Marine science in Chile shaken

Research vessel Kay Kay II

By Lisa Levin - NOAA

On Feb 27, I went down to my cabin to nap before a load of core samples arrived on deck.

It was after 3 am. and a long stretch of work remained. As I headed down all was well. When I came back up 45 min. later central Chile had just experienced an 8.8 magnitude earthquake, one of the largest ever recorded.

Over the next few days news slowly arrived over our frustratingly slow shipboard email system. My concern was for the people of Chile, but also for the many friends I had made in 1998 during my time on sabbatical spent at the University of Concepcion and the University marine lab in Dichato. The quake epicenter was only 70 miles from Concepcion.

As communications resumed, I heard directly from some friends and indirectly about others. Most of the marine scientists I knew seemed alive and unhurt.

The same was not true for marine science itself in Central Chile. Strangely enough the tsunamis resulting from the quakes and aftershocks did the most damage.

The wonderful marine laboratory at Dichato, where I had worked for one summer and returned to teach for part of another, was completely destroyed by a series of 3 tidal waves.

These arrived 30 minutes apart, the first 2 hours after the initial quake. The loss of instrumentation, lab equipment, computers, samples and countless hours spent generating data is catastrophic and heartbreaking.

Many of the top marine researchers at the University of Concepcion made this laboratory their base of operations. Only the side walls remain, most of the contents and parts of the roof are gone.

The Kay Kay, the University’s 18m research vessel was left high and dry nearly one kilometer inland.

Although this ship could have been salvaged, vandals have apparently removed all of its instruments.

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