Teaching earthquake hazards in India... by Paul Denton

Me in the blue shirt bottom panel (thanks to GfGD blog
for this image, check out their blog for more!)
Paul Denton has just arrived back from the trip of a lifetime. He spent a week travelling through the Himalayas teaching school children about the natural hazards they're vulnerable to. The Mw7.6 Kashmir earthquake in 2005 which struck just over the border in Pakistan killed an estimated 100,000 people in Pakistan and over 1,300 in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It's for this reason Paul, head of our School Seismology Programme, was asked to participate, alongside 'Geology for Global Development' (GfGD) who focused on landslide hazard. The aim was to explain to the children that not all natural hazards have to be disasters. By learning about process, sequence and mitigation of landslides and earthquakes through practical hands on examples these children could grow up to be an inspirational generation of geologists and geoengineers!

Here's Paul to tell us more about the adventure and the important work himself and GfGD are doing!

Earthquake hazard along the Himalaya margins is
high since this is an area of active tectonics
Taking the high road to Shangri-La… sometimes the journey becomes as important as the destination!!

The Geological Society of London and Jammu University have organised an international conference on “Sustainable Resource development in the Himalaya” to be held in Leh, Ladakh, Northern India near the Tibetan border.   Prior to the conference a two day workshop has been arranged for high school students from schools across the region on the theme of natural hazards. I'll be teaching about earthquakes while GfGD are delivering the section on landslide hazards.

Leh is perched 3400m above sea level and anyone who visits is warned about the affects of altitude sickness. I knew that flying in could mean a day of  acclimatising (aka laying down and feeling terrible) so I decided it made more sense to travel by road from Jammu and acclimatise along the way. This also gave me the opportunity to meet with Professor Ghulam Bhat the head of the Geology department at Jammu University and discuss possible ways to develop educational seismology in this region.

A mountain pass traffic jam!
Professor Ghulam Bhat is an incredible man, not only is he head of the Geology department but Rector of Bhadarwah Campus, and Local organiser of the conference in Leh, and patron of a primary school in his hometown of Srinagar, and founder of the geology department at the University of Kashmir in Srinagar, and a saffron farmer … all in all an extremely well connected man.

To make the most of our journey Professor Ghulam Bhat arranged for a series of stop-overs where I was invited to give a lecture to students on the topic of earthquakes, firstly to high school students and local dignitaries at Bhaderwah campus just outside Jammu.  Then the next day a visit to his primary school in Srinagar, then the next day a lecture to graduate students at Kargil College (photo below left), each lecture also involving an appropriate amount of hospitality and a series of every larger group photos and in between each visit  a 5 or 6 hour drive over ever higher mountain passes and a night  in a different university guest house.  I began to feel as though I was attending a whole series of formal weddings.

Kargil College group photo
Our final arrival in Leh involved traversing the highest mountain pass at 13,479ft and almost seemed like an anti-climax… a whole day with no lectures, just an opportunity to do some last minute shopping in Leh for 120 lollipops for  a monster transverse wave machine - check out the video Post on the School Seismology Facebook page!

The main event - our workshops on Natural Hazard

landslide practicals
On Friday St Peter's School was buzzing with excitement as hundreds of students from all across the Ladakh province arrived.   After formal welcomes and introductions the students started work on creating posters to illustrate any topic of their choice in the theme environment, resources and natural hazards. You can see all these amazing posters on the GfGD blog here.

Joel Gill from GfGD led the first landslides practical workshop (photo above left). It was very fun and everyone had a great time but it contained a serious message. Following a massive cloudburst event in 2010 Leh town and much of Ladakh was severely damaged by flooding and landslides with at least 255 people killed. Understanding the processes behind landslides and the sequence of events that can lead a natural hazard into becoming a disaster were the key messages on day one of the workshop.

voting for the best student slogan on earthquake safety. The winner was
"Don't use the staircase or you will be a death case"
My own workshop (photo left) used some great tried and tested demonstrations which the children really enjoyed. Throughout the sessions on earthquake science, efforts were taken to relate the topic back to practical understanding of hazards and risks. Again with a key message that by understanding the nature of the hazards and what happens during an earthquake it is possible to mitigate the effects of earthquakes and hopefully prevent an earthquake hazard from becoming a disaster. For a really comprehensive look at the full teaching methods and aims please look at the GfGD post here.

Students from St Peter’s school presented a cultural show of traditional Ladakhi
dancing (with a couple of Bollywood numbers thrown in for fun).

On Sunday I had a rapid journey home, flying direct from Leh to Delhi, where the air felt thick and warm, almost soupy and yet invigorating after days spent in the thin breathless air of the high Himalaya. A bit sad to be missing the main conference (and especially the post conference field trips) but I managed to arrive back home in time for a  quick nights sleep and Monday morning’s school run.  

For more information on the work, area and project please follow all the links in the blog, the GfGD is a really great resource especially! Not to mention the excellent plate tectonic teaching resources on the GeolSoc website and our BGS notes on hazards.

You can follow me and the BGS School Seismology on Twitter @SchoolSeismo and Facebook