A Utah geologist is taking last week's Tsunami tragedy especially hard. It seems he predicted what would happen seven years ago, even warned the Indonesian government. BYU geology professor Dr. Ron Harris has been a student and researcher of the rim of the Indian Ocean for some seventeen years. In a major study there with students from Indonesia and Brigham Young University, he published a paper in 1997. Even though there had not been a large magnitude earthquake along the massive Sumatra fault for the past 150 years, Dr. Harris' studies showed the risk was building. Dr. Ron Harris, BYU Professor of Geology: “But there was still plate motion going on. We knew that eventually it would have to recover all of that motion.”
He talked about that imminent risk in a 1997 paper published in Indonesia and another one published at BYU in 2002. Both predicted an earthquake of magnitude eight or greater - one that could produce huge Tsunami's. Dr. Ron Harris: “Sobering doesn't seem to describe it well enough. As soon as I heard it was a magnitude 9, I knew that there would be huge consequences, no matter where the epicenter was." To those experts who said they never expected Tsunami's in this area, Harris says, do your homework, citing a lower magnitude quake on a similar fault zone in 1941 that sent a Tsunami all the way across the Indian Ocean into eastern India. Dr. Ron Harris: "So for people to say the Indian Ocean is not vulnerable to tsunami is totally ridiculous." In fact, Harris and his colleagues at BYU are now looking at two open windows for future big quakes, one near the coastline of Java. 50 million people live and work along that coastline. Backed with a National Science Foundation grant, Harris is going back to this part of the world in June for more studies. This time he says he'll work with local governments in building protective natural barriers for Tsunami's. Harris says palm trees fronting a coastline tend to absorb a little of the energy from the waves.
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