Indonesian Tsunami - October 2010

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On Monday 25 October 2010 at 9:42pm local time, an 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck the Mentawai Islands of Indonesia sending a 2-3 metre (6-10 foot) tsunami into the southern island of Pagai Selatan.

At the time of writing more than 400 people are confirmed dead and several hundred are missing (BBC, 29.10.10). Thousands of families are displaced and relief efforts are being hampered by heavy rain and high tides.

Indonesia is also struggling with the devastation caused by the eruption of Mount Merapi on 26 October in central Java, which killed more than 30 people.

The GA offers its condolences to everyone affected by these events. We hope that this page can help students understand what happened and raise awareness of disaster management and the ongoing issues affecting the people in this region.

Pacific Ring of Fire

The earthquake was caused by plate movements in the area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, a highly volatile region which circles the Pacific Ocean. Around 80% of the world's earthquakes occur around this rim (National Geographic).

The US Geological Survey provided the following summary of the tectonic activity which led to the earthquake and subsequent tsunami:

The Pulau Pagai Selatan, Sumatra earthquake of October 25, 2010 occurred as a result of thrust faulting on or near the subduction interface plate boundary between the Australia and Sunda plates. At the location of this earthquake, the Australia Plate move north-northeast with respect to the Sunda plate at a velocity of approximately 57-69 mm/yr. On the basis of the currently available fault mechanism information and earthquake depth it is likely that this earthquake occurred along the plate interface. (US Geological Survey, 29.10.10)

Sumatra Subduction Zone

The earthquake occurred in the Sumatra Subduction Zone which is an area where the Australian and Sunda (Eurasian) plates collide.

The Mentawai Islands were formed from sediments scraped off the top of the Australian plate as it moves below the Sunda plate. This same tectonic action was responsible for the earthquake.

When the build up of stress at the plate boundary causes rock to fracture, the plates grind past each other and release energy in the form of an earthquake.

This helpful explanation of tectonic activity in the Sumatra Subduction Zone was prepared by the NASA Earth Observatory following an earthquake in the region during April 2010. The article is accompanied by a clear diagram showing plate boundaries and islands.

Sumatra Subduction Zone - NASA Earth Observatory

A similar report and diagram have also been created for the 25 October earthquake.

Tectonic Plate Boundaries

There are plenty of resources available to help your students understand plate tectonics and what happened to cause the 25 October earthquake and tsunami. Here is a selection of materials and links - please get in touch if you'd like to suggest others.

Maps and Diagrams

Tectonic Plate Map (418k, JPEG) - USGS
Pacific Ring of Fire Map (311k, JPEG) - Wikimedia Commons
Indonesian Earthquake Summary Poster (PDF, external website) - USGS
Indonesian Earthquake Maps (PDF, external website) - ReliefWeb


Tsunami - eduMedia
Tsunami Visualisation Collection - Carleton College Science Education Resource Centre
Subduction Zone Animation - The Scripps Institute of Oceanography
Interactive animations of plates, earthquakes and volcanoes - IRIS

Google Earth Layers

Real-time Earthquakes and Plate Boundaries - USGS
Tectonic Plates - Google Earth Hacks
Natural Hazards - NOAA


USGS Earthquake Topics: Tsunami - a comprehensive selection of links
USGS Earthquake Topics: GIS - using GIS to teach about earthquakes and plate tectonics
USGS Earthquake Topics: Lessons Online - teaching ideas for earthquakes, plate tectonics
USGS Earthquake links - a huge selection of links to resources and further information
USGS Indonesian Earthquake 25 October 2010 - summary and detailed information
Tsunami Data and Information - National Geophysical Data Centre
Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre

Indonesian Tsunami - News Reports

1 November 2010 - SurfAid International Program Manager Tom Plummer filmed this video clip in what used to be the village of Gogoa, on the island of Pagai Utara:

Visit the SurfAid International website for daily updates and photographs.


Indonesia tsunami relief slowed by bad weather - BBC 29.10.10 (article and video)
In pictures: Tsunami relief - BBC 28.10.10
'No alert' in Indonesian tsunami - BBC 27.10.10
Footage shows tsunami devastation - BBC 27.10.10 (video)

Channel 4 News

Tsunami death toll rises in Indonesia - Channel 4 News 28.10.10 (article and video)


Indonesian tsunami kills hundreds - Guardian 28.10.10 (video)
Indonesian tsunami warning system 'did not cover remote islands' - Guardian 28.10.10 (article and video)
Indonesia hit by tsunami and volcanic eruption - Guardian 27.10.10 (images)

Jakarta Globe

135 survivors found on island perch - Jakarta Globe 31.10.10
Death toll from tsunami tops 400
Jakarta Globe 29.10.10
Three volcanoes show signs of increased activity - Jakarta Globe 29.10.10

SurfAid International

Latest News - regular reports from the lead aid agency direct from the Mentawai Islands


Picture Gallery: Indonesia Tsunami - Telegraph 29.10.10
Indonesia tsunami death toll rises - Telegraph 29.10.10 (video)

Personal Stories

Some eye-witness accounts and personal stories are emerging from tsunami survivors and aid workers:

We couldn't outrun killer wave: villager - Jakarta Globe 28.10.10
We're just glad to be alive - BBC 27.10.10
Indonesian tsunami survivor tells of terrifying wall of water - Guardian 27.10.10

It's also well worth having a look at Joey L's Blog which documents the time he spent with the Mentawai people in 2009. During Joey's visit he experienced several minor earthquakes and the website includes a description of a discussion with his hosts about the causes of the quakes, their fears and beliefs.

Disaster Relief: Student Activities

These activity ideas help students consider the geographical and logistical problems facing aid workers and how they would deal with the relief effort.

Reaching the Islands

Aid agencies are experiencing numerous difficulties in reaching the devastated villages. Ask students to think about the geography and infrastructure of the Mentawai Islands and the nature and scale of the disaster before considering the problems aid workers may be facing.

Lonely Planet: Introducing the Mentawai Islands
Joey L Blog: The Mentawai

SurfAid International: Health and Community Programmes on The Mentawai Islands

Problems aid agencies are facing include:

  • Heavy rain - leads to choppy sea and poor visibility for boats and helicopters
  • Rough sea - makes it dangerous and difficult for boats to sail
  • Coral reefs - making sea access to some villages even more dangerous
  • Space to land - helicopters are struggling to land in the devastated villages
  • Lack of boats - many have been washed away or destroyed
  • Communications - bad weather is making mobile and satellite communications very difficult
  • Poor roads - trucks are unable to drive to outlying villages that are only accessible by foot or by sea
  • Health facilities - hospitals are basic, many are badly damaged, and there are not enough health care professionals to deal with the number of casualties
  • Volcanic eruption - aid is also required elsewhere in Indonesia following the eruption of Mount Merapi
  • Funds - money is needed for food, shelter, clothing and medical supplies

Once the issues have been identified, ask students to think about how some of these problems could be overcome.

  • How could aid agencies get around some of these difficulties?
  • Who is in greatest need of aid? How should the help be prioritised?
  • What would you do to help people in outlying villages?

Response Plan

Agencies involved in the relief work include:

SurfAid International
New Zealand Aid Programme
World Vision

Students could investigate these websites to find out how the aid agencies are dealing with the disaster before coming up with their own response plan. Make sure they consider:

  • Adequate assessment of the situation
  • Potential hazards
  • What to send to the islands
  • Funding
  • Longer term needs

SurfAid International have posted an annotated map on their blog showing the villages assessed so far. This is accompanied by detailed information about the assessments, what is needed in each area, problems they've been facing and how their teams are responding.

GIS Decision-Making Exercise

Elsewhere on the GA website is a Sumatra GIS Exercise which is based around the relief response to an earthquake which happened in 2009. You could use this decision-making activity as it is, or adapt it to suit the 25 October tsunami.

Mount Merapi Eruption: Student Activity

The day after the tsunami Mount Merapi in central Java erupted, killing 32 and leading to the evacuation of thousands. It erupted again on 29 October prompting fears of further tectonic activity.

  • What else could happen as a result of the volcanic activity?
  • Are people safe to return to their homes and farms?
  • What problems could the ash and lava cause?
  • Could the volcanic eruption produce any positive outcomes?

There has been some debate as to whether the earthquake, tsunami and volcanic eruption are connected or whether it is pure coincidence that these disasters have happened within days of each other.

Coincidence? Dr Colin MacPherson, a reader at Durham University and an expert on volcanic activity in Java, said it was not feasible that the earthquake prompted the eruption... (Guardian 27.10.10)

Connected? "Volcanic eruptions that are related to stress changes following earthquakes, or due to triggering by the seismic waves, do seem to occur," Chris Goldfinger, a marine geologist at Oregon State University, said by email. "But documentation of them is spotty at best." (National Geographic 27.10.10)

Ask students to consider the evidence. What do they think?

Disaster Preparedness: Student Activities

SurfAid International have partnered with Global Education Australia to create case study material and disaster preparedness activities based on the Nias and Mentawai Islands.

Saving lives with disaster preparedness
This case study introduces the Nias and Mentawai Islands and explains SurfAid International's disaster preparedness programme. It explains how people are taught to cope in an emergency situation and gives a real life example of the prepardeness training in action following a large earthquake in 2007.

Disaster preparedness
This activity helps students develop an understanding of the preparation that can be done to limit the impact of a natural disaster. Upper Primary / Key Stage 3

Preparing for earthquakes in Nias and the Mentawai islands, Indonesia
In this activity students examine the effectiveness of emergency preparedness in saving lives in the Nias and Mentawai islands earthquake. Key Stage 3/4

More Resources on the GA Website

Focus on Earthquakes: News Articles - Links to news articles following earthquakes in the Pacific, China, Italy and the UK

Focus on Earthquakes: Resources - Classroom resources and weblinks

Sumatra GIS Exercise - This decision making exercise is based on a real aid response which took place following a devastating earthquake in Sumatra during 2009. The activities make use of acetate sheets to simulate GIS layers and as such are suitable for use in any classroom.

Feature Editorial: Children and the tsunami - How can we help students to make sense of natural disasters? This Teaching Geography article explores children's experience of the Boxing Day tsunami.

Teaching About Disasters: Rebuilding and recovery post-tsunami - This Teaching Geography article offers reflections post-tsunami as well as background information and activities based on experiences in Sri Lanka.

This Changing World: The 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka: Destruction and recovery - Tragedy struck Sri Lanka on 26 December 2004 when massive tsunami waves inundated the greater part of the south-west, south, east and the north-east of the 1360km (833 miles) coastline of this small pear-shaped island. This Geography article discusses how the island has set about recovering from this disaster.

Editorial: The lessons of disaster - The Editor of Geography discusses the impact of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the importance of geography in understanding such events and their aftermath.

SurfAid International

The mission of SurfAid International, a non-profit humanitarian organisation, is to improve the health, well-being and self-reliance of people living in isolated regions connected to them through surfing.

They are based on the Mentawai Islands and have been appointed as the leading NGO in the relief response.

Visit the SurfAid International website to find out more about their humanitarian programmes and their relief work following the tsunami. You can also make a donation to the Mentawai Tsunami Appeal via their website.

You may also be interested in the SurfAid International Schools Program 'Developing Global Citizens' which aims 'to develop global citizens using the humanitarian challenges and achievements of SurfAid International as an educational example for action'. Further information and teaching resources are available on the Schools Program website.

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