Monday, March 14, 2011

Of quakes, tsunamis AND coincidence

What is coincidence? I send out a fortnightly news headlines service for the southern hemisphere forest industry, called Southem Online.
It goes out to 20,000-plus recipients. The last edition was sent on on Friday 11 March 2011 (NZT)at about 4pm.
About three or so hours later, Sue called out to me that there'd been an earthquake in Japan - had I seen anything?
Thinking she meant another recent earthquake, and continued to finish up what I was doing. When I did finish up what I was doing and went to look at the TV, I realised this was not just "another" earthquake.
Why is this a coincidence and what has this got to do with Southem Online?
The thing is that the slug line for that edition was "Southem Online 261: Of quakes and tsunamis".
The main stories highlighted the response to the earthquake in Christchurch on 22 February, focusing on government and industry, as well as a new report from government agencies in Chile regarding the use of forests/vegetation in reducing the impact of tsunamis (as occurred there a year earlier).
As happens with the Interweb, not all messages are instantaneous, so some readers questioned a forest could have stopped the devastation and horror in Japan that struck on Friday evening (our time).
The quick answer is no. But...
The "but" is that recent research has found planting trees can at the very least mitigate the damage. Again, as is often the case with these things, there's another "but".
Go back to 26 December 2004, when, as the National Georgraphic reported: "The earthquake that generated the great Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 is estimated to have released the energy of 23000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs..."
However, after this tsunami the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) conducted a study into what role forests could play in mitigating (underline mitigate) in impact of tsunamis.
"Forests" in this case includes mangroves (which fishing and development had stripped away in many places) as well as tree-based "bioshields".
The outcome of the study was quite interesting. It found that random trees (not quite the words) can actually become a liability, with branches and trunks launched like missiles. Also, where development made gaps in beach forests, water poured through at a greater force. The conclusion was:
"While it is not feasible to establish a coastal forest “biosheild”– unbroken and of sufficient width and density – along the entire length of every coastline prone to tsunami, they can play a major role in protecting coastlines in Asia and the Pacific. Given their low cost of establishment and maintenance relative to other protective structures such as rock and cement seawalls and other ‘hard’ barriers, and their potential for generating other economic and environmental benefits, these ‘soft’ structures may justifiably become more widely utilized."
This is what the folk in Chile have been looking at.
BTW you can see the full report at the FAO web site. We followed it up with a report of our own in the Southern Hemisphere Forest Industry Journal.
One of things I did today was to go to google earth and look at the coastline near Sendai. It is interesting to see how close the development is to the beach.
See the FAO report at:

To finish, a personal story: My colleague Mary's daughter married a Japanese chap early last year, and later in 2010 they had a little daughter. They live in Sendai. It was just a matter of coincidence that mother and daughter were back in New Zealand visiting family last week and her husband was in another part of the country on business.
Oh, I forgot: On Thursday Mary left New Zealand to go with her brother and his family to live in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. But that's another story, and another coincidence.