M 81-1

M 81-1

Using his new back-yard observatory here in Jackson, GJH Member Mike Adler recently captured this image of Messier 81, a large spiral galaxy in our neck of the cosmic neighborhood.  It is interesting to note that what we can see today (through Mike’s lens) is an 11.8 million year-old image, proving that we can sometimes see the past better than the present.


In 1933, Kotaku Wamura survived a devastating tsunami in his hometown of Fudai, Japan. He eventually became the village’s mayor and held the post for four decades. He was popular enough to keep his job but he went to his grave shouldering the weight of much public ridicule for spending an unbelievable 3.56 billion yen to build a 51-foot high sea wall designed to protect his village from tsunamis. Completed in 1984 and dubbed “Wamura’s folly” by some, the wall was much higher than anything erected by other villages in the area and was widely regarded as a monument to government wastefulness and arrogance. Mayor Wamura, who died in 1987 at the age of 88, defended to his last breath the wisdom of the wall. “In the end,” he said at his retirement party, “people will understand.”

That understanding arrived on March 11, 2011, when the great Sendai earthquake and tsunami wiped out the villages to the north and south of Fudai, which emerged from the crisis unscathed. Now, Fudai townsfolk regularly visit Mayor Wamura’s grave to pay their respects to the man who came back from the dead to save them all.

Naturally, this story resonates with GJH. We wonder what threats Kotaku Wamura might address if he were the metaphorical mayor of Teton County. How can the past inform our future? To this end, this month we will examine two candidates worthy of Mayor Wamura’s attention: volcanic fallout and the Teton fault. This Tuesday, Idaho State University geology Professor Shannon Kobs-Nawotniak will be here to talk about the hazards associated with volcanic ash and debris, and how modeling tephra dispersal and deposition in realistic eruption scenarios may help us to prepare for the unexpected but inevitable volcanic baptism lurking somewhere in our future. Come on over to the Library this Tuesday to sharpen your own inner-Wamura.