Civilisation exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice. – Will Durant.
On the wall is a bathymetric map – a map of the topography of a section of the Pacific Ocean floor 2,500 miles east of Australia. Intricate, black wrinkles spread across the map denoting the contours and pressure ridges of the ocean landscape. At a depth of 11 miles those contours coalesce to form a thick, dark crease across the map. At this spot the Pacific tectonic plate dives below the Australian plate at an average of 10 inches per year – by far the fastest plate movement on the planet.
In 2009, in a massive fault rupture, the plates moved 22 feet relative to each other for a distance of 155 miles. The resulting wave was 55 feet high when it hit the nearest coastline – the island of Samoa, 100 miles to the north. It killed 189 people, destroyed 20 villages and left 3000 homeless.
Detail from above image
Visiting Samoa in 2014, I’m struck by the swathes of vegetation that rise, several storeys high, from the roadsides. Comprising one single species – Merremia Peltata – this fast-growing climbing vine with broad, waxy leaves has smothered and killed more than 60% of Samoa’s native forest. The contours of the carpet of vines recalls the contours of the ocean floor map. An inundation of vegetation. A palpable echo of the tsunami.