Earthquakes, floods, sea-level rise and sudden shifts in river courses threaten many of the 150 million Bangladeshis living in the low-lying Brahmaputra River delta. Scientists from Lamont-Doherty, Dhaka University and other institutions have begun a five-year project to understand the hazards and the possible hidden links among them. Lamont geophysicist Michael Steckler keeps us up to date on the work.
Geohazards in Bangladesh
Our Next Sets of GPS in Kalewa and Tedim
Kalewa is about a 75-minute drive east from Kale on the other side of the Kabaw Fault. Driving around you realize that even though you drive on the right in Myanmar, most of the vehicles, including ours have the steering wheel on the right as well. They used to drive on the left as in Britain until they switched in 1970. However most of the cars, which are imported from Japan, still have the steering wheel on the right. That will be banned next year. In addition to cars, there are lots of motorcycles and scooters, more affordable and easier to get around with in many places.
Although seeing babies held by a sling is scary. I’ve also seen quite few sidecars for passengers or deliveries, too.
We started by loading the equipment we needed from DMH, including the GPS box, the generators, welder, etc. into the back of the truck. Then the four 12-foot rods we needed had to be strapped to the roof, with everyone having a different opinion of how to secure it. When it was finally settled, we headed off following the Myittha River as it passes through the mountains to the Chindwin River. The
path of the river is unusual; it flows north through the Kabaw Valley and then cuts through the mountains to the east. It strongly suggests that tectonics are shaping its route. Partway threw the mountains we followed a N-S valley for a while. It is actually following the Kabaw Fault. The shattered rocks of the fault zone are more easily eroded, so the river flows along it.
The Kalewa DMH office is on a hill near where the two rivers meet with a great view of the local monastery. The site for
the GPS is inside the compound with all the meteorological equipment. We had to make the monument a little taller so the antenna is higher than the fence. This time pounding in the rods was not so easy. A lot of the time we would only drive it a millimeter or less with each hammering. Luckily, with the DMH people, we had 5 people to take turns, and had multiple breaks for coffee, tea and snacks. The occasional drizzle kept us from overheating. At the end, the
head of the office poured water down the hole and that helped. Somehow, despite the long time for pounding the rods, we still managed to finish in one day. I was sure it would take two. The rain stopped long enough for the welding of the monument. We saved time by having me assemble the GPS box while Keith cut and welded the rods. The rain even stopped long enough for the welding of the monument. Still, it was dark by the time we packed up. We stopped for dinner on the way back to our hotel, but we are now well ahead of schedule.
Since the following day was clear, we could go west into the Chin Hills for the station at Tedim. It is not safe to drive the winding switchbacks when it is wet. During the monsoon, only specially built
homemade jeeps make the trek. Even now, we had the rods shipped by bus rather than take them on the steep roads tied to the roof. At one point we reached over 2300 m (7500 feet) elevation. At 1600 m we entered the clouds and drove through fog. It took us 3.5 hours to reach Tedim. It is less than 29 miles as the crow flies, but much longer and slower by road. The Chin people of Tedim and the Chin Hills are a distinct, at times persecuted, population in Myanmar with 53 separate officially recognized Chin
ethnic subgroups. They are closely related to the Mizo in Mizoram, India, where I have been on some past trips. In Myanmar the majority of Bamar (Burmese) people live mainly in the central lowlands, while multiple other ethnic groups, such as the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Mon, and Shan occupy the surrounding mountainous regions. The Chin are dominantly Christian, with many of them Baptist.
We finally reached Tedim at lunchtime. In
the restaurant, our orders had to be translated from English to Myanmar to Chin. We also had excellent Chin coffee. It is grown here and served ground with a cup of hot water, condensed milk and sugar for you to mix it yourself. You have to let the grounds settle like Turkish coffee. After lunch, we got to work. Keith made sure he made sharp points on the rods are we expected difficulty in these much older rocks. Luckily we had hired laborers who did most of the pounding, as well as carrying the heavy rods and
generator up the ~100 steps to the DMH building and farther up the hill to our site. While they did that, I did the less strenuous work of putting together and wiring the equipment box, progressing from doing it with Keith, to supervised by Keith, to soloing. The pounding turned out to be easier than we expected and we got most of the job done. We easily finished it in the morning and headed back down the mountain to Kale.
As we entered the Kabaw Valley, we
stopped at a Catholic church that will host a seismic station. While Eric Sandvol visited here in 2017, it was not visited during the main scouting trip a few months ago, so we needed to be sure it was ready. We checked the site up the hill behind the church and confirmed it needed trees removed for the solar panel. We shifted the site a little to minimize the trees removed and were assured that they will be gone before the seismic team arrives in couple of weeks.