On December 26, 2004 a wave of destruction hit the coasts along the Indian Ocean, affecting lives all over the world. Not only did this disaster bring about a world wide relief effort, but caused a reevaluation of the lack of warning systems in place for many regions threatened by seismic activity and potential devastating coastal impact of seafloor earthquakes. Six months later, information abounds in text, television, and periodicals for any lay person to research. The diversity of perspective is another matter. Depending on the source, subjects will range from brief plate tectonic education to in depth geophysical analysis, from calls for aid involvement to calls for answers revolving around predictability and warning. If a curious student takes a sampling of just a few periodicals, two tuned to a general audience, and one designed to address information in a scholarly manner, that person can easily identify the characteristics and perspective of each.
It is important to note, sources focused on human geography and public relations appear to have responded quicker with information and relayed simple geographical concepts, whereas scholarly journals and scientific periodicals are continuing the process of analyzing data and research-oriented information gathering, therefore these magazines are, even after six months, persevering in their quest to present articles, and will more than likely be publishing relevant articles in the future. The National Geographic Society is good source of information, and no person can argue the artistry of its presentation, however, the magazine, and its television and internet productions are directed toward a curious, but mostly naive audience. If searching for an overview, a middle man one may say, National Geographic does provide a history and account of the event in "The Deadliest Tsunami in History" (National Geographic News, Jan 7, 2005). Organized and succinct, the article begins with a few simple facts about the wave making process and tsunami characteristics, even dispelling myths that a tsunami is a single destructive tidal wave, but actually a series of wave building processes resulting from the shifting of the earth undersea due to seismic activity.
The article goes on to include human interest stories, not overlooking an account where an Indian man after remembering a National Geographic program, saves the li 8 ves of more than 1, 500 of his fellow villagers. Lastly, the article discusses potential residual hazards of the event, presenting issues such as famine and disease epidemics due to the lack of clean water and food supplies diminished from the disaster. The article stated 150, 000 people perished from the event, and postulates that due to after effects the death toll could raise to nearly double that number. At the time in which this article was published, little did the writers understand how correct they were; the death toll has reached over 300, 000 only six months later. The National Geographic article responded quickly and provided enough information to help the reader to understand the awesome effect of this tragedy, but did not offer the perspective of science or research.
The little geophysical concepts presented were vaguely credited to the USGS or "local news" and described almost condescendingly. Moving on to a more specialized magazine, Science News, a reader can find the scientific information presented in an easy to understand manner. Though the topic, the informational layout and human interest presentation was similar to that of the National Geographic version, this writer provided specific scholarly sources for the information presented. A quick to respond article, published January 8 th, 2005, the writer, Sid Perkins, was looking to debrief a shocked audience.
The writer provided much more quantitative data when presenting the actual event, citing specific sources. He even describes a gravitational change in the earth due to the slippage of seafloor caused by the quake: "The sudden surge of the India plate downward, toward the planet's center, slightly altered the planet's distribution of mass, says Richard S. Gross of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Just as spinning skaters rotate more quickly when the draw their arms inward toward their bodies, the Earth now completes its daily rotation in about 2. 67 microseconds less time than it did before the quake, according to his calculations." (Perkins).
This excerpt exemplifies Perkins' approach, not oversimplifying the information, yet offering an analogy to illustrate the process or concept. He finishes by briefly addressing the lack of a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean. He presents a controversial concept at he end of his article, as he barely touches on the fact that though there existed no actual warning system, the area had been identified as one of the eighty areas likely to undergo such a disaster, as early 2000. This idea has been, in the last six months, rehashed and many agencies have questioned where the ball was dropped in not only research and results in years past but the communication of the day prior to and during the event.
Being published so near after the tragedy, Perkins made a smart decision not to editorialize on this subject but simply present a small piece within his article, foreshadowing conversations to come. A reader could find his perspective informative and direct, but lacking a focused objective. His goal being to inform, not present research data, this reader finds his article to be the easiest and most accurate read. Moving onto more scholarly journals and periodicals, little related subject matter can be found. More specialized articles and small notes appear here and there, but the lack of a general presentation of the processes that cause such an event and human interest reports is not surprising.
As stated before in this paper, these publications concern themselves less with the layperson's education and socio-political repercussions and focus on the resulting data and potential research and development to arise from such an event. One magazine, Science, published related topics in its January 7 th, January 14 th, and February 18 th issues. The largest article, "In the Wake of Disaster, Scientists Seek out Clues to Prevention", a mere one and a half pages, simply addresses the tsunami effects and its surprising effect on scientific research, and focuses within the first two paragraphs on the efforts now being pursued to not only develop a warning system, but to determine whether or not there were sufficient clues prior to the latest event that could have saved lives. Having cited resources and tackled that controversial discussion mentioned above, the author, Yudhijt Bhattacharjee, did not bother himself with setting the groundwork, but dove right in, illustrating his perspective within the scientific community as practical and take charge. The following week, Richard A. Kerr wrote for the same periodical, "Failure to Gauge the Quake Crippled the Warning Effect", a one page review of seismological data and interagency communication.
Warnings were issued but not directly to the right people. Seismologists underestimated the size of the quake, causing the warning time to be less. The point of the article was not necessarily to lay blame, but to discuss the process in which information was gathered and shred prior to and during the quake, as well as subsequent efforts made to define the size and range of the related tsunami. By reviewing various techniques and tools for seismic observation and prediction, the author concluded, with the help of the scientific community interviewed, that the reason the extent of damage and loss of the life was the lack of the fastest and most accurate tools being utilized due to the unforeseen need for that kind of real time data analysis.
The last sample, "Sumatran Quake Supersized", appeared on a couple pages titled" Random Samples" in the February 18 issue of Science. The four paragraphs, edited by Constance Holden, revisit the idea that data was misinterpreted: "Seismologists tracing Earth's shivers in the hours after the great tsunami of 26 December have found that they had overlooked fully two-thirds of the energy released" (Science 1040). The finale of the small article touches home as the editor describes efforts being made to develop a "tsunami-detecting network" and "tsunami evacuation routes" in subduction zones, like the west coast of Washington, where underwater earthquakes pose an immediate threat in geologic time. In studying the last three articles in Science, though written by different authors, the theme and subject matter is related. Unlike articles meant to define the tsunami and describe human interest accounts, this magazine was definitely more concerned with the why and how, and the progress the future may hold by learning from and acting on the event. In comparing and contrasting the content and intent of these sources, a well rounded reader can appreciate their differences and rely on their similarities.
Discounting any of the articles or sources simply means that the reader cannot understand the audience for which the article was written. However varied, any reader should never rely on one source for his or her judgment of any given topic.