Tue, Dec 28, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Taiwan not immune to tsunamis, scientists say

GEOLOGY Central Weather Bureau officials said that although Taiwan is less vulnerable to tsunamis than other countries in the region, the possibility does exist

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan needs to improve collaboration with other countries in the field of geology to gain more solid information it could use to mitigate the effects of future earthquakes and tsunamis, scientists said yesterday.

The earthquake in Indonesia, which registered 9.0 on the Richter scale, caused tsunamis that pummeled coastlines in several countries. It led to speculation about Taiwan's vulnerability to similar events, as the country is situated on the Pacific Rim.

"No one can guarantee that earthquakes of such magnitude will never occur in Taiwan. The world's seismic-prediction history is too short," Central Weather Bureau Deputy Director-General Hsin Tsai-chin (辛在勤) said yesterday.

In Taiwan, earthquakes measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale were recorded in 1910 and 1920. However, the epicenter of both was in the sea.

Bureau officials said that Taiwan is less vulnerable to tsunamis than other countries in the Pacific region due to its geological structure along the east coast, which would deflect the energy delivered by seismic waves. However, Keelung was damaged by a tsunami in 1867.

Because of the rarity of tsuna-mis, most Taiwanese are unaware of their potential threat. The bureau has never issued a tsunami warning in Taiwan as a result of the low accuracy of tsunami predictions -- about 20 percent.

A tsunami is a wave, or series of waves, generated in a body of water by a disturbance that vertically displaces the water column. Earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, explosions and even the impact of cosmic bodies such as meteorites can generate tsunamis. Most countries along the Pacific Rim now rely on information provided by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii. Japan employs its own system.

Lin Chao-chung (林朝宗), director of the Central Geological Survey, said yesterday that basic research into fault activities had to be carried out in the oceans to the east and south of Taiwan.

This has to be done in collaboration with neighboring countries to gain more solid information crucial to future mitigation of hazards associated with earthquakes and tsunamis, Lin said.

"We have to study not only fault activities ... but also observe volcanic activity deep under the sea," Lin said, adding that this would require cooperation with Japan.

Lin said that collaborative geological surveys in the ocean between Taiwan and the Philippines had to be promoted, because strong earthquakes there could also induce devastating tsunamis that could wreak havoc in Taiwan

An effective tsunami warning system can not be established without solid scientific research comprising an interdisciplinary approach, Lin said.

However, carrying out drilling projects or observing crustal deformation under the sea could be highly challenging and expensive. In the US and Germany, submarines can be used for geological surveys to observe activities deep in the sea.

A lack of resources for geological research is forcing Taiwanese scientists to use regular boats with limited capabilities, Lin said.

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