Recent Advances in Tsunami Research – the Devil Is in the Detail

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 5:30 PM
James R Goff, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Over little more than a decade, tsunami research has gone from a few scientists using a range of over-used black and white and colour photographs to try and convince a largely disinterested audience of the perils of tsunamis, to a highly regarded branch of the natural hazard stable populated by a plethora of researchers and disciplines. What happened? Tsunamis happened, big ones, in 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2011. In many ways we now have more data than we know what to do with. We should therefore be forgiven for appearing just a little rushed off our feet. The past decade has seen a phenomenal increase in the number of publications and, as a result, significant advances have been made in our understanding of the geological and environmental impacts of tsunamis.

In the quest to better understand tsunami geology, many of us are eternally searching for the Holy Grail - the one proxy that will tell us that a deposit was laid down by a tsunami and not by a storm. Well, the one thing that recent advances have told us is that it is not that simple – the devil is in the detail, and we have plenty of that. There has been a significantly improvement in our understanding of tsunami sediments, particularly at either end of the size spectrum, greater use of microfossil data, major advances in geochemistry and the introduction of new studies such as magnetic fabric. What has been particularly satisfying for me to see has been the improved incorporation and study of proxies that are often viewed as tangential to geological data such as geomorphology, archaeology, anthropology and contextual environmental changes.

The take home message is that this is a truly multi-disciplinary topic and we do ourselves a disservice if we do not embrace all the innovations available to us. Yes, in many cases we can tell the difference between a storm and a tsunami, it is just that the difference is different every time. The devil is in the detail.