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Patron: Her Majesty the Queen


The Royal Scottish Society of Arts
Showcasing Scotland's Science, Technology and Innovation

1st Meeting of the 185th Session (2005-2006)

Tsunamis - the catastrophic event

Dr Dave Tappin
British Geological Survey

In the Wolfson Suite, Ground Floor
Edinburgh University Library
George Square, Edinburgh
On Thursday 17th November 2005, at 7 pm

Before December 26th 2004, for many the term 'tsunami' would have been a mystery. All that changed when the Boxing Day catastrophic tsunami, almost Biblical in its impact, devastated the coasts of the Indian Ocean. The scale of the disaster, with over 200,000 lives lost and uncounted numbers of people made homeless would have made a massive international impact. However, although the great majority of those affected lived in local communities, the presence of foreign tourists resulted in a more immediate awareness of the event to those outside the region. Many people living in Britain and other European countries knew of friends and/or relatives affected. Unusually, and mainly because of the presence of tourists, there was an enormous volume of visual images acquired. It raised levels of awareness and concerns, not the least of which was that it might happen here in Britain.

Scientifically, there is no doubt that the new information available on the earthquake rupture mechanism and the resulting tsunami has increased our knowledge of how these Earth processes take place. This is normal. Our understanding of the massive internal Earth forces that dominate our planet and control earthquakes, volcanic activity and tsunamis is incomplete. Extreme events are fortunately rare, often operating over timescales that defy our oral and written histories so that we have to fall back on indirect (geological) methods of understanding how the Earth works. However, they can be utilised to increase our understanding of Earth natural processes that can be used downstream to develop our understanding of hazard and risk. For that is the eventual objective of our research.

This talk focuses on the causes of tsunamis and presents on the various different source mechanisms and impacts. It places into context the recent Indian Ocean catastrophe and addresses its causes. Mainly based on personal research it also discusses previous tsunami case studies that have advanced our understanding of these events. The threat to the UK is briefly explored and whether our safety is more apparent than real.

Dave Tappin has worked for the British Geological Survey for over 30 years, mainly in the fields of marine and hydrocarbon geology both in the UK and also extensively overseas. He has been researching tsunamis since 1998 when he was invited to lead the marine surveys into the cause of the 17th July tsunami in Papua New Guinea, that claimed the lives of over 2,000 people. Since this time Dave has been working on tsunamis in Turkey, Hawaii and Bermuda, most recently taking part in two marine expeditions investigating the cause of the Indian Ocean event of 2004.

Location of meeting

Society Business

The President, Professor Anthony Busuttil, will be in the Chair

Would Fellows please note that this meeting is on a Thursday rather than our usual evening.

Members of the Public are welcome to attend

Jane Ridder-Patrick, Secretary

29 East London Street
Edinburgh, EH7 4BN
Telephone: 0131 556 2161


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