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Earthquakes, Mountains, and the Geologic History of the Pacific Northwest

Dr. Catherine Townsend
Senior Regional Geologist
Burke Museum

Seattle— The 2001 Nisqually earthquake shook the very foundation of the Pacific Northwest. A sudden movement of the Pacific seafloor, 50 kilometers beneath south Puget Sound, sent shockwaves racing in all directions. It took only 40 seconds of surface vibration to cause 400 injuries and $2 billion dollars in damages in Western Washington and Oregon. This cataclysmic event serves as a stark reminder of the geologic motion that has created and continues to shape the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Catherine Townsend, Senior Regional Geologist at the Burke Museum, will speak to groups, classrooms, and members of the public about the formation of Washington State, in conjunction with the traveling exhibit The Big One: Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Townsend is an award-winning teacher and researcher with special interest in how the mountain systems of North America were formed. She has studied regional geologic history across North America from the Appalachians to Alaska.

Before joining the Burke Museum in 1999, Cathy was Associate Professor of Geology at the University of Alaska, where she was an award-winning teacher and chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics. She is currently working on a comprehensive website which provides a detailed geologic history of the Pacific Northwest, which will be incorporated as a long-term addition to the Burke Museum’s respected online educational resources.

Dr. Townsend’s engaging presentations as the Burke’s Visiting Scientist are designed to place recent earthquakes into the context of the fascinating geological history of this region. This unique, community outreach component of the Burke’s current project, The Big One: Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, has been made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
For a schedule of Dr. Townsend’s presentations, please contact Betsy Blinks at 206-543-2784 or email


Press Contact:

Natasha Dworkin
Public Relations Manager
Phone: 206-543-9762
Fax: 206-616-1274

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University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-3010
Phone: 206-543-5590