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A group of New Zealand scientists, earthquake engineers, and emergency managers will head to Thailand this weekend to learn about the impact of the Boxing Day tsunami.

The visit is being conducted under the auspices of the New Zealand Society of Earthquake Engineering which sends reconnaissance teams overseas after major earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

Led by Hugh Cowan of Geological and Nuclear Sciences Ltd (GNS), the group of seven will spend a week assessing the impact of the tsunami on the infrastructure and communities along Thailand's west coast. This part of Thailand features a number of natural and man-made similarities to New Zealand, and the team anticipates there will be a number of lessons that can be applied here.

" Parts of New Zealand face significant tsunami threats and scientists, engineers, and emergency managers are working to develop more effective strategies for detection, warning and lessening damage," Dr Cowan said. Team members will: • Assess the way the tsunami waves arrived and how the behaviour of the tsunami was influenced by coastal geometry and the shape of the seabed. • Investigate the impact of the waves and debris on infrastructure such as roads, bridges, communications, water and waste, ports, and jetties. • Assess rescue and recovery efforts at a local and national level, including the demands arising from worldwide interest and concern.

In addition to Dr Cowan, other team members are: Ø Dr Rob Bell ? tsunami specialist and coastal engineer of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) Ø Dr Erica Dalziel ? risk management expert from Canterbury University's Department of Civil Engineering Ø Noel Evans ? structural engineer involved in engineering lifelines projects Ø Mike O'Leary ? Manager Readiness and National Controller, Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management Ø Bernie Rush ? Emergency Management Advisor, Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management Ø Lawrence Yule ? Representative of the National Council of Local Government New Zealand.

Tsunami hazard for the Pacific is higher than other oceans because of the "Ring of Fire" ? the zone of earthquakes associated with the tectonic plate boundary that bounds the Pacific, Dr Cowan said.

" In New Zealand, scientists consider the tsunami hazard from two viewpoints ? pan-Pacific events for which there will be some warning, and 'near source' tsunami generated by large offshore New Zealand earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions."

The list of possible local tsunami sources is long. Because tsunami research is relatively young (compared to other geological hazards), there is much to learn about the severity and frequency of local and distant tsunamis.

" One of the main challenges facing tsunami researchers is that evidence of historical tsunamis does not stay in the landscape as it is eroded by natural processes. Impacts of historical tsunamis are therefore difficult to identify."

GNS works with a number of groups, including NIWA, universities, and private individuals, to improve the knowledge of tsunami hazards in New Zealand. Current research includes: q Identifying tsunami that have occurred over the past few thousand years around the New Zealand coastline. q Working on historical tsunami (the past 200 years) to understand the damage and hence calibrate models of inundation and impact. q Collaborating with the US agency NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) on pan-Pacific tsunami, which will eventually allow wave height predictions in real-time and assessment of the longterm risk on a probabilistic basis. q Modelling of local tsunami generated by earthquakes and undersea landslides off the New Zealand coast. q Studying offshore faults and earthquakes the may produce local tsunami. q Researching the public awareness of geological hazards and the effectiveness of warning systems and public eduction programmes.

" The visit to Thailand is expected to contribute substantially to New Zealand's body of knowledge on tsunami hazards, methods of mitigation, and recovery," Dr Cowan said.

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