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El Nino Reveals Traces of Ancient Forest in Oregon Surf

Environment: Tree stumps, evidence of a major earthquake, date to time of Jesus Christ. Their appearance inspires awe at forces of nature.

April 05, 1998|BRAD CAIN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

NESKOWIN, Ore. — Like gnarled fingers rising from the surf, hundreds of stumps from an ancient forest buried at the time of Jesus are slowly being uncovered by El Nino's pounding waves.

People have been making almost a religious pilgrimage to the rugged coast to see the more than 200 stumps poking up from the beach.

"When I look at these, I'm just in awe to think that this was a forest when Jesus Christ was on the Earth," said Jane Seeborg.

To scientists, the reappearance of the ancient forest is further proof not only of the severity of this year's El Nino but of the powerful earthquakes that once devastated Oregon's coast--and could strike again.

"Something had to kill those trees, and the evidence suggests it was earthquake-related," said Mark Darienzo, a geologist with the state Division of Emergency Management.

The prevailing theory is that a powerful offshore quake 2,000 years ago dropped the coastline by as much as 7 feet and submerged the Sitka spruce and cedar trees.

Major quakes are believed to occur off Oregon once every 350 to 500 years. The last one, in AD 1700, swamped coastal forests and sent a tsunami across the Pacific so powerful that it destroyed Japanese fishing villages.

Some of the ancient stumps at Neskowin made a brief appearance during another El Nino 15 years ago and have been visible again since mid-February, the product of weeks of El Nino-driven storms that have scoured about 10 feet of sand from the beach. The stumps have become a tourist attraction.

On a recent day, dozens of cars were parked along U.S. 101, a mile's walk from the ancient stumps. Hundreds of people took pictures and bent over for a closer look at the hardened, 2- to 3-foot-tall stumps.

"It's really eerie," said 16-year-old Calvin Lotz. "All I can say is, it must have been one hell of an earthquake."

Roger Hart, a marine geologist with Oregon State University, said ocean currents will rebury the Neskowin stumps by summer. But even the sea can't bury what the stumps foretell--another major earthquake.

"There will be another one, but we just don't know when," he said.

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