Photograph by REBECCA HALE, NGM staff
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Beverly Goodman searches underwater to help us survive future emergencies.
Photograph by REBECCA HALE, NGM staff

She studies ancient catastrophes to prevent future disasters

This ‘disaster scientist’ is uncovering clues buried underwater that may save lives today.

This story appears in the May 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.

When Beverly Goodman was in elementary school, she gave a series of presentations on her favorite topic: disasters. She told her classmates about the eruption that buried Pompeii, the black plague, and famous shipwrecks like the Titanic and the Lusitania. Today, at 45, she’s a marine geoarchaeologist who excavates coastlines for clues to erosion, past tsunamis, and other disasters. “It’s funny now that I’m a disaster scientist, basically,” she says. “It all came together.”

Human settlements have long been built around access to water. Goodman studies how coastal change affected our ancestors: Were people forced to leave? Did they find innovative ways to adapt to the changes? This knowledge, she says, can help us “prepare responsibly for what this landscape is going to look like in the future.” That was the case when Goodman and her team of scientists proved tsunamis had struck the coast of what is now Israel over the course of thousands of years. Partly as a result of their research, the country in 2014 developed its first tsunami preparedness plan.

Humans are manipulating coastlines more dramatically than ever, says Goodman. To learn what effect this will have, “we need to be working faster, and we need more people working on it.” She believes ancient clues buried underwater can save lives, particularly in places without written records.

Hear Goodman describe the city the tsunami washed away in season two, episode one, of our podcast, Overheard at National Geographic.