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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 January through March 31, 2015, the research team purchased the Handheld XRF and Laser Particle Size Analyzer and is currently procuring equipment needed for its operation. Supplies were purchased for archiving the sediment samples in the repository and the data bank. Students have been organizing the samples in the plastic boxes under the supervision of Mohammad Saiful Islam and Masud Molla, while the renovation of the second lab is also underway. The Earthquake Geology training course which was scheduled to commence in April 2015 has been postponed until October 2015. The research team has been searching for an alternate instructor for the training course on Earthquake Hazard Analysis as well. Earlier this year, Prof. Syed Humayun Akhter participated at the International Workshop on Seismotectonics in Myanmar and Earthquake Risk Management held in Yangon, Myanmar, where he met Dr. Chung-Han Chan of Earth Observatory of Singapore (EOS) and discussed the training course on Earthquake Hazard Analysis. As a result, Dr. Chung-Han Chan has agreed to be the course instructor of the program. The timeline and the syllabus of the training course is currently being discussed, with the tentative date for the program set for June 2015, during the summer vacation of Dhaka University. The training courses which the research team has been trying to organize did not occur as scheduled also due to the political unrest, because of which many of the planned activities had to be delayed. Consequently, duration of the project has been extended until May 2016, to give additional time for the team to launch the training courses, purchase the needed equipment, and finish the renovation of the lab.