Geoscientists Talk About PNG's Volcanos

Sunday, 12 November, 2000

Researchers from Southern Cross University will present a paper on the impact and aftermath of Papua New Guinea's volcanic eruptions to the 112th annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. The conference will be attended by some 700 American and international 9-18 November, in Reno, Nevada.

The presentation, titled 'Quaternary Vegetation Responses to Catastrophic Volcanics in the Wet Tropics of West New Britain, Papua New Guinea', is the result of field work conducted in areas that have experienced periodic catastrophic volcanic eruptions over the past few thousand years.

The paper discusses the results of a study of fossil pollen in the stratified peats and volcanic ashes in the lowland wet tropical area, a region that has had a dynamic environmental history. The effects of periodic eruptions, climatic changes and human activities have interacted to develop an environment that provides an invaluable location for investigating the complexity of landscape evolution.

The research work parallels analysis done by other researchers at Southern Cross University and the Australian Museum. This study aims to understand the complex relationships between volcanos, people and the environment in the environmental history of this region. Researchers are testing whether past impacts and recovery of West New Britain's forests had a similar history to recent disturbances at the high-profile volcanic sites of Krakatoa in Indonesia and at Rabaul, the capital of PNG's East New Britain province, which was nearly destroyed in the eruptions of 1994.

There is clear evidence that the composition and structure of the natural forest in this region has changed rapidly and significantly over the last few thousand years. The research will contribute to the understanding of forest recovery from catastrophic damage. Its results and relevance will enhance studies of the environmental history in the broader tropical region, allowing for a unique contribution to global discussion of past landscape-human relationships.

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