SEISMIC FAULT MAY HAVE CAUSED AITAPE TSUNAMI KILLING 2,000

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By Isaac Nicholas

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 15, 1999 - The National)---Either a seismic fault or a possible underwater landslide caused by an earthquake was the driving force behind the massive Aitape tsunami that killed more than 2,000 people last July 17, according to a scientific survey.

Dr. Takeshi Matsumoto, the chairman of the international scientific team which carried out the 10-day survey, said the team found it "quite strange" that an earthquake of the magnitude of 7.1 had caused a wave that reach a height of 15 meters (approximately 50 feet)..

The scientists said this was the first phase of the survey on board the Japanese research vessel, Kairei, to investigate the cause of the tsunami.

The team includes two Papua New Guinean scientists, four from the South Pacific Applied Geo Science Commission (SOPAC) and six Japanese experts.

The vessel, Kairei, is operated by the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center.

The scientists began investigating the ocean floor offshore from Sissano lagoon in search of geological evidence of what might have caused the tsunami.

The scientific survey started on Saturday (January 2) and ended on Wednesday (January 13) and the team presented their initial findings at the Islander Travelodge yesterday.

David Tappin, a scientist from the United Kingdom working with SOPAC, said there is a lot more work to be carried out in the coming months to find the cause of the tsunami.

He said that the main aim of the survey is to use sophisticated science to help the communities and the government to plan strategies to help people avoid such disasters in the future.

Mr. Tappin said the scientists would investigate the seabed using highly sophisticated equipment to see whether there was a fault or a slump (slide).

"We have found faults and evidence of movement in the seabed," he said.

Mr. Tappin said the survey was conducted 20 to 40 kilometers (12 to 24 miles) off shore from Sissano and they had produced a topographical map that identifies the seabed features.

He said the second phase of the study would be a submarine survey where a submersible equipped with cameras would be lowered to photograph the seabed. That phase is to begin at the end of February.

"We are looking for evidence of recent movements," he said,

"We can't predict anything yet. We are only trying to understand the event to see its frequency. "We are not in any position to predict when the next event will occur."

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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