A puzzling tsunami entered Japanese history in January 1700. Samurai, merchants, and villagers wrote of minor flooding and damage. Some noted that no parent earthquake had been felt; they were wondering what had set off the waves. They had no way knowing that the tsunami had been spawned during an earthquake along the coast of northwestern North America. This orphan tsunami would not be linked to its parent earthquake until the middle 1990s, through an extraordinary series of discoveries in both North America and Japan.
The Orphan Tsunami of 1700, now in its second edition, tells this scientific detective story through its North American and Japanese clues. The discoveries underpin many of today’s precautions against earthquakes and tsunamis in the Cascadia region of northwestern North America. The Japanese tsunami of March 2011 called attention to those hazards as a mirror image of the transpacific waves of January 1700.
The orphan tsunami of 1700—Japanese clues to a parent earthquake in North America: