This week U.S. and Haitian scientists will start a 20-day research cruise off Haiti to address urgent questions about the workings of the great Jan. 12 earthquake, and the possibility of continuing threats. They hope to gather sonar images, sediments and other evidence from the seafloor that might reveal hidden structures, how they have moved, and where strain may be building now. Powerful aftershocks have continued to rattle Haiti and nearby countries, but scientists know little about the potential for further big events and where they may strike; among other things, the team wants to investigate why a small, little-reported tsunami struck the coast during the quake.
“It’s important to go now, because we need to characterize what happened on the seafloor and in the subsurface before storms and waves wipe out the evidence,” said chief scientist Cecilia McHugh, a marine geologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and professor at Queens College in New York. “Figuring out how this earthquake worked and where other earthquakes may be prone to occur is critical for a lot of things, including where to resettle people, where to build houses, and how strong to build them.”