New Zealand Student Wins Fulbright Award… Will Research Pacific Tsunamis at University of Hawai’i

Media Release:

Christchurch geology student Shaun Williams departs for Hawai’i next week to spend the year modeling historical tsunamis in Samoa, supported by a US$25,000 Fulbright-Ministry of Research, Science and Technology Graduate Award. He aims to improve understanding of the long-term risk of tsunami hazards in the Pacific region and allow for better preparation and mitigation against such disasters.

Fulbright-Ministry of Research, Science and Technology Graduate Award recipient Shaun Williams

Like many Samoans living in New Zealand, Shaun felt a personal connection to the 2009 tsunami which caused substantial damage and loss of life in Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga. The disaster motivated a change in research topic for his PhD from the University of Canterbury, which his research at the University of Hawai’i will contribute towards.

“I was born and raised in Samoa,” Shaun explains. “I feel that this project enables me to give back to my community as best I know how, as well as enabling me to carry on work I was involved with during my time of civil service in Samoa as Senior Officer of Geophysics at the Samoa Meteorology Division from 2004 -2007. It also builds on my subsequent masters research on landslide-induced tsunamis in the Samoa Islands.”

The University of Hawai’i’s Ocean and Resources Engineering Department have developed a numerical tsunami model which Shaun will use to simulate the various characteristics of paleotsunamis identified through field investigations in Samoa. These numerical simulations will fill a gap in the historical knowledge of tsunamis in the region. “As with most island nations in the Pacific, the historical record in Samoa is very short, and only formally began in 1830 following the arrival of the official missionaries to the islands. Unfortunately, this cultural shift largely resulted in the loss of 3000 year old oral records of Samoa’s geoscience pre-history, and hence we have little evidence of tsunami occurrence in the islands prior to the late 1800s. This is a major limitation to understanding the medium- to long-term tsunami frequency and magnitude distributions in these islands.”

Shaun was one of 14 New Zealand students awarded Fulbright-Ministry of Research, Science and Technology Graduate Awards in 2010 to study or research in the United States.

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