UC student driven by tsunami tragedy

A University of Canterbury (UC) PhD student is investigating the impact of tsunamis on Samoa and other countries in the Pacific.

Shaun Williams was just finishing his postgraduate degree at UC when his homeland of Samoa was hit by the September 2009 tsunami which claimed 189 lives.

The tragedy was a catalyst for Williams to stay on at UC to study for a PhD looking at tsunamis in Samoa. He hopes to establish long term mitigation efforts for Samoa and the broader south west Pacific to help minimise the impacts of tsunamis.

My PhD project is my way of contributing to the long term recovery and ease any future damage in Samoa," he says.

About 85 percent of tsunamis in the last 200 years or so have occurred in the Pacific Ocean. The region is at the greatest risk in the world. But there is a lot we don’t know about tsunamis and the long-term risk they pose to coastal cities and communities.

The 2009 tsunami resulted in calls to improve understanding of the medium to long term risks of tsunamis in the islands, in order to further mitigate their impacts.

We have so far found that there is a long-term risk particularly in light of increasing coastal developments including tourism.

I expect to finish my PhD project by the end of the year with applications to help not just Samoa but other Pacific islands and New Zealand.

My research, supervised by Professor Tim Davies, is looking at marine deposits from previous tsunamis so we can understand them better because there is little other information available to us. We need to learn from our past so that we can work towards a safer future.

Williams says his studies point to the value of educating young children about what to do following a tsunami warning.

He also suggests putting in place strong multi-purpose coastal infrastructure which could serve as evacuation areas in times of need. Replanting natural coastal forests such as mangroves which absorb wave energy and minimise impacts to communities and capitalising on mobile technology for use in early warning systems were other recommendations.

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