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Modeling of SMF tsunami hazard along the upper US East Coast: detailed impact around Ocean City, MD

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With support from the US National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP), the authors have been developing tsunami inundation maps for the upper US East Coast (USEC), using high-resolution numerical modeling. These maps are envelopes of maximum elevations, velocity, or momentum flux, caused by the probable maximum tsunamis identified in the Atlantic oceanic basin, including from far-field coseismic or volcanic sources, and near-field Submarine mass failures (SMFs); the latter are the object of this work. Despite clear field evidence of past large-scale SMFs within our area of interest, such as the Currituck slide complex, their magnitude, pre-failed geometry, volume, and mode of rupture are poorly known. A screening analysis based on the Monte Carlo simulations (MCS) identified areas for possible tsunamigenic SMF sources along the USEC, indicating an increased level of tsunami hazard north of Virginia, potentially surpassing the inundation generated by a typical 100-year hurricane storm surge in the region, as well as that from the most extreme far-field coseismic sources in the Atlantic; to the south, the MCS indicated that SMF tsunami hazard significantly decreased. Subsequent geotechnical and geological analyses delimited four high-risk areas along the upper USEC where the potential for large tsunamigenic SMFs, identified in the MCS, was realistic on the basis of field data (i.e., sediment nature and volume/availability). In the absence of accurate site-specific field data, following NTHMP’s recommendation, for the purpose of simulating tsunami hazard from SMF PMTs, we parameterized an extreme SMF source in each of the four areas as a so-called Currituck proxy, i.e., a SMF having the same volume, dimensions, and geometry as the historical SMF. In this paper, after briefly describing our state-of-the-art SMF tsunami modeling methodology, in a second part, we parameterize and model the historical Currituck event, including: (1) a new reconstruction of the SMF geometry and kinematics; (2) the simulation of the resulting tsunami source generation; and (3) the propagation of the tsunami source over the shelf to the coastline, in a series of nested grids. A sensitivity analysis to model and grid parameters is performed on this case, to ensure convergence and accuracy of tsunami simulation results. Then, we model in greater detail and discuss the impact of the historical Currituck tsunami event along the nearest coastline where its energy was focused, off of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, as well as near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay; our results are in qualitative agreement with an earlier modeling study. In a third part, following the same methodology, we model tsunami generation and propagation for SMF Currituck proxy sources sited in the four identified areas of the USEC. Finally, as an illustration of our SMF tsunami hazard assessment work, we present detailed tsunami inundation maps, as well as some other products, for one of the most impacted and vulnerable areas, near and around Ocean City, MD. We find that coastal inundation from near-field SMF tsunamis may be comparable to that caused by the largest far-field sources. Because of their short propagation time and, hence, warning times, SMF tsunamis may pose one of the highest coastal hazards for many highly populated and vulnerable communities along the upper USEC, certainly comparable to that from extreme hurricanes.

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This work has been supported by the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP), NOAA, through grant NA10NWS4670010 to the University of Delaware (with subaward to the University of Rhode Island). Additional support at the University of Rhode Island came from grant EAR-09-11499 from the US National Science Foundation, Geophysics Program. Development of the numerical models used in this study was supported by the Office of Naval Research, Littoral Geosciences and Optics program. S. Banihashemi was supported by the Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Univ. of Delaware.

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Correspondence to Stephan T. Grilli.

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Grilli, S.T., O’Reilly, C., Harris, J.C. et al. Modeling of SMF tsunami hazard along the upper US East Coast: detailed impact around Ocean City, MD. Nat Hazards 76, 705–746 (2015).

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