THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST COAST: Living with the Shores of Oregon and Washington

By Sherman, Douglas J. | The Geographical Review, April 2000 | Go to article overview

THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST COAST: Living with the Shores of Oregon and Washington


Sherman, Douglas J., The Geographical Review


By PAUL D. KOMAR. xv and 195 pp.; maps, diagrs., ills., bibliog., index. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997. $54.95 (cloth), ISBN 082232010X; $18.95 (paper), ISBN 0822320207.

Coasts attract human settlements. For many of us, the lure is almost primal. For others, the attraction is convenience. The juxtaposition of land and water provides a salubrious melange of economic, cultural, recreational, and amenity opportunities that spur development. In many instances, however, coastal development occurs in locales that are subject to substantial natural hazards, including hurricanes, storm surges and flooding, tsunamis, landslides, and erosion. These hazards present a profound threat to coastal residents. Our nation's deadliest natural disaster was the hurricane and storm surge that hit Galveston in 1900, killing more than 8,000 people. Recent hurricanes--Iniki, Andrew, and Hugo, for example--have been among the nation's costliest natural disasters. Coastal erosion is a chronic threat along most of our shores, resulting in loss of property and displacement of populations.

One response to this suite of threats has been a growing effort to reduce losses associated with coastal hazards by implementing better public policy, especially at state and federal levels, improving management practices, and increasing public awareness of risk. As one element of that effort, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has funded the "Living with the Shore" series, edited by Orrin Pilkey and William Neal. The intent is to provide an educated readership with an introduction to the fundamentals of coastal geomorphology and management, illustrated with regional case studies of management issues. The Pacific Northwest Coast: Living with the Shores of Oregon and Washington is a part of that series.

Although the overall quality of the volumes in the series is uneven, this book accomplishes the intended goals admirably. The coasts of Oregon and Washington face minimal threat from hurricanes, but tsunamis, rogue waves, beach erosion, and landslides do pose substantial risks. Paul Komar addresses these hazards, successfully translating the complex languages of coastal geomorphology and integrated coastal-zone management into an accessible vernacular.

The Pacific Northwest Coast comprises ten chapters. Most of the first three chapters introduce the regional setting and the basic science of coastal geomorphology. The later chapters are more concerned with case studies and coastal-management issues. After a brief review of the region's geography (chapter 1), there is a historical geological survey (chapter 2), followed by an overview of nearshore processes and coastal hazards (chapter 3). These chapters in particular are valuable for the interested novice. The descriptions of the geology that establishes the magnificent cliffed coasts and that also poses the threat of subduction-zone earthquakes and associated tsunamis remind us that sometimes even houses built on rock may have shaky foundations. Komar's clear, concise writing, coupled with well-chosen illustrations, makes this a first-rate primer. …

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