A tsunami’s reach


The Boxing Day 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamis were recorded by tidal gauges across the planet, both as amplitude and time of arrival. Armed with such calibrating data, detailed ocean-floor bathymetry and means of modelling wave propagation, oceanographers and geophysicists from the US, Canada and Russia have been able to estimate just how the terrible waves travelled the globe (Titov, V. et al. 2005. The global reach of the 26 December 2004 Sumatra tsunami. Science, v. 309, p. 2045-2048). Highlighting their article wonderfully is a colour-coded map that shows offshore amplitude and arrival time for the world’s oceans and shores. Its most fascinating feature is the manner in which the worst of the disturbance was guided by ocean-ridge systems, principally the Ninety-East and Southwest Indian Ridges, but also the mid-Atlantic Ridge. That is of no comfort to the survivors of the disasters around the Bay of Bengal, although the Irriwaddy delta in Myanmar was spared by the influence of the northern part of the Ninety East Ridge. That Madagascar and East Africa, except for northern Somalia, suffered far less than anticipated is thanks to the peculiar effect of the ridge systems.

The fluoride saga

Archaeological work on Icelandic burial grounds of the 18th century in the early 21st century exhumed victims of the Laki eruption of XXXX. Many skeletons bore the distinctive signs of bizarre bone growth that characterises massive ingestion of fluoride ions. The victims had endured prolonged and worsening suffering after exposure to hydrogen fluoride-rich gases that seem to characterise Laki’s effusions. It is a now well-documented geotragedy. Equally well recorded are the lives of Iceland’s early inhabitants from the 8th century onwards, but in the form of epic prose in Old Norse: the Sagas. Being prone to repeated volcanism, an obvious question is, “Did the Viking heroes experience the same problems?”

One of them was huge, both a righter of injustice and a tidy hand with the battleaxe. Egil Skallagrimsson was ‘a man who caught the eye’, reputedly being awesomely ugly and capable of jerking an eyebrow down to his chin line. Such attributes might seem to have been passed on to the legendary centre-half, ‘Skinner’ Normanton, who graced Barnsley football club in the 1950s. The traditions perhaps, but Egil’s visage was probably a result of chronic fluorosis rather than parentage (Weinstein, P. 2005. Palaeopathology by proxy: the case of Egil’s bones. Journal of Archaeological Science, v. 32, p. 1077-1082). His relatives Hallbjorn Half-troll and Grim Hairy-Cheeks seem from the saga to have been equally afflicted, yet successful. As befits a Viking battler, Egil had a thick skull; when exhumed by descendants in the 12th century, it was found to be ridged like a scallop shell – the attending priest hit it with the back of an axe, to no avail. Some have inferred abnormal bone growth and deformities due to Paget’s disease, but that tends to produce massive but weak growths, following repeated crumbling of bone. Weinstein’s theory may be verifiable, since Egil’s Saga reveals the final resting place of this enigmatic giant.

Source: Pain, S. 2005. Egil the enigmatic. New Scientist, 17 September 2005, p. 48-49

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