SFU earth scientist leads team of experts to discovery of new earthquake and tsunami threats to Japan, potentially B.C.

A team of researchers have found new evidence of another seismic risk for Japan, with possible implications for parts of B.C.

In 2011, eastern Japan was hit with the fourth-most-powerful earthquake ever recorded. The quake triggered a nuclear disaster, as well as a massive tsunami.

For the past decade, the research team – led by Simon Fraser University earth scientist and tier II Canada research chair in natural hazards Jessica Pilarczyk – has been looking deeper into Japan’s geological history.

"What we set out to do was to find geological evidence of past earthquakes and tsunamis," said Pilarczyk.

The team was able to find sandy deposits from the Boso Peninsula region – roughly 50 kilometres east of Tokyo – which they attribute to a tsunami similar in size to the 2011 incident.

"There’s overwhelming and widespread evidence for a tsunami that impacted that area about 1,000 years ago," Pilarczyk said.

Pilarczyk says if the Boso Peninsula has a similar earthquake cycle to the region where the 2011 earthquake occurred, which is an interval of 1000 to 1100 years, another major incident could be upon us.

“If that’s a similar recurrence level to down south where we were working, we’d be not quite due, but potentially due,” Pilarczyk said.

Pilarczyk says parts of B.C., including Delta, Richmond and Port Alberni could be vulnerable.

"The low-lying areas of the British Columbia coastline are the most susceptible to any kind of tsunami, including those from the Cascadia subduction zone."

While the 2011 tsunami had little impact on B.C., Pilarczyk says there is precedent for a tsunami wreaking havoc on the other side of the Pacific Ocean: The 1700 Cascadia earthquake, which is the largest earthquake ever recorded in this province.

“It travelled all the way across the Pacific, and in the middle of the night, swept away coastal communities in Japan.”

You can read the full findings of the team’s research here