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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 1 (2011 Deadline)

Toward geohazard assessment in Bangladesh: academic infrastructure and knowledge transfer  

PI: Syed Humayun Akhter, Dhaka University
U.S. Partner:  Michael Steckler, Columbia University
Project Dates: May 2012 - May 2016

Project Overview

Situated at the junction of three tectonic plates and overlying the world’s largest delta, Bangladesh is one of the most natural disaster prone countries in the world. This rapidly developing nation is undergoing rampant urbanization and has a population of more than 150 million, about half the population of the United States, crowded into an area the size of Iowa. There are frequent water-related natural disasters including widespread seasonal floods, recurrent tropical cyclones with large storm surges, river erosion and channel avulsions, permanent land loss from sea level rise, and natural groundwater arsenic. These have overshadowed the severe hazard from rare, but devastating earthquakes, which have not received the attention commensurate with their considerable risk. To address seismic and other natural hazards, this project proposes creating a sediment sample and data storage facility and transferring knowledge to the local geoscience and engineering communities through training courses. This should increase local capacity to evaluate and mitigate hazards and will also contribute to the U.S. partner's ongoing NSF-supported research.

There is currently no place to archive sediment samples in Bangladesh. Encouraged by the success of the small seismology training facility previously established under a PEER pilot program grant, this project now proposes to renovate, furnish, and equip space donated by Dhaka University into a fully functioning center. The team anticipates jumpstarting the facility by storing samples from the more than 250 wells being drilled as part of the U.S. partner's NSF-funded project. The sample repository will be open to all Bangladeshi researchers to store samples and analyze results regarding a multitude of hazards, including earthquakes, sea level rise, land subsidence, arsenic contamination, and river avulsions. The project will also involve a workshop in Bangladesh on the tectonic and sedimentological background related to earthquake geology, including a field component that will teach site selection techniques. This will help establish a new line of research in Bangladesh to help trainees begin a coordinated countrywide effort to recover the geologic record of earthquakes in Bangladesh, and create a new generation of students able to apply earthquake geology techniques. Two other workshops will be also be organized, one focusing on seismic processing and interpretation  and the other on seismic hazard mapping and its role in disaster risk management and creation of seismic building codes. Through creation of the new center and the associated training activities, the project should help to bring up-to-date knowledge to geoscientists, engineers, and government administrators in Bangladesh in order to integrate these disparate groups and facilitate resilience against seismic hazard threats.
Summary of Recent Activities
During this period, Dr. Akhter and his colleagues conducted a four day training course, Seismic Interpretation in Folds-and-Thrust Belts, starting July 7, 2014. Twenty-six teachers and students attended the course, taught by Dr. Hubbard of the Earth Observatory of Singapore, in which they learned about the interpretation of seismic reflection data and the identification of active faults through power point lectures and hands-on exercises.

With regard to equipping and refurbishing the Sediment Repository and Data Bank, Dr. Akhter and his team continued to appropriate the materials needed to realize the goal of a fully functional repository. The team moved closer to procuring a Laser Particle Size Analyzer and Handheld XRF and expects to obtain the equipment by the end of the year. Dr. Akhter’s team encountered financial problems regarding the expect cost of the current sediment sample container designs and have instead opted to use boxes that are available on the local market to fulfill their needs. As a result, the team has had to redesign their storage racks to accommodate the new box sizes.

The next quarter will see Dr. Akhter and his team build upon their progress of this period. They have begun organizing a theoretical background course for graduate students to take place in December which will be followed soon after by an Earthquake Geology course in early January of 2015. The equipment procurement process will continue and the team hopes to hear favorable terms from their suppliers shortly. Once the terms have been reached, the agreement will be finalized at the Technical Evaluation Committee meeting in October.