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UNT Insider | June 2013 issue | UNT researchers analyze tropical cyclone deposits in Thailand

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UNT researchers analyze tropical cyclone deposits in Thailand

From a UNT News Service press release

Harry Williams

Harry Williams (center), professor of geography, and Chulalongkorn University professors are studying Thailand's tropical cyclone history.

Harry Williams, professor of geography, is overseeing a team of researchers studying and recording evidence of ancient storms in Thailand in summer 2013.

Records of Thailand's typhoons like Typhoon Gay -- which struck Thailand's Chumphon Province as a Category 3 storm in November 1989 -- only exist for the past 50 to 60 years. The team hopes to determine the average intervals between other ancient, major storms in Thailand.

"A layer of sand in the muddy marsh would be out of place, and so would be an indication of a past tropical cyclone storm surge," Williams says. "The main objective of the research is to identify and date storm surge sediment beds in the marshes to construct a long-term record of tropical cyclone strikes. Without long-term historical records of tropical cyclones, we can't tell if a major storm occurs, on the average, every 100 years, 500 years or 1,000 years."

Williams received a $38,992 grant from the National Science Foundation's Catalyzing New International Collaborations program to travel to Thailand this summer to begin the team's research. He is joined by UNT geography master's student Eric Simon and Montri Choowong, associate professor of geology at Chulalongkorn University. The three researchers are digging through layers of sediments in tidal marshes south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand coast to uncover the area's tropical cyclone history.

"The smaller the intervals are between storms, the more governments need to be prepared with mitigation measures, such as planning evacuation routes and educating the citizens," Williams says. "If past disasters aren't in most people's recent memory, they may not be aware of possible storm threats and wouldn't know how to prepare for them."

Williams says the city of Seattle started to retrofit bridges to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis and to plan evacuation routes in the 1990s after research determined that tsunamis impact the Pacific Northwest about every 300 years, on the average.

"The scientific evidence about typhoons and tsunamis will eventually work its way into public policy," he says.

In August 2012, Williams visited Bangkok to meet with Choowong through a Charn Uswachoke International Development Fund Award from UNT's Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. Williams and Choowong plan to apply for additional funding and expand their research to other South Asian nations, including Vietnam, where Choowong is already conducting research. They would also like to study sediment deposits from ancient tsunamis on Thailand's west coast, Williams says.

"We'd like to determine methods for telling the difference between tsunami and tropical cyclone deposits, which will help to calculate recurrence intervals of both," he says.

Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at


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June 2013

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