New York Blog

Predicting the Sea: Science and the City

It’s been a little over a year since the deadly tsunami hit Japan and the resulting nuclear disaster at Fukushima. There’s been a lot of talk recently about what we’ve learned from that disaster, how the devastation might have been prevented and how we might act differently in the future.  (See the Nature News special on the Japan earthquake here and a recent list of reports on the disaster here.)

Predicting marine disasters was the subject of this month’s Science & the City event. Bruce Parker, former chief scientist of NOAA and author of The Power of the Sea, gave a brief insight into how the sea and our ability, or inability to predict its actions has changed history. Whether that be winning battles and wars, to actually causing wars and changing the political landscape of an area. Parker mixed in a tolerable amount of physics, but most of the talk centered on history, both ancient and recent.

My favorite story from the evening was about the 1854 tsunami in Hiro Japan in which an elder of the village, living up in the hills, saw the sea recede and knew that a tsunami was on its way. Knowing that there wasn’t enough time to run down to the village to warn the villagers, he set his valuable rice crop on fire. The villagers ran up into the hills to put out the fire and were saved from the tsunami. It’s good to remember, that in every disaster there are also often stories of bravery, courage, and kindness. (For more stories from last night and from Parker’s book, check out his Facebook page).

The next Science & the City event also has a maritime theme. “Can Oysters Save the World” is being held on April 26 at the New York Academy of Sciences. Aquaculture students from the New York Harbor School will discuss their work on restoring the local oyster population to New York. I hope to see you all there. There will be oysters!


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