First uk tsunami expert to visit Maldives

Friday 11 February 2005

An expert on tsunamis from the University of St Andrews will head off to the Maldives this weekend to investigate the impact of the Indian Ocean tsunami on Boxing Day last year.

Dr Sue Dawson, a research scientist at the University’s School of Geography and Geosciences, will use her expertise in tsunami sedimentation to document changes in the coastline, maximum impact of the tsunami and any ‘signatures’ that the devastating event left behind. She is the first UK scientist to study tsunami in the region and in addition to collecting cores of sediments from the lagoon, she will gather anecdotal evidence from the islanders.

While there, Dr Dawson will also meet with government officials and visit local schools, where she will give lectures to school children and teachers, who are largely uneducated on the impact of tsunamis.

The Maldives are often promoted as the ‘last paradise on Earth’ but 20 of its 199 islands are reportedly ‘totally destroyed’ by the tsunami disaster. For an island nation which relies heavily on tourism – moreso than any other country affected by the tsunami – the impact has been devastating. It is thought that the rebuilding of damage will take months and cost an estimated $1.5b.

Dr Dawson previously carried out research in the Maldives two years ago and – after the recent global disaster – decided to self-finance a return trip. An expert in coastal change, sea level changes, storms, Dr Dawson has studied the impact of tsunamis for over 14 years. Her expertise lies in looking at sedimentary evidence of previous tsunamis to help understand future threats. She has previously looked at the sedimentary evidence of the last tsunami in Scotland 7,000 years ago.

“There is little investigation into previous tsunami impacts,” she said, “by looking at sediments, we can gather information on what has happened in the past, which can help us look at what possible impacts could be. We are gathering a geological record of the damage previous tsunamis have caused.”

The Maldives was one of the regions hit by the recent tsunami, alongside India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand. Though the Maldives did not suffer the same mass devastation as Indonesia, there were around 80 lives lost, 49 inhabited islands were flooded, and around 20 of the resort islands were put out of operation. At its worst, the island airport was closed completely as waves rose to four meters above the height of the island. Because 99% of the island territory is sea and no island is more than one and a half meters above sea level, the Maldives have always been at risk of flooding, but none could have anticipated the recent tsunami.

Working with local people on the island is a crucial part of the research and Dr Dawson decided to give something back to the local community by visiting schools. Her offer of giving lectures to school children was readily accepted and the trip has evolved into a whole series of lectures, which will also be attended by Government officials.

The researcher explained: “The locals are so hospitable and I wanted to give something back to them after they were such kind hosts during my previous trip. It’s very important to work closely with the local community since they have first-hand knowledge of what happened during the tsunami and that input is valuable to my research.

“It is also important to educate the islanders on tsunami events since they really had no knowledge of tsunamis before last year. Children especially are naturally worried because they don’t know what’s going on and adults are worried about their homes and livelihood.”

Dr Dawson will leave for the Maldives on Sunday (13th February) and will stay for 10 days, mainly basing herself at the capital, Male. She hopes to visit Indonesia and Sri Lanka next year to carry out the same kind of research.




Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook, Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email gec3@st- Ref: Maldives tsunami visit 110205.doc View the latest University press releases at

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