[ASC-media] ANU Media Release: CORALS CRUCIAL FOR BUILDING EARTHQUAKE LIBRARY

Jane O'Dwyer jane.odwyer at anu.edu.au
Tue Oct 31 00:33:36 CET 2006


ANU MEDIA RELEASE
News from The Australian National University
 
TUESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2006
CORALS CRUCIAL FOR BUILDING EARTHQUAKE LIBRARY
Highlights from the spring edition of ANU REPORTER
Scientists may be able to predict the frequency of catastrophic
earthquakes by studying coral records, a palaeoclimatologist from The
Australian National University predicts in the latest edition of ANU
Reporter.

Dr Mike Gagan from the Research School of Earth Sciences at ANU has been
leading an ARC-funded international research team building a 7,000 year
record of the earthquake activity to Australia's north using information
stored in coral reefs. 

The researchers have found that coral is a remarkably sensitive recorder
of light - meaning that any shift in the height of the ocean floor
caused by earthquakes is stored in the creature's structure.

"We measure in corals the relationship of carbon isotopes C13 to C12,
which is driven by light intensity," Dr Gagan said. "Corals get their
carbon from symbiotic algae living in the coral. The algae
photosynthesise, and the carbon is then transferred to the coral. The
rate of photosynthesis depends on the light intensity in the water. If
the coral's growing deep, the light is dim; if it's growing shallow,
there's more light."

By tracking the record of carbon in the corals, the research team can
note when the coral's proximity to the ocean's surface changed
dramatically - meaning earthquakes like the one that caused the 2004
Boxing Day tsunami can be recorded.

"We can track this earthquake activity back for thousands of years. And,
because coral records with great time fidelity, we can note when
earthquakes have happened in quick succession, allowing us to observe
the frequency of major compound earthquakes - where one occurs soon
after another."

Dr Gagan predicts that such information could be crucial in planning for
future tsunamis in south-east Asia and northern Australia. 

The spring edition of ANU Reporter contains a wealth of fascinating
stories from The Australian National University.  The ANU Media Office
can supply you with previews of the stories, photographs and put you in
touch with the people who are the story.  
 
 Other highlights of this edition:
*	Tool man: How ancient tools on Flores could be proof that
hobbits walked among us 
*	Sea of dreams: A new autonomous submersible device could
revolutionise ocean exploration 
*	Thinking small: Exploring organic structures is leading to
better materials engineering 
*	Prince of pieces: Is Machiavelli's reputation as an amoral
manipulator deserved? 
*	Country practice: Medical students in the bush are helping to
stem the health crisis

ANU Media Office: Simon Couper 02 6125 4171, 0416 249 241


Jane O'Dwyer
Media Manager
The Australian National University
T: 02 6125 5001
F: 02 6125 8255
M: 0416 249 231
W: www.anu.edu.au/media

Looking for expert comment? Try www.anu.edu.au/experts 

Marketing and Communications Division
The Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200
Australia 

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