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
From Catholic Churches to Buddhist Monasteries, the Work Continued
On the way back to Kale, we stopped at a Catholic church where one of the seismometers will be deployed. The seismic team is now in Nay Pyi Taw, the capital, preparing for the seismic instrument deployment. Eric Sandvol asked me to look into two stations that he did not visit in August when he scouted out the final locations for the seismometers. The church is right at the foot of the Chin Hills on our way. We met the catechist and he showed us the site uphill from the church. Eric was rightfully
concerned about the trees blocking the light for the solar panels. We shifted the site a little up the hill to minimize the number of trees that have to be cut down and gave the catechist the money to pay for it.
The next morning we started out for our next station at a Buddhist monastery in Thickegyin, a town 35 miles east of Kale. We picked up our equipment at the Kale DMH and strapped the rods to the roof, faster the second time around.
We followed the good road along the Myittha River to Kalewa and then crossed the new bridge over the Chindwin River. We went slower over the switchbacks through the hill east of the river and then still slower as we hit really poor bumpy roads. There was a better stretch of road near the end, but overall it took over 3 hours to drive the distance. Anticipating the long drive, I expected this installation to take multiple days because of the short workday due to the commute.
We met the head monk and made a donation to the monastery, then went out to look at the scouted site near the pagoda. It turned out not to be good. Too many tall trees and the pagoda building blocked too much of the sky view. Ideally, we like to see to within 10° of the horizon in all direction. We can accept some blocked view, but not this much. Keith and I wandered around the grounds looking for better locations. One spot was near the net for chinlone, which is like volleyball played with your feet
using a rattan ball, but too much risk of the ball hitting the antenna. Finally, we found a spot on a small rise covered in vegetation. Other than a couple of small trees, the view was good. Some workers quickly cleared all the vegetation and cut down the trees and we went to work. My main concern was whether the hill was natural or a manmade pile of sand. While I was assured it was natural, the rods went in way to easily for my liking, but there was little other choice. Thickegyin is in a small basin, so the hill may just be unconsolidated young sediments. With
the rods going in taking only a short time, we were amazingly able to complete the site that day. We had only one short break for coffee and dry cake. This time, we were joined by a group of children watching us, including a pet monkey. After the mandatory group photo, both with and without the kids, we headed back on the long drive.
Our last station was at another monastery still farther to the east. It was far enough that we decided to stay at the
small town of Taze, not too far from the site. With such a long drive, we again shipped the rods. I thought we could take them with us as we did to Thickegyin and the last part of the road was good. I didn’t know what was ahead. Still, we are so far ahead of schedule, we again went to scout a seismic station to the south of Kale. After 45 minutes, we reached the church. Losing track of the days while in the field, it wasn’t until we got there that we realized it was Sunday and services were going on. We met the
village leader who showed us the site. I showed him pictures of installations in Bangladesh and discussed the burial of the sensor and setting up of the solar panel. Most importantly, I told him to expect the seismic team within two weeks.
Now came the long drive that took up most of the day, back north to Kale, then east to Thickegyin and beyond. We stopped for lunch in Kalewa and then went over the Chindwin River bridge and
onto the bad stretch of road. After Thickegyin, we entered some central highlands of the Burma Basin. They are along the trend of the subduction zone volcanoes to the north and south. The roads quickly became poor, with potholes and pieces of the road slumping off to the sides. We occasionally passed construction crews working on the road and plenty of large trucks that contributed to the poor shape of the road. For many stretches, we could only go about 10 miles/hour. So much for reaching the monastery mid-afternoon. We passed it in the dark
around 6 pm. No reason to stop in as the head monk was returning from Taze, our destination. After another hour driving and a little searching, we found a guest house, a building with a series of rooms with little more than a bed, with toilets and washrooms off to the side, no showers. As the rooms are open to the street, facing what I will generously call a plaza, we had to padlock them when going to the bathroom. We had dinner at
a nearby restaurant and went to bed.
We had Chin noodles for breakfast, picked up the rods at the bus station, and went to the Thukakari monastery. It is a beautiful site on a high overlooking the Irrawaddy valley below and dotted with commemorative monument called stupas. The GPS is on a little ledge past a pile of stones where a new stupa will be built. The ground is covered with small balls of volcanic rock, some welded together into a hard bedrock. Keith took extra time to grind really good points on the rods. We again had laborers to help.
The muscular young men drove the rods in faster than I imagined. The solid sections must crack apart down to the individual balls of rock when hit hard enough. We were now pretty practiced at installing the GPS. I took a try at welding the rods together and did a miserable job. It is a lot harder than it looks. During our lunch break, we had coffee and cake while the monks smoked cheroots, local cigars made mostly of corn silk. By mid afternoon, we were finished, took our final set of group photos and then the rain started. After waiting it out, we said our goodbyes, made our donation to the monastery, and headed out on the road to Mandalay.