Chile's earthquake knocks out research labs
[SANTIAGO] Chilean scientists say that last month's earthquake destroyed research facilities worth tens of millions of dollars and the resulting tsunami killed a researcher who was on a field trip on the Juan Fernández Islands.
The 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the country on 27 February damaged the universities of Concepción and Talca, in central-south Chile, the closest universities to the epicentre. They rank third and fifth for scientific productivity in the country.
At the University of Concepción, 105 km from the epicentre, the three-storey faculty of chemical sciences was completely destroyed in a fire minutes after the earthquake.
Then the tsunami triggered by the earthquake washed out the university's marine biological station in Dichato, a coastal village 45 km from Concepción, Jaime Baeza, the university's research director, told SciDev.Net.
The losses include equipment, marine samples and experiments, aquariums and the library. A coastal research vessel was washed onshore, its instruments either damaged by the tsunami or looted afterwards.
"There is also countless damage to sophisticated equipment and technology in all the science faculties," said Baeza. "We estimate the total losses to be about US$40–50 million. I doubt all the equipment was insured and those who were insured may not be covered after an earthquake of such magnitude."
At the University of Talca, 110 km from the epicentre, "there are losses in all the laboratories, many of them irreparable. Expensive equipment, and reagents and products obtained after 10 or more years of experiments are lost," said Carlos Padilla, deputy vice-rector for research.
The third floor of the Biotechnology and Vegetable Biology Institute was completely destroyed. "We can't even access it to take things out. We must start from the beginning," said Padilla.
Both universities highlighted the support they have received from national and international researchers.
"Some centres abroad have even offered their labs for postgraduate students to resume their work at no charge," Padilla said.
In Santiago, the University of Chile also reported damage, especially in the new Millennium building, which hosts biology labs, where flooding from burst pipes ruined valuable instruments. According to Ana Preller, director of the biology department, the losses could amount to US$1 million.
"In the biology and chemistry labs there was equipment lost, freezers knocked over, and incubators and cutting edge instruments damaged," said the dean of the faculty of sciences, Raul Morales, on the university website. He estimated that 12 to 15 laboratories were severely affected.
The tsunami also swept a new Chilean Army research vessel from the shipyard in the port of Talcahuano to a spot about 200 metres inland. It had been due to begin its maiden voyage on the day of the earthquake but it was not seriously damaged.
The researcher who died was Paula Ayerdi, a young marine biologist who was working on the Juan Fernández Islands.