IN marking Suva City's largest, most shattering tsunami in the past 150 years, individuals from the University of the South Pacific (USP) are hosting a public lecture today in commemoration of the event's 60th anniversary.
Prof Stephen Gale of the university's geography department will head the lecture, which is aimed mainly at highlighting what happened on that fateful September day all those years ago, as well as to consider the likelihood of the reoccurrence of another event of that magnitude.
The tsunami, known simply as the Suva Tsunami, was the result of 6.75 magnitude earthquake off the southeast shore of Viti Levu which destroyed lives, houses and entire villages along the coast after the first wave hit around midday.
According to Prof Gale, although the impacts were devastating, they may well have been worse had the event occurred today.
"The tsunami struck at low tide, so much of its power was dissipated on the fronts of the fringing reefs.
"It took place in the middle of the day, so people had several minutes in which to observe its effects and to move to safety," Prof Gale said.
"Relatively little of the foreshore had been developed (in 1953), so much of the flooding caused little damage. If a similar event occurred today, the consequences could be ruinous."
While these points will be discussed in today's lecture, Prof Gale will also trace the importance of preparedness and smart construction in today's society and he and his team's ability to use boulders to assist them with dating tsunamis.
"For the past two years we have been working to reconstruct a record of tsunamis in the Suva lagoon over the last 1500 years â€¦ for the first time, we have reliable information on how frequently such events are likely to occur.
"We have been able to do this because of our new-found capacity to date boulders stranded on local reefs by past tsunami," he explained.
He said with the help of his assistant researcher Kirti Lal, they had been able to use boulders effectively enough to create approximate date intervals for tsunamis in the Suva lagoon.
"What happens in the case of Suva is that the tsunami waves hit the fringing reef that protect the harbour and when they did that, they smashed up enormous boulders — the biggest one we've got is about 140 tonnes, so they're pretty large.
"But as soon as they smash up the boulder, the coral stops growing â€¦ and what we can do is we can date the instant that the coral stopped growing and that instant is the time when the tsunami wave struck."
He explained that through the use of two key isotopes — uranium and thorium — they managed to come up with important information relating to tsunamis.
"In the last 1500 years there's been basically five episodes of tsunamis and these are really clear, there's no doubt about it.
"If we're looking for the average reoccurrence interval, it's something like 300 years, so tsunamis on average seem to take place in the Suva lagoon about once every 300 years."
He cautioned though, that this was merely an average and that it was simply some sort of development they had made all in the hope that the public could be more prepared for such disasters.
"But 300 years is an average and it doesn't mean to say that there can't be one next year and it doesn't mean to say that we can't go for, say, 500 years without one either."
The lecture is an open one which all members of the public are being encouraged to attend as it will also discuss the importance around preparedness and awareness of this natural disaster.