A Force of Nature and Place of Longing
Beautiful sunsets, romantic beaches, luxury cruises: Without doubt, the seas and oceans induce positive emotions but they also harbour dangers: The force of the oceans can impact the people living on any coast – be it in Japan, Sumatra or Hamburg. It is often only thanks to the work of marine researchers that the people are able to get to safety in time.
The people of Hamburg know all about storm surges. More than 340 people died in the 1962 flooding, when flood waters in the city's St. Pauli district rose to 5.70 metres above sea level. Another hurricane hit Germany's coast in December 2013, again causing extreme flooding. In St. Pauli, water levels rose to 6.07 metres. But this time, there were no casualties to mourn. We owe this success to coastal protection: Meteorologists had predicted the destructive force of hurricane Xaver in good time. The dykes withstood the pressure of the high water. Schools and Christmas fairs were closed. Trains remained in the stations and planes on the ground.
An early warning is crucial
Storm surges can occur in many coastal regions around the globe, at irregular, unpredictable intervals. It is crucial that people have sufficient warning time to get to safety: The earlier and more reliable the warning, the better. Storms are not the only risk, however. Underwater earthquakes far off the coast can also result in flood disasters. That is why the tsunami early warning system which German experts installed in the Indian Ocean after the 2004 flood disaster is attracting so much international attention. Geophysicists from Kiel have developed a new measurement network which will also make forecasting underwater earthquakes more reliable. The network can detect plate movements in the ocean to the millimetre and is being used off Chile's coast where scientists have taken precise measurements of the ocean floor.
Gentle tourism offers new prospects
Despite their elemental force, our oceans and seas remain an attractive holiday destination for many of us. We enjoy the maritime flair of beaches and increasingly of cruise ships. Some of us engage in sports such as diving, sailing, canoeing and surfing. New niches are developing in the travel industry – towards more gentle, sustainable tourism as opposed to mass tourism. In this way we will be able to enjoy the world which has inspired writers, painters and film makers for a long time to come.