Geologist Suggests Caution in Jumping to Dire Conclusions Regarding Threat Posed by the Morne-aux-Diables Volcano

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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

One thought on “Geologist Suggests Caution in Jumping to Dire Conclusions Regarding Threat Posed by the Morne-aux-Diables Volcano

  1. “Some” years ago, a young graduate student sat in an interview with a Hispanic Studies professor, discussing the connectss between geology and culture in the Caribbean. Our conversation ranged from volcanoes and boiling lakes to Hurricanes and coral reef. It “digressed” to post-colonial economies and the emergence of a new eco-tourist paradigm. We dreamed of courses we might offer that would pull together budding geophysicists and cultural theorists. “Some more” years later, OUR dream was realized.

    I learned more about the inseparable bonds of culture and the geophysical environment teaching in one semeter from Lisa Paravisini-Gebert than I had in the previous years. Had I not had the opportunity to teach with Lisa, I would not have cared about an irresponsible article on tsunamis in the Caribbean.

    It is just this sort of sensationalist journalism that has the potential for far reaching implications- implications that geophysicists rarely consider. Does Mr. Teeuw or Ms. Ravilious recognize that the fragility of Dominica extends beyond the slopes of Morne aux Diables to an economy struggling against the effects of neoliberalization? Or that French researchers on Dominica have been working diligently for years on constraining the tsunami hazard there, and are far less vulnerable than other islands in the Caribbean that are not backed by the French government?

    Thank you, Lisa, for beginning this discussion in this space. It is exactly this kind of cross-fertilization that helps us achieve our (sometimes) disparate goals, and this collaboration I will certainly seek to continue in the future.

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