Countdown to catastrophe: Earthquake in North America

March 11, 2011 an earthquake of historic proportions strikes Japan. The massive 8.9 magnitude quake tears its way through houses, businesses, and densely populated neighborhoods. Video captures the scenes of devastation. Minutes later a tsunami follows, slamming the northeast coast. The Sendai Airport is awash in the tsunami wave with people scurrying to the rooftop for safety.

The tsunami races across the pacific, traveling at 500 miles per hour. Hawaii, braces for impact sending people to higher ground. Though the swell is just three feet, there is concern that the tsunami would build when it hits the west coast of the US. Residents from Seattle to San Diego are on alert. In Japan the quake’s toll was reported to be thousands dead. It causes little damage in the US, but scientists warn that another mega quake is building at least as powerful and much closer to home. The next tsunami to hit the shores of Japan may begin with mega quake right off the American coast.

Now the race is on to predict when it will hit. In just how powerful the destruction will be.

The Japanese earthquake is the largest ever recorded in Japan. But over the past decade, equally devastating quakes obstruct around the globe. Mega quakes are among the most powerful forces of nature. The rival the destructive energy packed in arsenal of atomic bombs. And strike suddenly, violently, and without warning.

In 2004, a mega quake in Sumatra triggered a monster wave that killed more than a quarter of a million people. In 2010, another strike, this time in chile. This mega quake had the power thousands of nuclear bombs, it’s speed up the Earth’s rotation, shortened the day by a microsecond and moved an entire town 10 feet.

Now, many investigators suspect that the US could be next and that the Pacific Northwest is in the same crossings. Three large cities, Vancouver British Columbia, Seattle Washington and Portland Oregon as well as ten million people said right in the danger zone.

“As far as fatalities, it would be an far with what we saw on World War two. We would expect to have two, three, four people 4000 died. It’s the same type of earthquake that we saw recently in Chile, which was a magnitude 8.8 and it’s the same type of earthquake that we saw in Sumatra in 2004 that was a magnitude 9.1” said Yumei Wang of Oregon Department of Geology.

Investigators believe the threat of a similar mega quake is real. Just offshore, hidden beneath ocean waves, lies a ticking time bomb.

“This is the spot where the earthquakes come from. It’s about 12 to 15 kilometers beneath the seafloor right below us here.” marine geologist Chris Goldfinger gets as close as humanly possible to the place where the earth will start to rip apart. A mega quake strikes off.

We like to think the earth beneath our feet is solid but take a closer look, the crust is actually made about a dozen plates, they move, grow and grind into one another along fault lines. This is where Mega quakes are born. In Cascadia a Pacific plate named Juan de Fuca, meets North America and dives below it. It’s a special fault called a subduction zone. A mega quake is fued when two plates gets stuck, pressure builds and melt breaks in fury.

Investigators can’t look into the earth and watch the plates. But their high-tech tools, pin a picture of impending disaster. A submarine camera captures the point where the two plates may contact. About 60 miles off the coast. The video reveals little sign of troubled, but Goldfinger see enormous and dangerous forces at work.

Sonar detects what’s invisible to a camera’s lens. If the fault is harmless, the seabed should appear smooth and undisturbed. This would indicate the plates are slipping past each other unimpeded. If Sonar detects mountains it is signed the plates are jum and the earthquake is building. The Sonar map is striking, the Juan de Fuca plates is jamming itself under North America, pushing off the continental shelf. The two plates are not sliding past each other, they are locked in a collision. North America is buckling under pressure from the oceanic plate and at some point it will suddenly release in one massive jolt.