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Real-Time Assessment of the 16 September 2015 Chile Tsunami and Implications for Near-Field Forecast


The magnitude 8.3 earthquake in central Chile on 16 September 2015 and the resulting tsunami severely affected the region, with 15 deaths (Onemi in Monitoreo por sismo de mayor intensidad. (In Spanish) [Available at:], 2015), over one million evacuated, and flooding in nearby coastal cities. We present our real-time assessment of the 2015 Chile tsunami using the Short-term Inundation Forecasting for Tsunamis system, and post-event analyses with local community models in Chile. We evaluate three real-time tsunami sources, which were inverted at the time that the first quarter-, half-, and full-wave passed the first tsunameter (DART 32402, located approximately 580 km north–northwest of the epicenter), respectively. Measurement comparisons from 26 deep-ocean tsunameters and 38 coastal tide stations show that good model accuracies are achieved for all three sources, particularly for the local sites that recorded the most destructive waves. The study highlights the forecast speed, time and accuracy dependence, and their implications for the local forecast capability. Our analyses suggest that the tsunami's main origination area is about 100–200 km long and 100 km wide, to the north of the earthquake epicenter along the trench and the total estimated tsunami wave energy is 7.9 × 1013 J (with 13 % uncertainty). The study provides important guidelines for the earliest reliable estimate of tsunami energy and local forecasts. They can be obtained with the first quarter-wave of tsunameter recording. These results are also confirmed by a forecast analysis of the 2011 Japan tsunami. Furthermore, we find that the first half-wave tsunameter data are sufficient to accurately forecast the 2015 Chile tsunami, due to the specific orientation between the nearest tsunameter and the source. The study also suggests expanding the operational use of the local community models in real time, and demonstrates the applicability of the model results for “all-clear” evaluations, search and rescue operations, and near-real-time mitigation planning in both near and far fields.

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The authors thank Dr. Donald W. Denbo for obtaining the quarter-wave source during real-time assessment of the 2015 Chile tsunami; the reviewers for their valuable comments that enhanced the paper; NCTR members for discussion and contributions; Sandra Bigley for comments and edits; Stuart A. Weinstein, Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Chilean Navy (SHOA), and National Ocean Service Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services (NOS/CO-OPS) for water level data; and National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) for tsunameter data. This research is funded by the NOAA Center for Tsunami Research, PMEL contribution # 4394. This publication is partially funded by the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) under NOAA Cooperative Agreement NA10OAR4320148, Contribution No. 2470.

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Correspondence to Vasily V. Titov.

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This paper is part of the article collection on “Illapel, Chile, Earthquake on September 16th, 2015”.

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Tang, L., Titov, V.V., Moore, C. et al. Real-Time Assessment of the 16 September 2015 Chile Tsunami and Implications for Near-Field Forecast. Pure Appl. Geophys. 173, 369–387 (2016).

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  • The 2015 Chile tsunami
  • tsunami forecast
  • tsunami source
  • tsunami energy
  • near-field forecast
  • numerical modeling