Pure and Applied Geophysics

, Volume 168, Issue 6–7, pp 1153–1173 | Cite as

Tsunami Simulations for Regional Sources in the South China and Adjoining Seas

  • Emile A. Okal
  • Costas E. Synolakis
  • Nikos Kalligeris


We present 14 scenarios of potential tsunamis in the South China Sea and its adjoining basins, the Sulu and Sulawezi Seas. The sources consist of earthquake dislocations inspired by the the study of historical events, either recorded (since 1900) or described in historical documents going back to 1604. We consider worst-case scenarios, where the size of the earthquake is not limited by the largest known event, but merely by the dimension of the basin over which a coherent fault may propagate. While such scenarios are arguably improbable, they may not be impossible, and as such must be examined. For each scenario, we present a simulation of the tsunami’s propagation in the marine basin, exclusive of its interaction with the coastline. Our results show that the South China, Sulu and Sulawezi Seas make up three largely independent basins where tsunamis generated in one basin do not leak into another. Similarly, the Sunda arc provides an efficient barrier to tsunamis originating in the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, the shallow continental shelves in the Java Sea, the Gulf of Thailand and the western part of the South China Sea significantly dampen the amplitude of the waves. The eastern shores of the Malay Peninsula are threatened only by the greatest—and most improbable—of our sources, a mega-earthquake rupturing all of the Luzon Trench. We also consider two models of underwater landslides (which can be triggered by smaller events, even in an intraplate setting). These sources, for which there is both historical and geological evidence, could pose a significant threat to all shorelines in the region, including the Malay Peninsula.


Tsunami South China Sea focal mechanism numerical simulation 



This research was partially supported by the National Science Foundation under grant CMMI 09-28905 to CES. We are grateful to James Dewey, Steve Kirby, Bernard Dost and Phil Cummins for access to historical seismogram collections at the USGS (Golden), the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, and Geoscience Australia. The paper was improved through the comments of Hermann Fritz, another reviewer and Editor Utku Kânoğlu. Maps were drawn using the GMT software (Wessel and Smith, 1991).


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emile A. Okal
    • 1
  • Costas E. Synolakis
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Nikos Kalligeris
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Earth and Planetary SciencesNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Civil EngineeringUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Department of Environmental EngineeringTechnical University of CreteChaniaGreece
  4. 4.Institute of Applied and Computational MathematicsHeraklionGreece

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