"Hawai’i is the key,” said Dr. James Goff as he and other members of an international paleotsunami research team trudged through the knee-deep mud of the old taro fields in Waipio Valley.
Dr. Goff and his wife, Dr. Catherine Chague-Goff, a husband and wife team of tsunami scientists, came to Hawai'i from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia to join with other eminent scientists in an effort to push the history of tsunamis in Hawai’i further back in time and provide a better understanding of the true tsunami hazard risk to our islands and, in fact, the entire Pacific. Other members of the team were Dr. Gerard Fryer, geophysicist with NOAA’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, Andrew Bohlander of UH Sea Grant, Beth Arcos representing the International Tsunami Information Center, Drs. Stephen Kirby, Bruce Jaffe, Mark Goldman, and Rufus Catchings of the U. S. Geological Survey, and Walter Dudley, representing the Pacific Tsunami Museum (PTM).
Starting just behind the beach ridge, the scientists explored the valley searching for the best sampling sites, and over the next four days would carry out surveys and collect numerous core sediment samples. A team from the USGS carried out seismic studies, creating sound images of the sediment layers beneath the valley floor, while other teams collected core samples by pushing a ten-foot long metal tube into the sediment and retrieving buried layers of sediment. Samples of different layers were collected for later analysis at laboratories in Australia and California, where chemical, radiological, and pollen studies will reveal the age and nature of the sediments. But to the practiced eyes of Dr. Goff and others, many tsunami deposits were clearly in evidence. Sediment washed into the valley by the 1946 tsunami formed a ten-inch thick layer just behind the beach dunes. As expected, this layer became progressively thinner further up the valley. But equally thick layers beneath 1946 were discovered in the valley. These represent deposits of previous tsunamis about which we know precious little. We need to decipher the long-term tsunami history of our islands so that we can better prepare for what Mother Nature may have in store for us.
The effort now will be to determine the composition and age of the older, deeper tsunami deposits from Waipio Valley, and to try to mount a future, more comprehensive expedition looking at sites on different sides of several islands in the Hawaiian chain. So, just as Dr. Goff stated: “Hawai’i is the key” to understanding tsunamis in the Pacific.
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Tsunami work during 2012 included collaboration between the Pacific Tsunami Museum (PTM), the Pacific American Foundation (PAF), and the Institute of Geophysics, University of Alaska Fairbanks on the Hawai'i Indigenous Tsunami Education Curriculum (HITEC). This ambitious project involved the creation of a culture-based science curriculum on tsunamis and climate change impact on sea level for grades 4, 6, 8 and 9, and in assisting Hawai'i schools with their tsunami preparedness efforts.
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Dr. Dudley travelled to Europe to meet with the tsunami staff at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. There he discussed some of PTM's education projects and explored potential collaboration.
In June of 2011 Jeanne Johnston, John Coney, and Dr. Dudley travelled to Alaska to install tsunami exhibits in three towns that were seriously impacted by the 1964 Good Friday earthquake and subsequent tsunamis. The exhibits were installed in museums in Valdez, Kodiak Island, and Seward. Each exhibit features the overall story of the devastating event with special focus on what transpired in the local community, and each includes current information on tsunami preparedness.
A similar exhibit, covering all areas of Alaska impacted in 1964, was installed here at PTM. It comes as a surprise to most people that of the 131 fatalities resulting from the Good Friday earthquake, 122 were actually killed by the tsunami waves. Furthermore, of the tsunami fatalities, 82 were caused by 20 different landslide-generated local tsunamis. There is not enough time for warning centers to send out alerts in the event of a locally generated tsunami; hence education about nature’s warning signs is critical in order to prepare people for the next tsunami event.
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In September of 2010, for the one-year anniversary of the 2009 South Pacific tsunami, Dr. Dudley was invited to deliver the "Peter Tali Coleman Lecture" on Pacific public policy at Georgetown University. Peter Coleman was twice governor of American Samoa, so the annual lecture focuses on issues of critical importance to Pacific Island nations. Dr. Dudley's talk was entitled “A Natural Hazard Management Paradigm for Pacific Island Nations”.
In November of 2010 Dr. Dudley worked at the Australian and Pacific Tsunami Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia as a visiting Fulbright Scholar. While at the Centre, he collaborated on joint research publications with scholars in the region, including an article about the South Pacific tsunami of 2009 and another about tsunamis striking Pacific islands in ancient times, i.e. paleotsunamis.
In Spring 2010 Dr. Dudley taught his final semester at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo before “retiring” in order to devote more time to his family and projects at PTM. Museum work includes editing tsunami survivor stories for use in outreach education, working with county civil defense agencies on hazard preparedness, and serving as chief scientist for the Hawai'i Tsunami Education Curriculum Program (HITEC) for our schools.
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In December 2009 Dr. Dudley attended the annual meeting of the AGU in San Francisco, where he delivered presentations in several sessions focused on different aspects of PTM's work, including how best to reach and teach a community about tsunami hazard mitigation and preparedness. In a special session featuring the 2009 South Pacific tsunami, he focused on survivor interviews collected following that event in Samoa and American Samoa.
In November of 2009 Dr. Dudley travelled to Ithaca, New York to give a presentation at Cornell University’s graduate seminar series entitled “Geo-Engineering: Fact or Folly”. His talk was called “The Tsunami Resilient Village”, and he used examples of best practices he has observed around the world in making communities tsunami-safe. The most important lesson is that every member of the community needs to be aware of the tsunami threat and know what actions to take to keep themselves and their families safe when the next tsunami strikes.
Dr. Dudley and a team visited nearly all of the heavily tsunami-impacted areas on the island of Tutuila, measuring tsunami runup and inundation distances from the 2009 tsunami. Dr. Dudley interviewed eight survivors in six different villages. There had not been time for an official tsunami warning in American Samoa and many credited their survival to recent training by Homeland Security and tsunami education in the schools.
After a week in American Samoa, Dr. Dudley travelled to the island of Upolu in independent Samoa, where he joined the International Tsunami Survey team working under the auspices of UNESCO. There he interviewed a total of 23 people at a medical center, a refugee camp, and in four different villages. In some cases the tsunami event was described as “being like a monster” that “reared up from the channels, throwing stones before it”. Following the devastation, entire villages moved to their upslope farm lands in order to be safe from future tsunami and hurricane inundation.
Among the most important lessons revealed by the work in Samoa was that tsunami education prior to the event was key in saving lives. In several cases, a chief had sounded the village alarm bell which resulted in timely, if somewhat chaotic, evacuation up slope to safety. Children who had learned about tsunamis in school evacuated quickly, while many adults failed to heed the warnings.
In September of 2009 Dr. Dudley was invited to give a talk at the Australian Tsunami Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. While there, a large earthquake struck south of Samoa on September 29, generating a deadly tsunami. Plans were made immediately to visit Samoa and American Samoa to carry out a post-tsunami survey, joining the survey team of the U.S. Geological Survey.
In June of 2009 Dr. Dudley and Jeanne Johnston headed to Alaska to interview survivors of the 1964 earthquake and tsunami. The so-called Good Friday earthquake was the largest earthquake ever measured in North America, generating a tsunami that caused a reported 122 deaths. Dr. Dudley and Jeanne traveled to Anchorage, then on to Palmer to visit the West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning Center. Next they conducted interviews in Seward, Chenaga, Whittier, and Valdez, all towns that suffered numerous casualties in 1964. On a second trip in September, they interviewed survivors on Kodiak Island.
This work was made possible thanks to support by NOAA’s Pacific Services Center, which has taken a strong leadership role in promoting tsunami education. The videos recorded during all of these expeditions were added to PTM's collection for use in exhibits, and have been recently used in tsunami hazard education.
In April of 2009 Dr. Dudley travelled to the Republic of the Maldives to interview survivors of the December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The Maldives are a chain of 1,200 islands spread over 600 miles across the Indian Ocean. These tiny, low-lying islands have an average elevation of only a few feet above sea level, with the highest natural elevation being only about ten feet. The 2004 tsunami was the worst natural disaster to strike the Maldives in human memory.
The impact of the tsunami varied enormously from island to island, leaving some severely affected and others with only limited damage. Dr. Dudley was joined by Dr. James Goff, Director of the Tsunami Research Center at the University of New South Wales in Australia and his wife, Dr. Catherine Chague-Goff. They were assisted in the Maldives by representatives of the National Disaster Management Center, the United Nations Disaster Program, and the Marine Laboratory.
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In August 2008 Dr. Dudley was an invited guest speaker at the North Pacific Tsunami Awareness Conference held in Honolulu. The conference was sponsored by NOAA, the International Tsunami Information Center, and the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission. Dr. Dudley gave presentations covering tsunami education and mitigation initiatives that included a statewide school curriculum on tsunamis, a tsunami resilience guide for downtown Hilo businesses, PTM's exhibit on locally generated tsunamis in Hawai'i, and PTM's 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami exhibit.
Also in 2008, Dr. Dudley conducted interviews with tsunami survivors in Java, where the July 2006 tsunami killed over 600 people. School staff, students, and villagers from various walks of life were interviewed. The interview team was made up of Dr. James Goff and his wife, Dr. Catherine Chague-Goff from New Zealand, as well as staff from the tsunami research program at the Technical University in Bandung, Indonesia.
In 2008 Dr. Dudley and an interview team also travelled to Banda Aceh, Sumatra, “ground zero” for the catastrophic December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. They conducted 15 survivor interviews that were very moving stories, some of which became part of the Indian Ocean Tsunami exhibit here at PTM.
Dr. Dudley gave the inspirational address, “Remembering the Tsunami” at the opening session of the "Post-Tsunami Sustainable Livelihoods and Integrated Ecosystem Management Workshop" held at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Thailand in 2008.
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Dr. Dudley was in Thailand in early 2007 to interview tsunami survivors of the December 26, 2004 tsunami event, help local officials in Ranong Province carry out tsunami evacuation drills, and discuss content for a tsunami safety exhibit for the new community center. Displays for the exhibit were fabricated by staff at PTM. Interactive kiosks were programmed by PTM's electronics expert, John Coney. With installation completed by Dudley and Coney, the Ranong Museum opened in April 2007.
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In December 2006 Dr. Walter Dudley, PTM Science Advisor Chairman, and Jeanne Johnston, Hawai'i State Civil Defense Tsunami and Earthquake Disaster Planner, travelled to Kerala, India where they carried out video interviews with 20 tsunami survivors of the December 26, 2004 tsunami event. In between interviews, meetings were held with tsunami researchers at Cochin University of Science and Technology and with faculty and graduate students in the Disaster Management Program at Mahatma Gandhi University. In addition, Dudley and Johnston were the keynote speakers at a day long conference on disaster management held for secondary school teachers. The project in India was funded by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System initiative. With the help of PTM, a tsunami museum was opened in Kerala, India.
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Last Revised September 2013