Science and CSU

Tsunami – Operations suspended, vessels survive at Moss Landing Marine Labs




Heeding an official tsunami warning, the California State University’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (MLML) suspended diving and boating operations Friday. Research Vessel Point Sur – the largest in the MLML fleet, at 500 tons and 135 feet long – was already out of the water, in an Alameda drydock for annual service and painting.

Lab officials, including its captain, discussed taking the 56-foot R/V John Martin out to sea. They decided to leave it moored in Moss Landing Harbor with the rest of the lab’s fleet, which includes a 30-foot aluminum R/V Sheila B., four 24-foot Boston whalers and a 25-foot rigid-hull inflatable boat.

“We just loosened the spring lines to allow it to move,” said MLML Director Kenneth Coale.

At 1:11 p.m. he sent this dispatch: “The tsunami surge continues, and it has built in magnitude in Moss Landing. Our docks are secure, and there has been no damage to our facilities. But the rushing in and out of water has been dramatic. “

The vessels, he said, survived being lowered to rest on the soft, muddy bottom of the harbor and then being lifted and shifted with each surge.

(See earlier “News and Note” post – ”Tsunamis – From north to south, some CSU insights.” )

With its high-ground vantage, the Moss Landing lab attracted visitors.

“We did have two local television stations here,” Coale said. “And we did host a group of neighbors, visitors and workers from the County Office of Education (seeking high ground) during the initial phases of this event. I made at least three pots of coffee for the group.”

He also monitored the county emergency operations reports out of Santa Cruz Harbor, which took a much harder hit; and he tried to gauge the level of devastation in Japan.

In 1989, the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake “completely destroyed our lab,” he said. “And what happened in Japan was about 100 times stronger.”

After acknowledging the deep profundity of countless lives lost or tragically altered, Coale said early activation and the rapid sharing of solid information helped minimize the casualties. “The warning systems worked very well,” he said.

— Established in 1966, MLML is operated by a consortium of seven CSU campuses (Fresno, East Bay, Monterey Bay, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose and Stanislaus) primarily to support research and learning by undergraduate and graduate students. The Monterey Submarine Canyon, the deepest and largest along the west coast of North America, begins a few hundred yards offshore from the lab’s fleet in Moss Landing Harbor.

–Sean Kearns