One of the scientific lessons learned from the Niskwale earthquake was how different soils and rocks can lead to varying levels of damage.
SEATTLE – The Niskwally earthquake of 2001 was a wake-up call to disaster preparedness, but it also provided valuable lessons for scientists who study earthquakes.
A magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck about 11 miles north of Olympia on February 28, 2001 at 10:54 am and was more than 35 miles underground, so there are no cracks or evidence in the Niskwale Delta today that this happened.
There are three types of earthquakes facing Washington, all related to the collision of crustal plates. This is where the Juan de Fuca plate is slowly being pushed under the North American plate into the mantle of the Earth.
Just off the coast is where the first type occurs: great earthquakes of hundreds of years, such as earthquakes of magnitude 9 from the Cascadia subduction zone.
The second type is very deep – about 60 miles away. These “silent” earthquakes last for weeks and even months. Scientists say the leading edge of the plate becomes candy-like, stretching slowly every 14 months or so. However, it is very slow and does not cause any harm.
RELATED: Why you should be prepared: 3 Major Seismic Threats in PNW
The most common damaging earthquakes come from the Benioff region, where the Niskwale earthquake originated.
Since the epicenter of the Niskwale earthquake was near Olympia, it is not surprising that Olympia was hit hard.
There was also significant damage in Seattle, including destruction from liquefaction, which is when wet, sandy soil turns a liquid consistency due to violent shaking. This happened at places like Boeing Field, where soil had lost the ability to resist runways and buildings.
However, Tacoma, which was closer to the epicenter than Seattle, saw minimal damage.
“Tacoma was kind of in the shadows, not getting the strongest vibration.” “This was kind of being thrown towards Olympia and north toward Seattle,” said Bill Steele, a seismologist with the Pacific Northwest Seismological Network.
The mixture of extreme destruction revealed how different soils and rocks can have varying levels of impact.
Related: Where solid ground can turn into “soup” in an earthquake
Scientists developed a new generation of seismometers shortly before the Niskwale earthquake. These instruments can record strong vibration, giving scientists a new tool to help analyze what happened.
“You get a very good picture of how the ground is shaking during an earthquake,” Steele said.
The Niskwale earthquake was not unexpected, and scientists know another earthquake is coming.
Puget Sound has experienced two other major earthquakes in the past 70 years – a magnitude of 6.5 in 1965 and a magnitude of 7.1 in 1949. The 1949 earthquake killed eight people, and the 1965 earthquake was blamed for killing seven people.
The Niskwale earthquake injured about 400 people. However, no one died as a direct result of falling bricks or debris. The heart attack victim was the only earthquake-related death. Damages have been estimated at several billions of dollars.
RELATED: Remember the 6.8 Nisqually earthquake that shook Washington 20 years ago
Scientists said there was an 84% chance of such a occurrence in the 50 years that followed Nisqually. 20 years have passed already, does this mean that the odds will rise over the next 30 years? It is not so simple, Washington state seismologist Harold Tobin said.
Tobin said: “I can’t say because it’s been 20 years that 86% now or something like that.” “Let’s call it more likely than not.”
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