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Professor of Geology Andy Moore is pictured in a survey pit near Pangani Bay. (Drone photography by Davide Oppo)

Earlham geologists uncover new risks for tsunamis on east African coastline

June 08, 2020

Melody Che, right, examines a sediment core on the delta at the Mbweni ward in Dar es Salaam. (Photo by Vittorio Masselli)An international team of researchers that included three Earlham geologists discovered evidence of an ancient tsunami striking Tanzania about 1,000 years ago. The work, published in the journal Geology and highlighted in a National Geographic feature, suggests that the tsunami risk to East Africa could be greater than previously believed.  

Andy Moore, professor of geology, and recent Earlham graduates Melody Che and Ai Lena Tomioka, conducted the research in 2017 with collaborators in Tanzania at a site in Pangani Bay. In their study area, they found that a sheet of sand characteristic of tsunami draped a coastal lowland, leaving behind pottery shards, fire pits and human remains.  

The discovery helps shed light on the potential for damaging tsunamis to strike east Africa. Unlike the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which caused little damage to the African coastline, this event appears to have generated at least local devastation. 

“We tend to think of the hazard for a 2004-like event as being pretty much exclusive to Asia, and this research suggests that maybe if the tide had been a little higher in 2004, the results could have been different,” Moore said. 

In addition to their work in Pangani, Che and Tomioka also searched for tsunami deposits near Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. The results of that research were presented at the 2018 Geological Society of America Annual Meeting. 

Ai Lena Tomioka, right, and Melody Che are pictured near Pangani Bay surveying locations for a site map. (Photo by Andy Moore)
“I gained an idea of what research in graduate school could be like, and experience in fieldwork which was valuable in influencing my career direction,” Che said. “It was also an exciting project to be a part of and a very memorable experience overall.” Che, a 2018 graduate, works as a geologist in the Indianapolis area for Enviroforensics.

“This is an example of the best kind of undergraduate collaborative research,” added Moore. “Students participated in societally relevant global research, they presented their work at a national conference, and then became published authors in a prestigious scholarly journal.

“I’m thrilled that Earlham can offer students the experience of working alongside their professors in this way to produce high quality research,” he notes.

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“Not many undergrads get to participate in real research that gets to the publishing stage,” Tomioka said. “Collaborating with scientists from five different countries in a new environment brought an irreplaceable experience filled with excitement, mentorship and implementation of new field techniques. We experienced the real-life constraints of having little time in the field and navigating the tide and weather,” Tomioka explained.

Support for this research came from the National Geographic Society, Earlham Summer Collaborative Research Fund, and the Geology Department's Ansel Gooding Memorial Endowment Fund.

Media contact

Brian Zimmermandirector of media relations
Email: zimmebr@earlham.edu
Phone: 765-983-1256

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