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Tsunami on the Northern California Coast

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March 28, 2011

Tsunami on the Northern California Coast

Art Bernstein, MA, (Gold Hill, OR), author and naturalist. "Observing tsunami effects, Crescent City to Trinidad."

The weekend following the Japan earthquake, naturalist and writer Art Bernstein, another frequent Sharon Kleyne Hour guest, took a drive along the Northern California Coast, from Crescent City to Trinidad, to observe aftereffects of Japanese tsunami waves that made it across the Atlantic.

Bernstein discussed a map he'd seen online showing the tsunami waves radiating out from Japan. The wave that hit Northern California did not travel in a straight line like all the other waves but bent when it hit the Mendocino Fracture Zone, a large undersea fault running from Shelter Cove, just south of Eureka, to Hawaii. The wave had been heading towards Santa Barbara but would probably have died out before hitting the shore there.

The town harbor at Crescent City was almost totally destroyed and there were several grounded boats. However, there was no evidence of unusually large waves, nor any damage, along US 101 immediately south of Crescent City, where the highway runs parallel and close to the beach.

A video taken just south of the beach area, at a cliff-top vista point, showed immense waves crashing on the rocks and sea cliffs during the tsunami.

The only other evidence was at Big Lagoon County Park, just north of the town of Trinidad. The park is located at one end of a two-mile long (and 500 feet wide) sandbar between the ocean and a large lake called "Big Lagoon." Clearly, the waves had overtopped the sandbar because the crest of the dunes was noticeably lower and more rounded than usual. A gap in the bar near the far end, where the creek-fed lake empties into the ocean, was much larger and more noticeable.