northwest coast is prone to cause a massive earthquake and tsunami,
  • How scientists found out about the Cascadia subduction zone problem,
  • Why researchers believe the next Cascadia earthquake is long overdue, and
  • How many people a Cascadia earthquake might affect.

About the Author

Kathryn Schulz is a Pulitzer Prize–winning staff writer at The New Yorker.



A little-known fault line in the Pacific Ocean could cause “the worst natural disaster in the history of North America” by 2065, earthquake experts predict. The Cascadia subduction zone, which runs offshore from Vancouver, Canada, to Northern California, is where the Juan de Fuca oceanic plate is sliding underneath the North American tectonic plate. At some point, there will be a “backstop,” which will cause the continental plate to “rebound like a spring.” If only part of the subduction zone rebounds, an earthquake with a magnitude of between 8.0 and 8.6 will occur – comparable to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. If the entire fault line opens up, however, the resulting earthquake will reach a magnitude of up to 9.2. Because of the rupture, the continental shelf beneath the ocean “will drop by as much as six feet and rebound 30 to 100 feet to the west,” triggering a massive tsunami that will affect about 140,000 square miles along the Pacific Northwest coast. The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami will kill almost 13,000 people (the figure could rise if it hits during main tourist season), injure another 27,000 and displace nearly a million more. It will hit the Pacific Northwest particularly hard due to the lack of an early-warning system and other seismic safeguards.

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