AMHERST, Mass. — She talks softly and rapidly as she gives a tour of the University of Massachusetts geology lab, where she is working for her third straight summer. She explains her research on how the makeup of sediment gives clues to ancient tsunamis and typhoons in southern Japan with the authority of a seasoned scientist, deftly tossing out weighty terms she is happy to explain for the uninitiated.
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Shohini Kundu holds a core sample of sediment taken from Lake Ryuoo in Japan, at the University of Massachusetts geology lab in Amherts, Mass.
But Shohini Kundu is just 18. She got her diploma from Amherst Regional High School just a few weeks ago.
She shows off the long slender log-like "cores" of sediment gathered from lakes on the Japanese islands of Kyushu and Shikoku, kept in a cooler on the second floor of the Morrill Science Center, pointing out how the change in appearance tells a story of its past. Sandlike grains in the mud indicate the area was inundated by a tsunami or typhoon, which carried the particles from the ocean. Further experiments she conducted in a lab down the hall determined how long ago the flooding happened.
The goal, she said, is to see if it is possible to reconstruct a timeline for typhoons or tsunamis that occurred thousands of years ago in southern Japan. "Our research showed ways we could analyze the sediment and, yes, it is possible," she said.
She is studying the typhoons that were believed to have wiped out the Mongol Fleets, led by Kublai Khan in his attempt to take over the island of Kyushu in the 13th century – storms that profoundly affected the history of Japan, said UMass sedimentologist Jonathan Woodruff, Kundu's mentor.
Kundu's research shows that these storms, which the Japanese believe were sent by the gods to save them, did in fact occur, he said.
Under Woodruff's supervision, she and adjunct assistant professor Kinuyo Kanamaru are working on a paper together this summer that they hope will be published.