Challenges in Defining Tsunami Wave Heights
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and co-located World Data Service for Geophysics maintain the global tsunami archive consisting of the historical tsunami database, imagery, and raw and processed water level data. The historical tsunami database incorporates, where available, maximum wave heights for each coastal tide gauge and deep-ocean buoy that recorded a tsunami signal. These data are important because they are used for tsunami hazard assessment, model calibration, validation, and forecast and warning. There have been ongoing discussions in the tsunami community about the correct way to measure and report these wave heights. It is important to understand how these measurements might vary depending on how the data were processed and the definition of maximum wave height. On September 16, 2015, an 8.3 M w earthquake located 48 km west of Illapel, Chile generated a tsunami that was observed all over the Pacific region. We processed the time-series water level data for 57 coastal tide gauges that recorded this tsunami and compared the maximum wave heights determined from different definitions. We also compared the maximum wave heights from the NCEI-processed data with the heights reported by the NOAA Tsunami Warning Centers. We found that in the near field different methods of determining the maximum tsunami wave heights could result in large differences due to possible instrumental clipping. We also found that the maximum peak is usually larger than the maximum amplitude (½ peak-to-trough), but the differences for the majority of the stations were <20 cm. For this event, the maximum tsunami wave heights determined by either definition (maximum peak or amplitude) would have validated the forecasts issued by the NOAA Tsunami Warning Centers. Since there is currently only one field in the NCEI historical tsunami database to store the maximum tsunami wave height for each tide gauge and deep-ocean buoy, NCEI will consider adding an additional field for the maximum peak measurement.
KeywordsTsunami tide gauge DART® amplitude peak trough wave height
The authors wish to acknowledge the partner agencies whose continued collaboration ensures the success of the United States end-to-end tsunami warning system. The NOAA National Tsunami Warning Center, the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, the National Ocean Service Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, the National Data Buoy Center, the UNESCO/IOC-NOAA International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC), the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and the University of Hawaii Sea Level Center each provide critical expertise.
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