Qn December 26, 2004, a massive earthquake rattled the seafloor of the Indian Ocean. A tsunami was generated by the earthquake which devastated the landscape and killed almost 230,000 people in 11 countries. After humanitarian efforts were underway, many Earth scientists mobilized to collect data before the area was changed by cleanup efforts.
Planning the investigation Jose Borrero, an environmental engineer at University of Southern California, wanted to determine the height of the waves associated with the tsunami, how far inland they traveled, the number of waves, and the distance between them. This information would determine where to rebuild towns and assist in the development of a warning system and a hazard plan.
Taking measurements To measure heights of the waves and the following rush of water, Borrero looked for mud or watermarks on the buildings that were left standing. He then placed a 5-m pole next to the watermark to measure the height the water reached. The closer he got to the coast, however, the less he was able to measure accurately. The water had surged up over 5 m deep, so he relied on visual estimates and photos for documentation. With each measurement, he recorded the location on a Global Positioning System (GPS).
20 Chapter 1 • The Nature of Science
After a six-day study of the devastation, Borrero had more than 150 data points. Upon returning to the United States, scientists used these data to determine that the waves reached 15-30 m high in Banda Aceh, and almost 3.2 km inland.
Using models It is impossible and unethical to simulate natural disasters on an actual scale, so scientists use the data collected from real incidents to create models of those events to learn more about how nature behaves. Using scientific methods and data gathered, scientists are able to provide information for model building or computer simulation. Back at the lab, Borrero applies the data to study other possible tsunami scenarios. He uses data to predict wave height and the area of inundation along the coast, should a tsunami hit the United States.
He hopes that the data collected will enable better detection and prevent widespread devastation from a natural tsunami disaster.
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Jordon R. Beesley/U.S. Navy via Getty Images
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