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Geohazards and myths: ancient memories of rapid coastal change in the Asia-Pacific region and their value to future adaptation
Nunn, P.D. (2014). Geohazards and myths: ancient memories of rapid coastal change in the Asia-Pacific region and their value to future adaptation. Geoscience Letters 1(3): 11 pp.
In: Geoscience Letters. Springer: Berlin. ISSN 2196-4092, more
Peer reviewed article  

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Author keywords
    Asia-Pacific; Myth; Coast; Coastal change; Flooding; India; Australia; Pacific Islands; Tsunami; Subsidence

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  • Nunn, P.D.

    Rapid coastal change is common in the Asia-Pacific region yet an understanding of its causes, recurrence times, and impacts is not always clear through the use of conventional geological methods. It is suggested that myths (traditional [oral] tales) are underutilized sources of information about coastal change in this region. This is illustrated by consideration of myths likely to recall (early) Holocene sea-level rise, particularly along the coasts of India and Australia, as well as myths recalling rapid episodic coastal emergence and submergence, the latter including the disappearance of entire landmasses (islands). Two examples of how details in such myths can inform geological understanding of coastal change are given. The first argues that myths recalling the rapid flooding of coastal cities/lowlands are likely to represent memories of extreme wave events superimposed on a rising (postglacial) sea level. The second suggests that many myths about landmass/island disappearance fail to report the occurrence of rapid (coseismic and aseismic) subsidence even though they provide inferential evidence that this occurred. Few such myths are known to the author from many parts of Asia yet it is likely they exist and could, as elsewhere in the world, help illuminate the understanding of the nature and chronology of rapid coastal change. The challenges involved in helping communities in the Asia-Pacific region adapt to future coastal changes might be partly overcome by the use of appropriate myths to demonstrate precedents and engender local participation in adaptation strategies.

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