In search of faults in Lahad Datu and Ranau

In May I went on another collaborative visit to Sabah, this time accompanying Prof. Felix Tongkul from UMS and two of his graduate students, Louvis and Brandon, out into the field in search of active faults. Our colleagues at UMS have been using very high resolution IFSAR data to identify the location of potential active faults in Sabah, and the purpose of the fieldwork was to try and find evidence for these faults on the ground.


We spent a day heading all the way across Sabah from Kota Kinabalu to the town of Lahad Datu on the east coast. Lahad Datu is the site, in 1976, of the largest recorded earthquake in Sabah (M6.2), and the region is one of the main centres of seismic activity. Over the next few days we drove around to several locations where the IFSAR images showed there might be faults. Most sites were along fairly newly tarmacked roads as these are where evidence of recent activity is best recorded, especially as most of Sabah is covered in trees and other vegetation. We used the UMS drone to get a birds-eye view of the area and to place evidence of movement in a bit of a wider context, helping us to try and decide if it was due to an active fault, landslides or subsidence. I found the use of the drone quite exciting – they are potentially such a useful piece of kit in geological fieldwork.

After a few days in Lahad Datu we headed back west to the town of Ranau, via a location where you can have your toes nibbled by fish in the river! Ranau is situated near Mt Kinabalu and is the town that was most heavily affected by the 2015 M6 earthquake. Most of the damage caused by that earthquake has been repaired, although there was still some damage on one of the towers on the mosque. Near Ranau we also visited several sites of potential active faults – including one where the lines in the middle of the road had been offset, which was quite convincing evidence!


While travelling around looking for evidence of active faults we also visited a number of potential sites for putting seismometers. A number of these were in palm plantations and it was interesting to see how these operated and their role in the local economy. Driving around I also saw some quite exciting animals – monkeys, brilliant blue kingfishers, hornbills and tortoises.

Back in Kota Kinabalu I was lucky enough to have Brandon and his family spend a couple of days showing me around various sites including the Sabah museum and the UMS aquarium, and taking me to the KDCA to see the culmination of the Kaamatan – harvest- festival. We were able to see and hear some fantastic traditional dancing and music and watch as different villages battled it out in the tug-of-war competition.


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