UWTSD Professor throws light on historic Indian Ocean Tsunami Risk


The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in the Indian Ocean was seen as unexpected at the time, yet geological research has since shown that at least two other damaging tsunami events have hit the region over the past 1000 years.

The granite north coast of Penang island

The granite north coast of Penang island comprises extensive boulder deposits that may be surveyed and analysed to understand the impact of historic tsunami waves (photo: Professor Simon Haslett).

In order to gauge the magnitude of such historic tsunami events, and to better understand the impact of the 2004 tsunami, Simon Haslett, Professor of Physical Geography and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Wales and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD), undertook a field investigation on the Malaysian island of Penang in the Malacca Strait where the seaway opens into the Indian Ocean.

Penang island lies relatively close to the epicentre of the Sumatran earthquake that triggered the 2004 tsunami and where, tragically, the coastal communities suffered 54 fatalities in the natural disaster. The tsunami wave was observed to be over 3m high when it came ashore in Penang inundating the coastal lowlands and crashing against cliffs and headlands.

Professor Haslett, a member of the Coastal and Marine Research Group, surveyed coastal boulder deposits in Penang that provide evidence for the impact of past tsunami events.

“The results have been analysed with Professor Bernardine Wong as part of an international collaboration with the University of Malaya and were recently published in the September issue of the Journal of Geology as a contribution to UNESCO’s International Geoscience Program Project Sea level change from minutes to millennia,” says Professor Haslett.

“The study concludes that there is no field evidence to suggest that the earlier historic tsunami events were of a significantly higher magnitude and wave height than the 2004 event, an insight that is important for considering natural hazard planning in the region,” he continues.

To read the paper in full in the Journal of Geology, please visit the University of Chicago Press website at: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/704255 (subscription required)


Further Information

For further information, please contact Sian-Elin Davies by emailing sian-elin.davies@uwtsd.ac.uk / 01267 676908 / 07449 998476