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Geography Student Helps Investigate Tsunami Deposits with GPR Expert Harry Jol

RELEASED: Oct. 26, 2006

UW-Eau Claire student researcher
UW-Eau Claire senior geography major Holly Johnson collected ground penetrating radar data from a marsh along the west coast of Oregon. The results from the project, which collected GPR data along deposits from tsunamis in 1964 and the 1700, will aid government officials in planning for future earthquakes and associated tsunamis in the region. (contributed photo)

EAU CLAIRE — University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire professor of geography and anthropology Harry Jol and senior geography major Holly Jean Johnson recently returned from northwest Oregon where they were part of a research team that successfully investigated coastal tsunami deposits.

Johnson, a 2002 graduate of Chippewa Falls High School, said they used ground penetrating radar to study the extent of ancient tsunami inundation and the magnitude of wave run-up at sites in Cannon Beach and Seaside, Ore. Jol and Dr. Curt Peterson of Portland State University were the other main members of the team.

"We collected GPR data along deposits from the 1964 and the 1700 tsunamis," Johnson said. "The data we collected may be used to improve tsunami hazard assessment for coastlines in Washington, Oregon and Northern California. The information will be used by emergency response officials to better understand and mitigate the tsunami risk to coastal communities."

Jol, who is known for involving undergraduates in his numerous research projects, said geomorphic signs of upheaval and flooding preserved in estuaries and coastal lakes in Oregon recount as many as 13 tsunamis triggered by large earthquakes over the past 4,600 years. For this reason, concerned community members and emergency response officials are taking proactive steps to better define and mitigate the associated risk to coastal communities, he said.

An expert in the use of ground penetrating radar in many fields of the earth sciences, Jol said the GPR surveys they did in Oregon delineate the vertical and lateral extent of the tsunami deposits by providing original datasets and valuable insights into understanding the complex subsurface of these coastal environments.

"The project has great potential to improve tsunami assessments and contributes information important for public outreach, accurate evacuation maps, reducing losses and mitigating damage to lifelines and critical facilities that fall in the path of future Cascadia tsunamis," Jol said. "It's also an important link for UW-Eau Claire to develop so our research-oriented undergraduates are exposed and well-prepared in terms of investigative skills when looking for potential research projects and graduate schools."

Johnson worked on all aspects of the project, including planning of data collection, equipment preparation, site selection in the field, training and operation of the GPR, processing and plotting of data, analysis, interpretation and report writing.

"After completing this research project, Holly will be familiar with all aspects of a research project," Jol said. "The collaboration with colleagues at the field sites exposes her to the possibilities of graduate level programs and/or potential supervisors."

Johnson will create a project Web site to present the data and hopes to present the information at the 2007 Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in San Francisco and the 2007 UW-Eau Claire Student Research Day.

"Being able to participate in this research project was a great experience that will be useful no matter where I end up, be it graduate school or at a job," Johnson said.

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JW/JB

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