Image of Photo of Professor Simon Redfern

Earth and environment in East Asia - risks and opportunities

The final of the Easter term 2019 China Centre 'China in the World' seminars was held on Wednesday 5 June 2019 in the Bawden Room. Professor Simon Redfern (Jesus College and Department of Earth Sciences) delivered a lecture on earthquakes and volcanoes.

The lecture provided a vivid insight into a phenomenon that is of great importance for a significant fraction of the earth’s population who are at risk of being affected not only by earthquakes and volcanoes but also by the tsunamis that result from them.

Professor Redfern’s lecture analysed the way in which the earth’s physical structure has evolved over the very long-term, leading to clearly identifiable regions at risk of earthquakes. He provided rich historical evidence on the incidence of earthquakes and showed the close relationship between population concentrations and earthquake risk. An important segment of the population at risk from earthquakes lives along the ancient Silk Road stretching from Eastern China into Tibet and across Central Asia.

Professor Redfern showed the way in which populations tend to cluster at the foot of mountain chains, where there are good supplies of water and good trade linkages. In recent decades the population in urban areas along the world’s main earthquake zones has rapidly expanded. As a result, the number of people killed in and at risk of earthquakes has significantly increased.

The areas at risk can be easily identified, but predicting the timing of earthquakes is not possible at the current stage of development of earthquake science. Professor Redfern emphasised the critical importance of building technologies. Using appropriate technologies can greatly reduce the incidence of death and injury in earthquakes. However, a large fraction of the population living in urban areas along the earthquake zones live in buildings that are extremely vulnerable in earthquakes.

The lecture was followed by a lively and thought provoking Q&A session.

Professor Redfern's research covers a broad range of interests all linked by their relationship to the atomic-scale, nano-scale and microscopic structure of minerals. They all deal with the relationship between mineral structure & microstructure and chemical & physical properties. Professor Redfern will step down as Head of Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge at the end of the 2018-19 academic year to take up the position of Dean of the College of Science at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore).