Pure and Applied Geophysics

, Volume 175, Issue 4, pp 1239–1256 | Cite as

The Role of Near-Shore Bathymetry During Tsunami Inundation in a Reef Island Setting: A Case Study of Tutuila Island

  • Derya I. Dilmen
  • Gerard H. Roe
  • Yong Wei
  • Vasily V. Titov


On September 29, 2009 at 17:48 UTC, an Mw = 8.1 earthquake in the Tonga Trench generated a tsunami that caused heavy damage across Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga. One of the worst hits was the volcanic island of Tutuila in American Samoa. Tutuila has a typical tropical island bathymetry setting influenced by coral reefs, and so the event provided an opportunity to evaluate the relationship between tsunami dynamics and the bathymetry in that typical island environment. Previous work has come to differing conclusions regarding how coral reefs affect tsunami dynamics through their influence on bathymetry and dissipation. This study presents numerical simulations of this event with a focus on two main issues: first, how roughness variations affect tsunami run-up and whether different values of Manning’s roughness parameter, n, improve the simulated run-up compared to observations; and second, how depth variations in the shelf bathymetry with coral reefs control run-up and inundation on the island coastlines they shield. We find that no single value of n provides a uniformly good match to all observations; and we find substantial bay-to-bay variations in the impact of varying n. The results suggest that there are aspects of tsunami wave dissipation which are not captured by a simplified drag formulation used in shallow-water waves model. The study also suggests that the primary impact of removing the near-shore bathymetry in coral reef environment is to reduce run-up, from which we conclude that, at least in this setting, the impact of the near-shore bathymetry is to increase run-up and inundation.


Tsunami numerical modeling manning roughness island reef environment American Samoa 



This publication makes use of data products provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (Contribution number 4618). This publication is partially funded by the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO) under NOAA Cooperative Agreement NA15OAR4320063, Contribution No. 2018-0131. Hermann Fritz generously provided the post-tsunami run-up survey datasets. We are grateful to Randall Leveque, Joanne Bourgeois, Frank Gonzales, Hongqiang Zhou, Christopher Moore, Marie Eble, Diego Arcas, Lijuan Tang, Jose Borrero and the anonymous reviewer for their endless advice and help.


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© This is a U.S. government work and its text is not subject to copyright protection in the United States; however, its text may be subject to foreign copyright protection 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NOAA Center for Tsunami ResearchPacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, UW/Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and OceanSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Earth and Space SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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