Shaun Williams

'This PhD project is my way of contributing to the long-term recovery and mitigation effort in Samoa...'

  • Shaun williams

Master of Science in Hazard and Disaster Management

PhD in Hazard and Disaster Management

Shaun was just finishing his Master of Science in Hazard and Disaster Management at UC when his homeland of Samoa was hit by the 2009 tsunami.

It was the catalyst for staying on to study for a PhD looking at ancient tsunamis in Samoa from geological records. Through his research, he hopes to establish the long term risks of tsunamis for Samoa and the broader South West Pacific, and some strategies that can be put in place to minimise their impact.

His interest in the 2009 tsunami was very personal because before he had arrived in Canterbury in 2007 to study for his MSc, he had spent three years directly involved with setting up earthquake monitoring and tsunami warning systems in Samoa, leading the Geophysics Section of the Samoan Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. ‘This PhD project is my way of contributing to the long-term recovery and mitigation effort in Samoa,’ he says.

Although he was born a dual citizen of New Zealand and Samoa, he had only been to New Zealand on holiday before coming to study at postgraduate level on an NZAid scholarship. It was a big step to leave Samoa and come to New Zealand. ‘I was a small-island boy and coming here it was still an island, but a much bigger one!’

He had completed his undergraduate degree in earth sciences and geography in Fiji. ‘Initially I had the fear of the unknown when I first came to study here, especially because I did not grow up in the New Zealand education system, but at the same time it was a challenge I wanted to take on and I really enjoyed it,’ he says.

Shaun says that when he arrived at UC, the department made him feel very welcome and he found people really helpful and friendly. ‘It all went extremely smoothly, and I felt I was part of this world-class team straight away’.

Being enrolled in the master’s programme for Hazard and Disaster Management meant Shaun had the opportunity to go on a number of field trips. ‘It was really interesting for me because I got to see more of the South Island, not just Christchurch. I got to see how people lived in the rural areas,’ he recalls. ‘Having a beer with the locals and learning of their stories was really cool.’

His current project represents a collaborative research partnership between UC, the University of New South Wales, University of Hawaii at Manoa, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), and the Samoan Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. ‘It’s a great experience having the opportunity to work with a diverse team of outstanding scientists,’ he says.

In 2010 Shaun received a Ministry of Research, Science and Technology Fulbright Graduate Award to conduct numerical tsunami modelling research at UH-Manoa for one year. ‘I was deeply honoured to be accepted for this award,’ he says. ‘I strongly advocate the NZ-Fulbright programme to any interested Kiwi or American.’

His project also received an Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering Research Award to conduct geochemical and age-dating analysis on tsunami deposits with colleagues at ANSTO, enabling crucial data to be yielded.

With his PhD concentrating on helping Samoa, Shaun says he would like to stay a little longer and work in New Zealand to contribute to the Kiwi side of his citizenship. ’I feel strongly that is something I need to do.’

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