Pure and Applied Geophysics

, Volume 165, Issue 11, pp 2003-2018

First online:

The Effect of the Great Barrier Reef on the Propagation of the 2007 Solomon Islands Tsunami Recorded in Northeastern Australia

  • Toshitaka BabaAffiliated withDepartment of Oceanfloor Network System Development for Earthquakes and Tsunamis, Japan Agency for Marine - Earth Science and TechnologyGeoscience Australia Email author 
  • , Richard MleczkoAffiliated withGeoscience Australia
  • , David BurbidgeAffiliated withGeoscience Australia
  • , Phil R. CumminsAffiliated withGeoscience Australia
  • , Hong Kie ThioAffiliated withURS Group Inc.

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The effect of offshore coral reefs on the impact from a tsunami remains controversial. For example, field surveys after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami indicate that the energy of the tsunami was reduced by natural coral reef barriers in Sri Lanka, but there was no indication that coral reefs off Banda Aceh, Indonesia had any effect on the tsunami. In this paper, we investigate whether the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) offshore Queensland, Australia, may have weakened the tsunami impact from the 2007 Solomon Islands earthquake. The fault slip distribution of the 2007 Solomon Islands earthquake was firstly obtained by teleseismic inversion. The tsunami was then propagated to shallow water just offshore the coast by solving the linear shallow water equations using a staggered grid finite-difference method. We used a relatively high resolution (approximately 250 m) bathymetric grid for the region just off the coast containing the reef. The tsunami waveforms recorded at tide gauge stations along the Australian coast were then compared to the results from the tsunami simulation when using both the realistic 250 m resolution bathymetry and with two grids having fictitious bathymetry: One in which the the GBR has been replaced by a smooth interpolation from depths outside the GBR to the coast (the “No GBR” grid), and one in which the GBR has been replaced by a flat plane at a depth equal to the mean water depth of the GBR (the “Average GBR” grid). From the comparison between the synthetic waveforms both with and without the Great Barrier Reef, we found that the Great Barrier Reef significantly weakened the tsunami impact. According to our model, the coral reefs delayed the tsunami arrival time by 5–10 minutes, decreased the amplitude of the first tsunami pulse to half or less, and lengthened the period of the tsunami.


Tsunami the Great Barrier Reef the 2007 Solomon Islands earthquake