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Chris Pearson's Nepal Blog, Week 5

Thursday 15 October 2015 8:27pm

This is the final instalment in Chris Pearson's blog from his time in Nepal.

Well this is my last update from Kathmandu. I am actually writing this on the plane back to Auckland after what was the most exciting week of the entire project. After the SNAP workshops a week ago last Friday (Oct 2) I finally got some pre and post-earthquake data to test the version of SNAP I developed with deformation models to cope with the earthquake. It was quite a good test dataset because it covered the Kathmandu valley and covered the peak of the co-seismic displacement. After a bit of work debugging it worked spectacularly well. The worst residuals reduced from 30 cm to 5 cm. The rest of the week was spent giving a workshop to some Nepal Surveying Department Staff on Friday the 9th and getting ready for a major presentation on what the deformation model and software on Sunday Oct 11th to the top management and technical staff of the Survey Department. The version of SNAP includes the deformation model and a complete new semi-dynamic datum for Nepal (similar to NZGD2000 but with the epoch date after the earthquakes) and two other datums. One is the existing Nepal-Everest datum and the second is a revised version of Nepal-Everest datum which is designed to allow coordinates to be transformed into a post-earthquake system. I would see this as an interim step while the new datum is adopted. I was a bit nervous about the presentation since a lot was riding on it and I had decided to demonstrate the software which is always a bit dangerous as there is no recovery from technical glitches but it went without a hitch. Indeed the meeting went extremely well and the feedback was extremely positive. Afterwards I was taken out to dinner by the director general and all of the department heads and I was invited to give one of two Plenary talks to the upcoming FIG conference in Kathmandu.

A few other interesting things happened during the last week. On Wednesday I attended a dinner given by the New Zealand counsel in Kathmandu and ended up having a long chat with both the U S and Australian ambassadors! On Friday evening I gave a presentation on the new datum to the Nepal Engineering association. The meeting was reasonably well attended given that everyone had to walk or bike given the fuel crisis.

I took Saturday off and went to the major Hindu temple complex in eastern Kathmandu. It is really spectacular but how to get there – too far to walk. So I took a local bus. I had no problem getting there and spent 4 hr exploring the site and then boarded a bus for home or so I thought. I explained to the locals as best I could that I wanted to go to the Kathmandu bus station and was pointed across the road, which seemed the wrong direction but who am I to argue with the locals. Well after about an hour I ended up at a huge bus station I did not know existed and was then faced with the problem of getting back from this to my hotel in a city without any working taxis since they are all now out of fuel. Like all problems like this it was easily put right. After about half an hour I managed to find a bus to the center which serendipitously went right past my hotel. Note to self, it is not a good idea to get on a bus if you are in a foreign country where you do not speak the language.

On the last day I had a chat to one of my Nepali friends from the Survey Department and it really brought home to me just how hard the blockade has been on ordinary citizens in Kathmandu, and I am sure the rest of Nepal also. It isn’t just the lack of petrol, which we all had to deal with but most households are out of natural gas which is the standard cooking fuel. A lot of people, and even some cafés have had to use wood.

I had one last problem due to the blockade, Because of the shortage of avgas, my flight home had to stop in Calcutta to refuel which made the flight 2 hr late and resulted to my missing my connection to Auckland, and a 24 hr layover in Singapore. However, in spite of the hassles I can’t help but feel a huge sense of achievement on what I accomplished. A new datum and a complete deformation model from scratch plus software that will allow this to be used. Now this isn’t my achievement. It could never have happened without all of the work that my colleagues at LINZ and here at the school have done over the years, plus the very generous help from the earth deformation community in the US. So I guess it was just a good job all round.