Making waves: artificial tsunamis to prepare for the worst

Ninety-nine per cent of all tsunami-related deaths have occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Indonesian and Australian scientists have been working to reduce this figure—by creating artificial earthquakes and tsunamis. Building off more than 15 years of research from Indonesian, Singaporean, American, and Australian scientists, the team created a collection of scenarios, for earthquakes of different magnitudes and the resulting tsunamis that would affect West Sumatra, Indonesia. The work involved studying trends in coral growth and death in the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia, along with the magnitude of past earthquakes. Large earthquakes can raise the sea floor, exposing and killing off corals. The corals start to grow again as the islands settle back down, and these patterns have helped the scientists to understand the magnitude of earthquakes throughout the centuries, allowing them to create realistic scenarios for future disasters. The research was used to inform an international disaster response exercise in 2014, the Mentawai Megathrust Disaster Response Exercise, which was held in West Sumatra and organised by the Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency. The research involved scientists from Geoscience Australia; Bandung Institute of Technology; the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction, Jakarta; the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, Yogyakarta; Geology Agency of Indonesia; the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency; the Indonesian Institute of Science; and the National Disaster Management Agency, Jakarta; and was supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Credit for banner image: Jonathan Griffin.