Saturday, March 19, 2011

Post-tsunami science in Japan -- Part 1

Post-tsunami science in Japan -- Part 1 -- Shuto-sensei and Tohoku University

This is a picture of our field trip group and our hosts in Kesennuma City, April 2010; our hosts are in suits, whereas we had come directly from the field. Later, we will learn more about the fates of these fine citizens of Kesennuma, one of the towns which was devastated by the tsunami. Shuto, his wife, and Imamura are front and center. Photo courtesy Helmut Brueckner

Some people have been asking me, what are Japanese scientists doing now?

I am writing below only about some of the people I know. There are many many more researchers now trying their best to keep up with science while also dealing with the human tragedy and ongoing risks. And the well-being of their own families and friends. The recent information comes primarily from postings to bulletin boards, not direct communication to me. You can link to much of this information here:

[names are written English-style, surname/family name second]

Nobuo Shuto

Formerly in Faculty of Policy Studies, Iwate Prefectural University

(Iwate is one of the prefectures heavily hit, in northern Honshu)

Recently at: Advanced Research Institute for Sciences and Humanities, Nihon University, Tokyo

and: Disaster Control Research Center, Tohoku University [see below]

I call Nobuo Shuto the “super-sensei” of tsunami science. He is one of the pioneers of tsunami modeling and now is particularly focused on tsunami hazard planning. Last year I had a chance to ask him how he got started in the field, and he said he was a graduate student when the Chile 1960 tsunami struck Japan, he went out on survey, and that determined and defined his career. The Pacific coast of northern Honshu is a place he has returned to again and again in his studies, and last April, he co-led our field trip there. He is a wealth of knowledge about the science and history of tsunamis on this coast, and he knows the people well.

Since 11 March 2011 he has posted some messages about the well-being of people we met, the historical catalogue of the region, and about conditions locally in the heavily affected region. His messages also mention the bad weather. Update 22 March in Japan: Today Shuto-sensei posted some more of the historical information about tsunamis in this region, ending with this note:

"As for the Meiji one, I can not find the original report because of a big mess in my library."

I found this picture (above, left) on the web of Shuto-sensei when he visited Crescent City, CA a few years ago. I believe Lori Dengler is the photographer.


The university in Sendai was severely damaged. From Koshimura-san: The laboratory was completely destroyed, and everything is inoperative. Servers were also destroyed. Electrical power is available only in the first floor of the Sougou-Kenkyu Building, where our activities are presently being conducted.

The Tohoku group is a leader in tsunami research, including tsunami engineering. They hosted the workshop I attended last April: Tsunami: Science, Technology, and Disaster Mitigation. We have received word that they and their families are ok, but this must be a terrible time for them.

Fumihiko Imamura

Director, Disaster Control Research Center Tsunami Engineering Laboratory

Working website:

Fumi has been working for decades on tsunami engineering and science, with work in surveying, modeling and sedimentology. From Wikipedia!: " His current research encompasses numerical tsunami simulation, warning systems, disaster prevention and evacuation." I first met him in 1992 on the Nicaragua post-tsunami survey. Last spring he was lead organizer of the 3rd International Tsunami Field Symposium at Tohoku University [their website is down, server destroyed at Tohoku], and he co-led the trip following the meeting to the Sanriku coast. He was part of a study of the Jogan tsunami deposit, now considered the predecessor of the 2011 Tohoku event.

I haven’t heard directly from Fumi but know he is actively trying to study this event, reflect on the evidence from the AD 869 Jogan event, and keep his life together in devastated Sendai. He must be incredibly busy, as director of his institute. (see note at the end of this post)

The picture (right) is of Fumi-san (brown coat) telling us about the tsunami gate in Minami-Sanriku on our April 2010 field trip.

Koji Minoura, Department of Paleontology

Minoura-san is one of the pioneers of tsunami geology. I first met him in 1995 at a tsunami workshop on Kamchatka, where already he had done field work.

Minoura-san has written: The laboratory and my home are in terrible shape. It will take a long time to clean up. Commodities such as gasoline are extremely short. The fuel is being reserved for emergency vehicles, so I cannot refuel my car. The coastal area cannot be accessed because of rescue operations and heaps of debris. Also, thick, waist-high sludge covers some places, which are too dangerous to enter.

Minoura-san was lead author of a study published in 2001 on the tsunami deposit from the A.D. 869 Jogan event, now widely considered to be the predecessor to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In that study, Minoura and colleagues also found evidence for two older very-large tsunamis, with an average recurrence interval of about 1000 years. Based on modeling by Imamura and others, they estimated the Jogan to have been an 8.3 locally. But in highsight and with more work done and to come, it could be that this same deposit is present along more of the coastline (e.g., to the north) and the earthquake was larger in total moment.

The picture is from our field trip last April to Ishigaki Island to see tsunami boulders.

Shiyunichi (Shunichi) Koshimura

In the world of small worlds, Koshi lived in my house in Seattle for the year 2000-2001 while I was on sabbatical in Russia (Kamchatka). I didn't meet him at that time for awhile, but remember writing to him after the 2001 Nisqually quake hit the Puget Sound region, to ask him how was my house. He wrote back that he was in Hawaii, but reports were that my house was fine.

Dr. Koshimura is part of the DCRC, whose primary objectives are:

  1. Millennium Tsunami disaster risk evaluation –fusion with sedimentary information
  2. Development of high precision Tsunami risk evaluation (Direct and indirect methods of evaluation and estimation)
  3. Comprehensive research for mitigation of Tsunami disasters in and out of Japan
  4. Introducing Tsunami warning system to regional residents (Simulation and Real time observation data)

Koshimura-san tried to conduct a post-tsunami survey on the Sendai plain, 12-13 March but had to turn back. A short report: The area between the southern bank of the Natori River and the northern part of Sendai Airport was surveyed. This area is a flat plain, and the tsunami invaded it through an underpass of the Sendai-Tobu Road. The tsunami reached 3 to 4 km inland. The plain was still flooded by muddy water, with the depth being about 1 meter at approximately 3 km from the coast (the only measurement made in this survey). Approaching the coast through this water is impossible.

Photo (left) by Koshimua, Sugawara holding rod.

Daisuke Sugawara

Sugawara-san is also a tsunami sedimentologist and micropaleontologist,with studies ranging from co-investigations of the 896 Jogan event, to deposits from the 2004 Indian Ocean. I first “met” Daisuke with many e-mail exchange via his role as coordinator for the 2010 tsunami symposium at Tohoku University I found his name easy to remember because of the famous Japanese pitcher now in US major leagues, Daisuke Matsuzaka -- “dice-k”

Sugawara-san was the one who led our field trip to the Sendai plains, to see the deposits of the Jogan tsunami. He also was on the team that recently tried to survey the effects of the 2011 Tohoku tsunami on the Sendai plain. He is working with Koshimura on post-tsunami effects. The microorganisms preserved in tsunami deposits can help us understand where the tsunami water came from, and where the tsunami eroded the offshore.

Here (right) he is demonstrating coring on the Sendai plain.

FLASH--A report via e-mail on Saturday 19 March from Megumi Sugimoto (she studies Disaster Relief and Recovery, based at Earthquake Research Institute in Tokyo--more on her group in another post), of the situation at Tohoku University in Sendai:
Occasionally I saw Prof. Imamura on the street without appointment today.
I was eager to see him after the disaster.
I try to make sure hope for tsunami mitigation again after such disaster.
He was a hero for tsunami DRR in Japan.
He looked ok however was shocked.
His staff who showed us field practices by geoslicers last ITFS was
also shocked very much.
I couldn't say good words to them.

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