Simon Day

Since completing my education (First degree in Geology, University of Oxford, 1985; and PhD in Geology, University of Durham, 1989) I have spent my career trying to do as much geological mapping and other fieldwork as possible (so far, a total of about 5 years in the field). Fieldwork is, for me, the central part of geological research as that is where geologists identify the time and space relationships of the phenomena that we study, and thus the relationships of cause and effect that we attempt to understand with all our other research. For me, fieldwork is also far more intellectually stimulating and exciting than working in an office or laboratory. I have worked in places from the equator (Papua New Guinea) to near the poles (South Sandwich Islands, off Antarctica), and both onshore and on research ships. In between those extremes, I have done fieldwork in New Zealand, Hawaii, the Cape Verde Islands and of course in the Canary Islands.

The principal subjects of my research have been the growth and destruction of volcanoes, especially island volcanoes, and tsunamis. The connection between the two is of course the potential for generation of exceptionally large tsunamis by lateral collapse landslides at island volcanoes that I have emphasized as an important natural hazard, both at ocean island volcanoes such as those in the Canary Islands but also at island arc volcanoes such as Ritter Island in Papua New Guinea, whose collapse in 1888 provides us with key data on such events and the tsunamis that they produce.

simon day 2  simon day 1

Investigation of such tsunamis has led me into research on tsunamis in general, and also into the fields of hazard mitigation and the investigation of human understandings of natural hazards. At one extreme are the native traditions of tsunamis in Papua New Guinea, where understandings of tsunamis and other natural hazards are deeply embedded in the culture and have led to much lower numbers of deaths in tsunamis and other natural disasters than occur in societies that do not have comparable awareness of the hazards; at the other are scientific and technological analyses, developed by professional hazard scientists and emergency managers but little known and poorly understood by populations as a whole, that sometimes are successful but in other cases have led to failed mitigation strategies and large numbers of deaths, as in Sumatra 2004 and Tohoku 2011. My experience indicates to me that the whole population at threat needs to understand the hazards, not only the small group of scientists and professional emergency managers, if scientific research into hazards is to form the basis of successful hazard mitigation: it is for this reason that I welcome the opportunity to participate in events such as Volcanoes Night, as well as other opportunities to inform the general public through TV programmes.

When I am not working on my research and education activities, I read history and historical fiction (if I had not become a geologist, I think that I would have most likely become a historian), and work on my garden at home (when the British weather permits). The gardening is purely therapeutic but I think that everyone who works on natural hazards should read history, as a way of understanding how and why people from different cultures react differently in extreme situations.