Earthquake Expert Leads Geologists in Battle With Engineers

OSU’s Chris Goldfinger Leads Worried Geologists

Chris Goldfinger is an Oregon State University earthquake expert who, on Monday, announced to The New Yorker that a giant Northwest earthquake is on the way, and voiced ardent opposition to the University’s plan to build a science center in Newport’s tsunami zone.


Goldfinger recently limned a worst-case scenario for the Oregonian/OregonLive Monday, which depicted hundreds of terrified people evacuating the building after its being shaken to pieces by a magnitude 9 earthquake.


Goldfinger asks us to imagine survivors, some of them injured, others recently disabled or elderly, all of them trying to drive in the rain, trying to drag themselves through a mile of thick, liquified sandbar littered with active power lines, precisely when a 43-foot tsunami wave rips the Yaquina Bay Bridge apart, carrying large ships and a liquified-natural-gas tank as flying projectiles.

Goldfinger goes on: “Really nobody can calculate if or how many people would die in that building during the next tsunami…[i]t’s not possible to mitigate it to ensure that everybody would survive.”

Unfortunately, potential tsunami woes have thrown the best minds of OSU against each other in a no holds barred battle of intellect and will. So far it’s remained controlled and collegial.


Goldfinger’s “frenemies” in this debate are Oregon State engineers at large, who believe their designs for an expanded Hatfield Marine Science Center will not only pass peer review, but also produce a world-class demonstration of how buildings in tsunami zones are supposed to be built.

Put this way, it sounds less like a bad idea and more like a contradiction in terms. Goldfinger and his cadres agree that no level, amount, or new method of planning will prevent the inevitable catastrophe any building constructed in a tsunami zone is doomed to become. Goldfinger says the real struggle is in fact a cultural squabble between engineers and earthquake geologists.


Goldfinger modified his position after his featured interview in The New Yorker, adding that in addition to relocating the Science Center elsewhere, the existing OSU and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration buildings already in Newport’s South Beach should be moved, too.


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