No­body can pre­dict a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter, as­serts world-fa­mous Oceanog­ra­pher

Prof. Charitha Pat­tiaratchi de­bunks In­dian Ker­ala-based physics pro­fes­sor's so-called tsunami pre­dic­tion that has struck fear among many Sri Lankans Says Sri Lanka now has an ef­fi­cient tsunami warn­ing sys­tem which would give Sri Lanka a red-alert and adeq

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS - By Ku­mu­dini Het­tiarachchi

No­body, sim­ply no­body, can pre­dict any nat­u­ral dis­as­ter in­clud­ing a tsunami or an earth­quake! But there is am­ple time to be pre­pared as there are ef­fec­tive warn­ing sys­tems in place.

This is the cat­e­gor­i­cal as­ser­tion of world-fa­mous Oceanog­ra­pher, Prof. Charitha Pat­tiaratchi, in re­ac­tion to fear and ter­ror spread by a pre­dic­tion orig­i­nat­ing in In­dia that a tsunami is im­mi­nent be­fore De­cem­ber 31.

Be­fore de­bunk­ing the so- called tsunami pre­dic­tion, he looks at the bad weather that has as­sailed Sri Lanka this week caus­ing much de­struc­tion. On Wed­nes­day, a trop­i­cal storm started to the east of Sri Lanka, crossed the south­ern coast and moved into the Gulf of Man­nar, he says, ex­plain­ing its fe­roc­ity.

“Usu­ally, a trop­i­cal storm de­creases in strength as it moves over­land, but gath­ers mo­men­tum when rush­ing across the ocean, bring­ing strong winds and heavy rain­fall to its south. This was what caught the south­west coast in their grip. After that there would be no pow­er­ful winds only heavy rain,” says Prof. Pat­tiaratchi ex­plain­ing the weather con­di­tions after Wed­nes­day, be­fore he flew home to Aus­tralia on Thurs­day night.

Prof. Pat­tiaratchi who is Pro­fes­sor of Coastal Oceanog­ra­phy at the Oceans In­sti­tute of the Univer­sity of Western Aus­tralia was in Sri Lanka, tak­ing a break from his busy sched­ules back home and also cel­e­brat­ing his 60th birth­day on Oc­to­ber 29.

Ac­cord­ing to him the pat­tern is that one such weather sys­tem is fol­lowed hot on its heels by an­other sys­tem, as the con­di­tions are con­ducive. In the com­ing week there would be an­other trop­i­cal storm which would be felt on the north­east of Sri Lanka.

With gusty winds, over­cast skies and heavy show­ers of rain fol­low­ing the build-up of pres­sure in the Bay of Ben­gal this week, the dooms­day-pre­dic­tions of an In­dian Ker­ala-based physics pro­fes­sor, Babu Kalayil who claims to have ex­trasen­sory pow­ers, are send­ing shiv­ers up the spines of nu­mer­ous Sri Lankans who are ter­ri­fied of a tsunami.

“The fear is so chilling that par­ents are not send­ing their chil­dren to school in the south of Sri Lanka. It is just the fear of the un­known and peo­ple are ready to cling even to pre­dic­tions which are very far­fetched,” said Prof. Pat­tiaratchi.

Kalayil has ‘pre­dicted’ that a mas­sive earth­quake will strike the In­dian Ocean by De­cem­ber 31, af­fect­ing 11 coun­tries in­clud­ing Sri Lanka, China, Pak­istan, Ja­pan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thai­land, In­done­sia and Afghanistan.

The earth­quake will be se­vere enough to af­fect the “boundary of the seashore”, he had said, adding that there will be a storm which ap­pears to bring about high-speed winds of up to “120-180km with mighty power”.

Point­ing out that “no­body” pre­dicted the De­cem­ber 26, 2004 tsunami, Prof. Pat­tiaratchi says a clear “No, no”, to such pre­dic­tions. He stresses that all nat­u­ral dis­as­ters in­clud­ing earth­quakes are “un­pre­dictable” be­fore tak­ing a “look” at the science be­hind earth­quakes. The science is that there is a grad­ual build-up of fric­tion be­tween two tec­tonic plates, which makes one plate move slowly above the other. This re­leases the ‘pent-up’ en­ergy which has been stored be­tween the two plates for over hun­dreds and thou­sands of years. This re­lease of en­ergy is what set off the high-pow­ered seaquake with the epi­cen­ter in the In­dian Ocean close to Su­ma­tra in In­done­sia in 2004.

“There will never be a re­cur­rence in 10-15 years of such a catas­tro­phe,” says Prof. Pat­tiaratchi, un­der­scor­ing that such an event would be re­peated only in an­other 500 years or 1,000 years. “We do not ex­pect a tsunami of that mag­ni­tude in our life­time.”

He also points out that even though a tsunami is not pre­dictable, there is an ef­fi­cient tsunami warn­ing sys­tem which would give Sri Lanka a red-alert and ad­e­quate time -- any­thing be­tween 2½ hours to a min­i­mum of at least 90 min­utes (1½ hours) -- be­fore it hits our shore. The tsunami warn­ing sys­tem will give clear de­tails of what time a tsunami will hit, where it will hit and how big a tsunami it is.

“This is a long time for those on the coast­line to be evac­u­ated,” he says, adding that there is ab­so­lutely no rea­son to be fear­ful.

Go­ing back to 2004, Prof. Pat­tiaratchi who was on hol­i­day in the south when the tsunami struck nearly 13 years ago, says the pent-up en­ergy re­lease con­tin­ued to cause other tsunamis in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Since then, there have been tsunamis in dif­fer­ent ar­eas where there have been earth­quakes but not a big one.

“There is noth­ing to get scared in Sri Lanka be­cause these earth­quakes have been to­wards the Far East and Aus­tralia,” he as­sures, ex­plain­ing that cy­clones work the same way.

Into the eye of the cy­clone he ven­tures, while point­ing out that even though the fre­quency of cy­clones has in­creased in re­cent times due to cli­mate change, the di­rect im­pact on Sri Lanka has re­duced. In the 1950s and early ’60s, Sri Lanka was hit by a cy­clone every year. This ended in 1964. Since then there has been a cy­clone every five years and, some­times, even less fre­quently, in seven years. They do come close to Sri Lanka but veer away soon after.

This is due to an in­crease in the number of storms in the Bay of Ben­gal. How­ever, due to the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture be­ing high as a re­sult of cli­mate change, these cy­clones go north, away from the Equa­tor trav­el­ling to north In­dia, Bangladesh and Myan­mar, he says. “We don’t have di­rect hits from these cy­clones. We feel their im­pact a lit­tle bit on the edge of the eastern coast.”

Re­call­ing the ma­jor floods that sub­merged Sri Lanka in May, Prof. Pat­tiaratchi points out that they were due to a trop­i­cal storm that arose from the Bay of Ben­gal and de­vel­oped into a trop­i­cal cy­clone called ‘Mora’ which had se­vere im­pacts on the north­ern side of the Bay of Ben­gal claim­ing 100 lives. It re­mained “stuck” to the north- east of that area bring­ing lots of rain.

“Now we are also fac­ing in­ter-mon­soonal winds which bring with them thun­der­storms and rain,” he adds.

Prof. Charitha Pat­tiaratchi

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka

© PressReader. All rights reserved.