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Observations of the Japanese Tsunami

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Natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Japan have impacts far beyond the local devastation.  Our societies are connected by personal and economic ties, which make even far away events seem close at hand.  However, powerful earthquakes can, quite literally, be felt around the world.  

Although he is 17,000 km away from Japan, intrepid graduate student Pete is living in a house a few meters above sea level on the coast of Chile.  When the tsunami warnings went out, Pete and I immediately began exchanging email.  Thankfully, Pete's distance gave him ample time to get to safety and enough time to attempt to sample the wave.  Pete has been using low cost pressure sensors to measure the tide in Melimoyu Bay and the outflow of the nearby river, and he made sure that two of the sensors were set in the Bay prior to the arrival of the tsunami waves.  

While the full saga will hopefully appear on the Patagonia blog (it involves spending the night on a hill in the forest), I'd like to share Pete's initial scientific findings.  The image below is the record of water depth at one location during the passage of the tsunami.  

The gray line is the water level we would expect from the tide alone.  Some interesting things to note:

  1. The wave arrived at about 3AM on Sunday morning, approximately 24 hours after the earthquake.  This means that the wave traveled about 700 kph (440 mph).  This is only 60 mph slower than the cruising speed of an Airbus A340, although the Airbus would probably need to refuel and would have a tough time landing at the airstrip in Melimoyu.
  2. The wave consisted of a series of wave packets.  The number, shape, and frequency of the waves gives information on the path that the wave took to get to Melimoyu.  Wave speed of a tsunami depends on the wave length and the depth of the ocean.  Longer waves travel faster and the waves travel faster in deep water.
  3. The waves persist for several hours, and Pete reported that the Bay was still doing funny things 12 hours later.  Some of the length is due to dispersion as the wave traveled across the Pacific, but there is likely a component due to the wave "echoing" in the islands and fjords.  

Updates from the field: Patagonian penguins and orca

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Some new posts by Pete at the Patagonia blog.  My favorite is the penguin story, no doubt because it continues the Seascape tradition of liberal use of the term "poop."

Patagonia Update

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As Andy and Don return from Patagonia, Pete remains for the next three months.  Pete--a modeler by training--will be surviving on his wits in a remote location, in a rain forest between a glacier and a fjord.  Lucky for us, he is equipped with a satellite up-link, albeit intermittent, and we'll be receiving brief descriptions of his adventures, with accompanying photographs.  These will be posted on a separate blog devoted to the Patagonia Sur project:

We hope you enjoy.

Nick Record, signing off.

More from Patagonia

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The Patagonia Diaries will be up soon on a separate link.  Meanwhile, here are the latest from our travelers.

From Andy, just this brief correspondence:

Patagonia is awesome.  We collected some temp profiles and are headed out to do more today.  Saw sea lions, penguins, and the world's coolest cormorant.


And from Pete:

Patagonian BBQ

Well, the meat of choice in Chile is lamb. And the Patagonian way to barbecue is to splay the lamb, skewer it, and than hang it vertically by the fire (see first picture). In the north, they use spits, but here, the meat is cooked vertically. Patagonians take this seriously and it was delicious. Hands on. Very sweet and tender. The event took place on a man named Choco's ranch, in his barbecue hut (see second picture). Yes, Choco has a log cabin, dedicated to barbecue.

Needless to say, it was a cool place and full of stories: a blue whale vertebra on a stump in the yard, an antique motorcycle leaning against the building, enormous logs for the roof, horses running on the ridge above the house, and mountains in every direction.

Today we flew from Coyhaique to Melimoyu. Our original plan was to drive and take a boat, but impending weather meant fly or wait for three days for the ocean to calm down. That adventure tomorrow...




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For the next three months, one of our crew (Pete) will be in Patagonia surveying a research site for the Patagonia Sur Foundation.  From a remote and beautiful location, he'll send us his photos and tales.  We will set up a link to chronicle his adventures.

Meanwhile, here is the first taste.


After 24hrs + of traveling we've reached Coyhaique. Capitol of the Aisen region. The flights from Santiago south ran along the Andes and the land below the airplane window was rugged. Volcanos, glaciers, red and dry mountain tops, green valleys, and untouched landscape frequently without any roads. Included are two photos: a glacier covered volcano seen from the plane (pardon the grimy window) and the landscape just down the road from where we're spending the night, in Coyhaique. More later, we're off to our first Patagonian BBQ.



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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Patagonia category.

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