Skip to main content

Originally published August 30, 2014 at 4:46 PM | Page modified September 2, 2014 at 2:56 PM

  • Share:
  • Comments
  • Print

Redmond company makes tsunami, quake sensors for Japan

Instruments from the Redmond firm Paroscientific are the backbone of Japan’s seafloor-monitoring programs, but aren’t widely used in the Northwest.

Seattle Times science reporter

About this project

Sandi Doughton’s reporting in Japan was underwritten by a fellowship from the Japan Foreign Press Center.

More from this project

Coastal quake risk: Japan on watch, Northwest ‘essentially blind’
The Cascadia Subduction Zone is as dangerous as offshore faults in Japan, but there’s a lack of earthquake-monitoring instruments on the ocean floor in the Pacific Northwest.
Read the story →

Deep mission: Japan takes aim at the source of megaquakes

The world's biggest scientific drilling ship has the audacious goal of boring into the heart of an offshore earthquake fault much like one that threatens the Northwest.
Read the story →

Japan hangs on to goal of earthquake prediction

In the U.S., “prediction” has been a bad word among earthquake scientists. But recent quakes have reopened the debate — including about the value of iffy forecasts.
Read the story →


The irony isn’t lost on Jerry Paros.

His Redmond-based company has produced almost 1,000 sensors for monitoring the seafloor off Japan, but only a handful of the instruments are keeping watch on the submarine fault in his own backyard.

“It’s outrageous that we should not be better prepared,” said Paros, who started the business in his home in 1972. Today, Paroscientificis considered the premier source in the world for precision pressure gauges.

The deep-sea submersible Alvin tracks its depth with Paroscientific sensors. The National Weather Service relies on the company’s barometers. Oil companies use Paroscientific instruments to level offshore-drilling platforms and estimate the volume of petroleum reservoirs.

Tsunami and earthquake monitoring account for less than 1 percent of the company’s $20 million in annual sales — but early warning has become a passion for Paros.

He endowed a University of Washington professorship — held by oceanographer John Delaney — and recently donated $1 million in seed money to lay the groundwork for a Cascadia sensor-network initiative.

Paros envisions a system like those off Japan, with a cable backbone running from Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino in California, and lateral arms covering much of the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

There’s already an array of buoys stationed offshore that uses Paroscientific pressure sensors to detect tsunamis. That system is great at warning of waves from distant earthquakes. But the buoys won’t help much in the case of a Cascadia megaquake, which will send surges crashing into some coastal communities in 20 minutes or less.

“The last one was in 1700, so we’re getting close to a repeat,” Paros said.

He’s working to improve the precision of his instruments along with their ability to detect subtle deformation of the seafloor over long periods of time — and not with profit in mind.

“There’s not much business incentive to develop these types of sensors,” he said. “But it’s interesting, and it’s clear that the scientists need better tools.”

Paros and his team went through more than 100 designs before they came up with a sensor that could withstand the intense pressure on the seafloor. He keeps several of the flops on display in a room he calls the “museum of mistakes and occasional good ideas.”

“I’m going to have to build an extension for the mistakes,” Paros joked.

But his latest generation of sensors clearly falls into the “good ideas” category. They’re so sensitive they can detect a change in the water column of a millimeter or less.

Paros just hopes they can be put to work in the Northwest before the subduction zone rips again.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “our government tends to fund things after the fact.”

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491

Four weeks for 99 cents of unlimited digital access to The Seattle Times. Try it now!

Also in Local News

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

Time to add another piece to your Hawks collection

Time to add another piece to your Hawks collection

Check out the full lineup of championship merchandise from The Seattle Times store.


Partner Video


The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►