OSU scientist helps war-torn island plan for future tsunamis

NICOSIA, CYPRUS - A tsunami knows no boundaries. That recent lesson has chilled long-standing hostilities in the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where a soil scientist from Oregon State University is mapping evidence of tsunamis from past millennia.

In the weeks following the Asian tsunami, the officials of both Greek- and Turkish-controlled Cyprus put aside their political differences. They invited Jay Noller, an OSU soil scientist, to help Cypriots assess the risk of tsunamis to their shared island and to introduce Oregon's tsunami hazard model.

This is not the first time Noller has worked with both sides of the politically divided island. Noller broke new ground last year with a soil erosion study that brought together scientists for the first time from the two communities.

An unintended result from last year's study was evidence of unusual and unpredicted patterns of erosion along the Cyprus coast.

"From the patterns of soil erosion and evidence of sea-floor rocks now on dry land, I was able to piece together a history of many large tsunamis in the past several thousand years which eroded away the coastal soils," said Noller.

Called back to Cyprus in January following the Asian tsunami, Noller had expected to work with a small group of soil scientists. However, the meeting quickly grew into a bi-communal symposium in February where scientists and policy-makers from both Greek and Turkish communities met together, many for the first time.

Noller presented evidence of past tsunamis from his soil erosion study and from the long historic record of Cypriot civilization, including a tsunami description written on a clay tablet four thousand years ago. He warned the assembled group that Cyprus has a long history of being struck by damaging tsunamis and it is certain to be struck again.

Then Noller introduced Oregon's tsunami hazard model to help the Cypriots plan for their shared future.

"In Oregon, where we have the world's best warning system and science of tsunamis, we expect no prediction and we hope for twenty minutes at most to evacuate our coastal cities," Noller told the group.

He outlined the role of research, education and communication based on the Oregon tsunami hazard model. Then he proposed ways that government officials could make plans to reduce the hazard of tsunamis on all of Cyprus.

The symposium was held in Nicosia, which has been the capital of Cyprus for one thousand years and is now the world's only divided capital city, since the 1974 Turkish invasion split the country in two.

"I watched decades-old barriers dissolve within minutes between groups," Noller said. "It was particularly warming to listen to the testimonies of leadership from both sides make verbal commitments to expand their engagement to other matters. I am amazed at these changes."

Noller and his colleagues in Cyprus and at OSU are drafting reports to help officials assess the risk and plan for future tsunamis in Cyprus.

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Jay Noller

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