A closer look at tsunamis

16 October 2018 | Research - Impact

The 10th South China Sea Tsunami Workshop co-organised by NUS Civil & Environmental Engineering saw some 120 academics and researchers sharing research on tsunamis

NUS Civil & Environmental Engineering co-organised the 10th South China Sea Tsunami Workshop which saw some 120 academics and researchers from more than 14 countries converge at NUS University Hall from 10 to 11 October.

The Workshop was established in 2007 by Professor Philip Liu Li-Fan, NUS Vice President (Research & Technology), an internationally recognised tsunami expert. Prof Liu, whose research focuses on coastal oceanography and engineering, received an Honorary Professorship from Tsinghua University on 14 October.

The event aims to gather tsunami experts, seismologists, and geologists from around the world to share research on tsunamis and related hazards in the region of the South China Sea. “The Pacific Ocean has the Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis system for monitoring tsunamis, but one region that has not been taken care of is the South China Sea, and in fact, we know there’s a very high risk of large earthquakes and tsunamis. If you look at the United States Geological Survey’s risk assessment, in the South China Sea region the subduction zone, which might generate large earthquakes and tsunamis is the Manila Trench and that’s on the eastern boundary of the South China Sea. As such, we probably should know more about what might happen and increase the level of awareness,” Prof Liu explained.

During the two-day workshop, experts from regions as diverse as Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, Taiwan, the UK and the US spoke on topics including tsunami warning systems, tsunami deposits, tsunami modelling and the connection between earthquakes and tsunamis. Among the presenters were Assistant Professor Christos Gouramanis from NUS Geography; as well as Research Fellow Dr Wang Dong and Ignacio Barranco, a PhD student, both from NUS Civil & Environmental Engineering. Asst Prof Gouramanis provided a comparison of recent storm and tsunami sediment deposits. Studying these deposits, said Prof Liu, might enable researchers to correlate the deposits with the size of tsunamis, and thus increase the database size for historical tsunamis.

The purpose of the tsunami research is to better our understanding of the physical process and provide data so as to develop computer modelling systems, which might then be able to predict when tsunamis might occur and how high they could be at certain locations, shared Prof Liu. Research on tsunamis is interdisciplinary and requires expertise from various areas, such as seismology, geology, oceanography and coastal engineering, he added.

The Pacific Ocean has the Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis system for monitoring tsunamis, but one region that has not been taken care of is the South China Sea, and in fact, we know there’s a very high risk of large earthquakes and tsunamis… As such, we probably should know more about what might happen and increase the level of awareness.

A segment of the workshop was devoted to presentations and discussions on the earthquake and subsequent tsunami which devastated Palu on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia on 28 September. Kicking off with the first presentation was Prof Liu who provided an overview of the cataclysmic event and proposed several hypotheses for the source of tsunami generation. Presentations were also given by Professor Taro Arikawa from Chuo University, Japan, who spoke about the results of the field survey conducted at the site; Assistant Professor Wei Shengji from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) who provided a summary of the earthquake; and Dr Ren Zhiyuan from the National Marine Environmental Forecasting Center and the National Tsunami Warning Center, China who discussed the mechanism of the Palu tsunami. The presentations were accompanied by lively questions from the floor.

The Workshop is partially funded by the Earth Observatory of Singapore, an institute at NTU, and NUS. The World Scientific Publishing also provided gift certificates for the poster competition winners.

Natural disasters will also be discussed at the upcoming annual dialogue “The Risk Quotient 2018” presented by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk at NUS. The conference, held at the University of Tokyo from 25 to 26 October, aims to improve the understanding of risk and enhance decision-making.