I have been taken to task by a geologist friend (I recall the word knucklehead was used) for blindly reporting on the National Geographic story on the tsunami danger posed by a possible collapse of the Morne-aux-Diables peak in northern Dominica. (See “National Geographic Reports on Dominica’s Tsunami Threat,“ April 27,2009). Brian McAdoo, a geologist with whom I’ve had the pleasure to team-teach (full disclosure here), has written to (emphatically) point to a glaring mistake made by the National Geographic report, which in rather sensationalistic terms speaks about the possibility of a 10 story (40m) tsunami resulting from a possible collapse of the Morne. The original research, which in his opinion I should have checked (mea culpa), speaks only of a 10m tsunami.
Prof. McAdoo, a member of the Vassar faculty who is currently Blaustein Visiting Professor at Stanford University, has written extensively on tsunamis, as you can see from his recent list of publications at the link below. His current research involves studying the role of landslides in seafloor landscape evolution and tsunami sedimentation.
He had this to say about the sensationalistic angle taken by the National Geographic‘s report, in which Kate Ravilious writes that “With only a few minutes’ warning, a ten-story tsunami will shatter the usual peace of the Caribbean resort islands of Guadeloupe, a new study says”:
“Nowhere in Mr. Teeuw’s EOS article does it state anything about a ten-story tsunami (see link to original article below). The authors mention at 10 m tsunami generated by a similar-scale landslide in Italy- that’s a little more than two stories. And as Mr. Teeuw and colleagues point out, it is critical to mention that that event was 10 m LOCALLY, NOT 10 stories or even meters 40 kilometers away. ‘Locally’ in the parlance of tsunami experts, is usually within a kilometer or so of the landslide.”
He also points out that the article on which the report was based was published in EOS, a news journal rather than a scientific journal with peer review, which indicates a preliminary report on research that is still continuing and will undergo additional scientific scrutiny.
So, he counsels calm, which is very reassuring, but will he ever teach with me again?
For the original research on which the tsunami threat reports have been based go to http://www.agu.org/pubs/pdf/Teeuw.pdf
For Prof. McAdoo’s publications on tsunamis go to http://earthscienceandgeography.vassar.edu/faculty_staff/mcadoo.html