UCAR Staff Notes masthead
Home Our Organization Research News Center Education Community Tools Libraries
About Staff Notes
Past Issues
Favorite Photos
How to Subscribe


staff notes header

June 2005

ACD staffer volunteers
in Thailand after tsunami

In April, ACD's David Knapp took two weeks of vacation time to travel to Thailand. But instead of lounging around on the country's famously beautiful beaches, he volunteered to finish constructing a residential dwelling that two Thai families displaced by the tsunami will soon call home.

When David began contacting non-governmental organizations after the tsunami to ask about volunteering, most of the groups he spoke to told him that everything was under control. "But my contacts over there said this wasn't true and when I got there I confirmed it," he says. "There are still people living under tarps."


After working on this cinderblock house, David Knapp, left, and another volunteer spend time with some of the Thai family members who will live in it.

A Bangkok-based organization called the Rowan Group, Inc. was interested in David's construction experience, which involves informal framing and finishing work. The organization invited him to Mai Khao on Phuket Island, one of Thailand's most prominent tourist destinations. He paid all his own expenses with the help of contributions from a number of generous UCAR employees. The organization didn't provide much support or instruction, but even so he and another volunteer from Montana managed to put a floor and roof on a two-room cinderblock structure that other volunteers from Australia had started. They paid for construction supplies out of their own pockets and, with the help of locals, finished the project in two weeks.

"The people there were upbeat but nervous because the tourism industry hasn't rebounded," David says. "People who depend on tourism are making a lot less money than they were before the tsunami."

While there, David had the chance to check out Khao Lak, the nearest major resort town. "It was devastated," he says. Although the rubble has been cleared away, he saw boats sitting three kilometers inland from the beach where the wave finally left them. And people continue to go missing.

An associate scientist who works on nitrogen compounds in the atmosphere, David has never volunteered abroad like this before. "I've been really disappointed at how the U.S. has been represented," he explains. "I've been wondering what I can do to improve the world's perception of America, and the simple approach is to just go out there and demonstrate that some of us really do care."

After seeing a news story about a week after the waves hit that showed small children who had lost their families and homes, David decided to volunteer. "I found this hard to just watch without acting, especially since I have two small children myself," he says.

He says that the best thing people can do for tsunami survivors is to visit their countries as tourists. "I would like to encourage everyone to go there for vacation because these people need tourism badly," he says, adding that in addition to plenty of cheap tourist facilities, conditions are clean, safe, and uncrowded.

• by Nicole Gordon

GLOBE students in Thailand monitor tsunami recovery

As coastal areas in Southeast Asia begin to recover from last December's devastating tsunami, GLOBE is launching three field projects along the Andaman coast of Thailand that will make use of students in affected areas.

Project participants will monitor the recovery of local marine invertebrate populations and study the impacts of the giant waves on hydrology and land cover. The projects will involve students from at least 10 Thai schools, several of which were damaged or destroyed in the catastrophe.

"This is an ideal opportunity to study the recovery of an ecosystem," explains GLOBE's Eric Stonebraker, who oversees Asian programs. "It also is part of a restorative process for the communities."

Eric Stonebraker. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

The projects will run for about five years. They are expected to yield both scientific and societal benefits. By collecting data on such issues as soil salinity and water quality, the students will help advance our understanding of how coastal areas recover from natural disasters, while they learn more about math, Earth science, and research methods. Schools that were hit by the tsunami will receive basic scientific instruments. The results may be of value to developers and planners who are involved in the recovery efforts.

The projects also will enable students and their parents to gain a deeper knowledge of their environment and how to best protect it. "Their awareness is going to be heightened," says Pornpun Waitayangkoon, coordinator of the GLOBE program in Thailand, who spoke at UCAR recently.

• by David Hosansky

Also in this issue...


Urban Century?

Tsunami relief

GLOBE in Thailand

Random Profile:
Alain Caya

U.S. emissions:
the full story

Delphi question:
FL0 construction issues

Just One Look


Staff Notes home page | News Center