On March 27, 1964, Alaska was rocked by the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America. It caused widespread damage, landslides and destructive tsunamis. It also helped to cement our current understanding of the most important idea in the Earth Sciences — the modern theory of plate tectonics.
On this episode of Blue Dot, Dave talks to Henry Fountain, the New York Times science writer who wrote about the Alaska disaster and its aftermath in The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet.
Fountain tells about his experience documenting the quakes victims and also its investigators from the United States Geological Survey, especially focusing on Henry Plafker. It was Plafker's painstaking field observations and conclusions that helped determine that the big temblor was caused by subduction — when an oceanic tectonic plate slides underneath a lighter continental plate. These are the most powerful earthquakes and tsunami generators on the planet — including the 2010 and 2015 Chilean quakes as well as the 2011 event in Japan.