Analyzing development of landforms and seismic mechanisms from various perspectives
Graduate School of Science, Geomorphology Laboratory
-Department of Earth Sciences-
The Great East Japan Earthquake has popularized such terms as crustal movement and active fault, and social needs are growing for unravelling underlying mechanisms. Geomorphology is a study for comprehensive research of this field. We interviewed Professor Takahiro Miyauchi.
Professor of Graduate School of Science, Chiba University.
Graduated from Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Science, Tohoku University.
Completed the doctoral course of Graduate School of Science, Tokyo Metropolitan University.
Began working as an assistant in Chiba University in 1989, and appointed to current position in 2007. Specializing in tectonic geomorphology.
In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, he was selected as a member of Expert Committee set up by Nuclear Regulation Authority.
What led you to taking up research in geoscience fields?
The major factor was my interest in landforms since my childhood.
I was born in Numata Basin in Gunma and therefore familiar with mountainous geological features.
In addition, as I visited my relatives in Zushi, Kanagawa, I was able to be familiar with the seacoast landforms. I found both inland and coastal landforms interesting. My surroundings may have prepared me to take an interest in geoscience.
The incident that caused me to study development of landforms was an impressive river terrace I saw in a geoscience class trip in high school. Later in my second year of university, the Miyagi Earthquake of magnitude 7.2 occurred, which intrigued me to know more about seismic mechanisms and crustal movements.
So I took up the study of tectonic geomorphology.
How do you conduct research in geomorphology?
Onsite fieldwork is the important part of our research.
It is often said that geomorphological researchers need to "observe, dig and measure," and that's what we do.
We visit the sites to see the geological formations and strata, excavate the earth with a boring machine for analyses, and conduct land survey to understand the geomorphological features. It is simply an "on-site study."
I am instructing my students the importance of visiting the sites instead of thinking at their desks only.
This study also requires analytic and logical thinking abilities whereby we read old documents to be familiar with geological status and quakes in ancient times, analyze such information and build up a scenario of development of landforms.
As a result of such strenuous efforts, we are able to discover new findings or clarify geomorphological mechanisms we did not understand before, and that's the attraction of geoscience, I think.
Specifically, what are some of your research themes now?
I am currently working on elucidation of the rising and sinking of Sanriku Coast in Iwate and cycles of huge-scale earthquakes.
We explore and analyze the data to find out when land rises and sinks, whether it is on a rising or sinking trend, and so on. Clarifying the mechanisms of how earthquakes occur has become a geoscientifically important theme since the Great East Japan Earthquake.
We therefore are promoting our research in a comprehensive manner from different perspectives including seismology and geology.
In connection with the Great East Japan Earthquake, I was also appointed to be in the Expert Committee set up by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
Mass media sometimes interview me on geological topics since I have long been engaged in research on seismic crustal movements and active faults caused by the rising and sinking of seacoasts.
First I felt nervous about my responsibility as my statements are publicly spread through mass media, but now I try to state what is scientifically proved and I am convinced of, thinking that my expertise can be useful for society.
Last of all, please give a message to the students.
University life is a preparation period for becoming a member of society.
Especially, a laboratory is a kind of communal life or miniature society where students can learn various rules including human relationships.
As for research activity, students can develop a positive attitude and habit of seeing with their own eyes, thinking with their own mind, and not giving up until convinced, and such experience will surely be useful later in their life.
Research gives us the thrill of discovery and a sense of accomplishment. I want the students to really experience that on their own before they graduate.
The appeal and attraction of geoscience is discovery more than anything. A sense of fulfillment and accomplishment is great when a field investigation confirms what we have proposed beforehand.
Project Researcher Ishimura
I conduct my research daily while realizing the importance of fieldwork. Sometimes we go to a place for a geological survey where we have to push through bushes, but I want the students to taste the great satisfaction of finding something after making such an effort.
Associate Professor Kaneda
Associate Professor Heitaro Kaneda (middle) and Project Researcher Daisuke Ishimura (left) are promoting research jointly with Professor Miyauchi in Geomorphology Laboratory.
In fieldwork, researchers conduct boring investigation to analyze the history of landform development and land survey to obtain accurate landform data.
After fieldwork, sampled specimens are examined with high-precision devices and computers in the lab for landform analyses and modeling.