Monday Media briefings and events – earthquakes and other disasters

Bulletins, Earth Science (IUGG), Media bulletins
  • Can we better predict earthquakes and other natural disasters?
  • Big tsunamis have hit Australia and the South Pacific in pre-history – could it happen again?
  • Can we protect nuclear plants and other infrastructure?
  • Can a city such as Christchurch be quake-proof?

These and many other questions will be tackled by a team of international experts at two AusSMC briefings in Melbourne. Join us online or in person at the Melbourne Convention Centre. The sessions are being run by the Australian Science Media Centre.

And yesterday we issued our latest Fresh Science story. “You’re going to fall over soon – a new technology to stop falls before they happen could help the elderly stay in their own homes longer” Details below.

Plus two public events in Melbourne. On Monday evening hear firsthand from experts on geological sciences and disaster management. It’s a free event at Melbourne Town Hall presented by Melbourne Conversations.

Then on Tuesday evening discuss how well journalists and scientist coped with reporting the year’s natural disasters over a beer at the Clare Café in Rathdowne Street – details at

Finally some interesting stuff coming up last week of July – an international botany conference ranging from genetics to the future of wine under climate change. And Asian psychiatry – from the cutting edge of research to the blending of modern and traditional approaches.

Predicting natural disasters from a shaking earth: 10.30 am on Monday morning, 4 July


  • Prof Thomas Jordan, Director of the Southern California Earthquake Center and Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Southern California
  • Prof Alik Ismail-Zadeh, Scientific Leader of “Computational Geodynamics” at the International Institute of Earthquake Prediction Theory and Mathematical Geophysics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, and Senior Research Scientist at the Geophysical Institute, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany
  • Prof James Goff, Co-Director of the Australian Tsunami Research Centre and Natural Hazards Research Laboratory, University of New South Wales
  • Prof Brian Kennett, Chair of the Australian Academy of Science Committee on Earth Science and Professor of Seismology at the Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University in Canberra

There seems to have been another natural disaster almost each week as recent earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions have impacted on millions of people around the world.

Scientists continually monitor the globe for seismic ripples but are we actually getting any better at predicting where, when and how big the next catastrophe will be?

Join the briefing to ask questions such as:

  • Can anyone really predict earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions? If not, why not and will we ever be able to?
  • Knowing the epicentre of a shake only seems to be part of the problem, can we say how much damage they will cause?
  • Australia has been affected before, how likely are we to see another earthquake or tsunami?
  • Can we be forewarned enough to organise mass evacuations days in advance? Or to accurately predict that an event will happen in a few years’ time?

Super-structures! What it takes to survive a natural disaster: 12 noon on Monday, 4 July


  • Prof Kevin Furlong, Professor of Geosciences, Department of Geosciences, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Prof Neville Nicholls, Professorial Fellow in the School of Geography and Environmental Science at Monash University
  • Dr Mark Quigley, Senior Lecturer in Active Tectonics and Tectonic Geomorphology at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Dr Stephen Self, Senior volcanologist and visiting Professor in the Volcano Dynamics Group, The Open University and Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Natural disasters are bad enough, but what happens when they knock down our desalination plants and crack open our power stations?

The recent situation at the nuclear plant in Fukushima is just one example of what can happen.

Governments, businesses and the public need to know whether our most important structures can be made invulnerable to the worst disasters, or whether they can ever be built anywhere that is safe?

Join the briefing to ask questions such as:

  • How much damage can these events cause – is every big structure just a disaster waiting to happen?
  • Can a city such as Christchurch be quake-proof?
  • How do you protect against nuclear disasters when there are earthquakes and volcanoes to contend with?
  • Should we just accept that places near fault lines and volcanoes will never be safe and stop trying to live in areas that will always pose a risk?

The World vs Man – who does more to affect the climate: humans; volcanoes, underwater vents, forest fires etc? 10.30 am on Tuesday, 5 July

Who does more to affect the climate? e.g. Human CO2 vs greenhouse gases form volcanoes, underwater vents, forest fires

  • Ian Galbally, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research
  • Melita Keywood  – CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research
  • Dr Fred Prata – Norwegian Institute for Air Research

Details to be confirmed.

How to join in

Journalists can follow the briefing online via audio and video streaming.  Each presenter will speak for 5 minutes followed by questions. Journalists will have the opportunity to ask questions online.

1. Go to the briefing web portal by clicking here 5 minutes before the start time or anytime during the briefing. Alternatively go to and follow the links.

2. Enter your name and email address

3. Click “Join”.

(System requirements: You will need a broadband connection and speakers/headphones to hear the event. Allow 1-2 mins for your computer to be configured correctly, install ActiveX, if asked)

*Note* some Fairfax journalists may not be able to access the online system due to a firewall issue.


1. For phone only access please call: 1800 671 909.

2. Enter access code 820 883 183#. Wait for the prompt and press #.

Radio stations can also record the briefing over a phone line. If you would like to make sure that you can connect, please contact us to arrange a quick test before the day.

If you have any problems joining the briefing online, phone WebEx on 1800 12 92 78 quoting event number 820 883 183.

Audio files will be posted on our website at as soon as possible after the event.

For further information, please contact the AusSMC on 08 7120 8666 or email

Media assistance for these stories:

You’re going to fall over soon

A new technology to stop falls before they happen could helping the elderly stay in their own homes longer

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have developed a simple way of predicting the likelihood of an elderly person falling in the near future, allowing action to reduce the chances of it happening.

One in three persons over the age of 65 in Australia falls each year. The cost of treating them last year was estimated to be close to $850 million.

“By asking elderly people to perform three normal everyday physical activities and one test of their reactions, and then observing how well they do, we can estimate their likelihood of falling,” says Dr Stephen Redmond from UNSW’s Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering. “Their performance is measured by a small device worn on their waist. This allows the test to be done at home, at any time, by anyone, without supervision. It’s a big step forward from existing clinical assessments.”

Email me for more details –

Coming soon in Melbourne

At the XVIII International Botanical Congress, 23-30 July, scientists will report on research from the molecular level to global food security and environmental change. The program also includes public lectures on: the future of wines under climate change;, strategies for conserving the 20 per cent of plant species faced with extinction yet of vital importance for our lives; botanical illustration as botanical education; and how an Atlas of Living Australia contributes to research and policy making.

A lunchtime debate on Wednesday 27 July asks: can we solve tomorrow’s environmental and energy problems by using life itself?
Jeff Powell, University of Sydney, and Kirsten Heimann, James Cook University, will argue that we should prioritise research into microbes to find solutions to problems such as  climate change while David Mabberly from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London and Kevin Thiele, Curator of the WA Herbarium will be speaking for the plants.

More info at

Asian psychiatrists will meet in the 3rd World Congress of Asian Psychiatry 2011 from 31 July – 4 August. The opening address will be given by The Hon Ted Baillieu, Premier of Victoria, and 2010 Australian of the Year Pat McGorry will talk on the mental health of teenagers and young adults. Psychiatrists from many specialities will discuss the latest findings in psychiatry research relevant to practictioners in the Asia Pacific region – representing over 40 countries that host over 60% of global population.
This congress will blend philosophy, the practical and the spiritual, venerable Eastern wisdom and cutting edge Western science with demonstrated dynamic results.

More info at