Coastal Lab - Adam Switzer

Overview

The coastal lab investigates the geological record of coastal hazards (storms and tsunamis) in Southeast Asia. The lab’s 11-strong research group brought in from around the world currently studies beaches, coastlines and low-lying areas in ten different countries – Vietnam, China, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Lebanon, Tahiti and Taiwan.

One of the driving aims of the research group is to make the coastlines of Asia safer places to live, work and play. Records of past coastal hazards events can help predict impacts and likelihood of similar future events. We also aim to be able to use the information on past coastal change to provide an idea of what might be expected in the future, and thereby to inform policy and planning decisions.

Globally, studies of the sedimentation and geomorphic effects of tsunami and storm surge have gained increasing popularity and recognition since the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 demonstrated the vulnerability of coastal communities the world over, and the 2011 Tohoku-Oki Tsunami reminded us that we can never be too prepared for such events.

Since its inception in 2010, the lab has made significant contributions to coastal change research around the world, has been involved with developing new approaches to reconstructing tsunami and hurricane hazards, and has made major contributions to improved planning and management of the human activities in the coastal environment.

Coastal Hazards
Meteorologists often describe Southeast Asia as the “Maritime Continent”, which underlies its susceptibility to coastal hazards. The rapid demographic growth in this region is a factor that aggravates the risk, as most of the new populations tend to settle on the shores where economic activity is concentrated. Hence coastal hazards are a crucial research field in the region.
 
Oceanographic and Inundation Modelling
Sedimentary records from historical and paleo-events are used to model storm surge or tsunami inundations in coastal areas. Such modelling is crucial for coastal hazard assessment and risk mitigation.
 
Sea Level History
Since the 19th century tide gauges measurements record sea-level changes and since 40 years satellites enabled a global and accurate sea-level record. However, researchers need sea-level estimates on a longer-term to validate climate and tectonic models and to infer the local effects of climate change on sea-level rise.
 
Environmental Change
The coastal lab is involved in the study of environmental change and coastal hazards all over Southeast Asia. Sedimentary records of the South China Sea coastline are analysed to develop an understanding of the geological, geomorphological, and climatic history of the region.

Assessment of the recurrence of typhoons, storms and tsunamis in the region, as well as its onshore and offshore geological evolution, are of crucial interest to the stakeholders, as the South China Sea littorals have one of the highest rates of infrastructure development in the world.

Latest Projects

This project will be conducting fieldwork in Malaysia to study sea level change throughout the past 8,000 years.

In the hope that we can learn from the past to prepare for climate change, this project will look at how natural hazards and environmental cycles can lead to political and social upheaval.

This study aims to identify potential historical tsunami deposits on the southern coast of Java and to determine if local historical records can provide valuable information for the discovery of past tsunamis.

Switzer and his team are studying the chemistry of ostracods, tiny shrimp-like creatures that are common in the fossil record, to see if they can be useful for quantifying past environmental and climate change.

To assess disaster risk more precisely, Switzer and his group are looking for microbial signatures that indicate past coastal flooding.

Since sea level rise isn't uniform globally, Switzer is using coral reef data from corals to develop a model for how well corals record sea levels and to determine historical sea levels during the Sunda Islands in Indonesia.

Awards

2016

AXA Fellowship

Collaborators