Preface and Acknowledgements

The South Pacific is an almost incomprehensibly vast ocean. Within it lie thousands of islands belonging to over 15 developing nations and territories. These islands display enormous physical diversity. They may be large or small, rugged volcanic mountains with high elevations, flat limestone platforms or tiny coral islets resting just above sea level on top of coral reefs. Many islands are remote and uninhabited while others are densely populated with bustling towns and expanding cities. In terms of climate, the South Pacific is one of the major ocean basins where tropical cyclones occur. Most tropical islands are affected periodically by the passage of these violent storms, which cause loss of life, disrupt society and (my main interest) often produce spectacular changes in island physical environments. It is perhaps surprising then that no book has previously been dedicated to describing either the climatology of tropical cyclones in the South Pacific or their physical impacts on the islands they encounter.

The aim of this book therefore is to link two central themes - tropical cyclones and the physical environments of islands in the South Pacific. The first half of the book describes the characteristics and behaviour of tropical cyclones in the region, and assesses the outlook for the future in the context of climate change. The second half then illustrates the importance of these storms for island environments, concentrating on geomorphological and hydrological responses. Regional examples and case studies are used to show how coral reefs, coastlines, hillslopes and rivers are all affected, and how sometimes tropical cyclones can even cause the destruction of existing islands or the formation of entirely new ones.

It is certainly the case that plenty has already been written about tropical cyclones and a great many research papers may be found in scientific journals. But the language of these is not easily accessible to all. And so it shouldn't be, because the content is intended for specialist audiences - climatologists, meteorologists, physicists, 'tempestologists' and those from associated disciplines. My own experience, from over two decades of teaching physical geography at university, is that to try to cajole students without the necessary science backgrounds to read and use such materials is often a difficult task. Although most students are keen to learn, they tend to be too shy of revealing an inability, either real or perceived, to grasp fully the tricky mathematical and physical concepts underpinning the thermodynamic behaviour of our atmosphere and the processes leading to the formation of tropical cyclones. I sympathise with their plight.

With this in mind, I have written this book to be illustrative yet concise, and informative but non-technical. I hope that this makes it attractive to a diverse readership, especially to those interested in climate and climatic extremes, tropical islands, tropical environments, physical geography, geo-morphology and the South Pacific region in general.

I am very much indebted to many people for their help in researching, writing, illustrating and producing this book. Foremost, I wish to thank Professor Cliff Ollier for allowing me to benefit from his enormous wisdom on writing a readable manuscript, and Professor Patrick Nunn for offering much sensible advice while reviewing the penultimate draft. Marie Puddister and Daisy Terry accomplished a great deal of hard work preparing early versions of many of the diagrams, for which I am grateful. A large number of other individuals provided much-needed assistance in the field, gave me unlimited access to their original unpublished data and photographs, shared their personal experiences or simply joined in useful and stimulating discussion. A few of those I would especially like to mention are Michael Bonte, Austin Bowden-Kirby, Ami Chand, Pradeep Chand, Douglas Clark, Antoine DeBiran, Finiasi Faga, Sitaram Garimella, Robert Gouyet, Tetsushi Hidaka, Kei Kawai, Ray Kostaschuk, Ravind Kumar, Riteshni Lata, Simon McGree, Rajendra Prasad, Rishi Raj, Nick Rollings, Roshni Singh, Randy Thaman, George Vakatawa, Aliti Vunisea and Geoffroy Wotling. To the many other people, too numerous to name individually, who helped in some way, I extend my sincere appreciation.

For giving me the inspiration and motivation to write this book, I am grateful to all my students in physical geography, both past and present, at The University of the South Pacific. The work presented herein would also not have been possible without the generous financial support of the University Research Committee.

During the last decade of fieldwork in my adopted home in the South Pacific, I have been fortunate enough to visit many islands and stay in traditional villages with the local people. On remote and isolated islands especially, daily life can be a struggle for the people who live there. Tropical cyclones certainly don't help. One has to admire the way Pacific islanders endure the physical challenges that such climatic hazards present. I offer my heartfelt thanks for the willing help, guidance, hospitality and companionship offered by all the Pacific islanders I have been privileged to meet.

J. P. Terry Suva, January 2007

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