30 July 1998
King Canute Is Alive And Well And Lives In Ithaca, NY
It is well-known that the academic disciplines of the arts and sciences rarely talk to each other, but any intelligent person worth their salt will be familiar with the story of King Canute, the tenth century English monarch who, in a disastrous attempt to demonstrate his omnipotence did not succeed in turning back the tide - in fact his efforts to impose his will on the elements left him with water on his feet, mud on his face and an immortal reputation for idiocy*.
Philip Liu, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University believes he can succeed where Canute failed. As reported from a tsunami conference in Japan, he believes it is possible to limit the destruction from the type of tsunami that slammed into the coast of Papua New Guinea on July 17 with proper coastal management, such as building structures like sea walls, and creating zoning policies banning building in high-risk areas. He adds fatuously: "it is questionable that in a country like Papua New Guinea such policies could be implemented because of limited economic resources".
The conference delegates were taken on a tour to Okushiru Island where in 1993 a tsunami struck and killed 120 people. In true Liu style, their solution to prevent destruction from future tsunamis is to build a 50 foot high wall around the island.
Science à GoGo suggest building a such a wall off the Malibu coast and see how the residents like the view. We would also be interested to know how the inshore fishermen of Okushiru Island are to put to sea, if they have to negotiate a 50 foot concrete barrier.
Science à GoGo further and calculate that to construct a wall around PNG, all you will need is 500 million cubic metres of concrete!
*Through history King Canute has been maligned. He did not attempt the turning back the tide experiment to augment his power, but rather, to demonstrate to his people that he did not in fact, possess the omnipotent powers they believed he did.