Katherine Shulz’ The Really Big One and Roy D. Hyndman’s Giant Earthquakes of the Pacific Northwest both offer substantial evidence for an imminent, highly-destructive earthquake in western North America’s Cascadia region. It is precisely here that the Juan de Fuca plate thrusts itself under our continent, creates a subduction zone, and generates the possibility of catastrophe. After each presenting insight regarding previous scientific disbelief surrounding such an event, they dove right into the explanation of the matter – as if to somehow remove the incredibly pressing issue despite centuries of building this irreversible conundrum. The writers utilized the same evidence, dividing it into the volcanic mountains of the region, oceanic sediment deposits, dead trees in local salt marshes, oral accounts by natives, and Japanese tsunami records. Almost remarkably, the articles independently traced the fault’s last seismic event to 1700. Following this, the two provided contemporary reasoning for the accumulation of stress and establish the recurrence interval of its earthquakes. Playing off of these, they exposed the inevitability of a cataclysmic earthquake given the fact that the fault is exceeding well into its predicted time of rupture. From here, the extensive damage associated with the earthquake was depicted through figures quantifying life loss, magnitude, fiscal damage, and plate rebound.
Out of the two stories, the least scientifically agreed upon tidbit is the implication that the next earthquake in the region is going to be a big earthquake. While this may just be intuition, I’m under the impression that many large earthquakes are always foreshadowed by smaller quakes. If this is true, the scientific prediction relating to life loss is undermined as well. In this instance, evacuation could be performed and the death toll would consequently decrease. Despite these overly predictive aspects of the articles, the columns were almost entirely relevant and interesting. The mere likelihood of something this ravaging is enough to catch attention, let alone recognition for action that needs to be taken. Yet now noting the definitive occurrence of it in the near future, an even higher level of engagement is achieved. Many of America’s centers of industry, infrastructure, and, most importantly, life are contained within the bounds of this seismic danger. Simply put, this is interesting to a concerned reader like me and undeniably relevant to our geologically vulnerable nation.
The similarities between the article’s content are astonishing when taking into account their rhetorical differences. The one by Hyndman seems bent on appealing to top-notch scientists whereas Shulz’ piece almost lands on the spectrum of patronization. Each residing in the more extreme sides of elaboration, both effectively communicate the science behind the ordeal when read together but fall short separately. Nevertheless, when considering the easy details condescendingly covered by Shulz and the painstaking facts produced by Hyndman, The Really Big One takes home the gold in communication. With that in mind, I still prefer Giant Earthquakes of the Pacific Northwest because of its more fastidious approach to science and the chance that it could’ve served as a source for the alternative article.