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Giant tsunami monitoring, early warning and hazard assessment

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Abstract

Earthquake-triggered giant tsunamis can cause catastrophic disasters to coastal populations, ecosystems and infrastructure on scales over thousands of kilometres. In particular, the scale and tragedy of the 2004 Indian Ocean (about 230,000 fatalities) and 2011 Japan (22,000 fatalities) tsunamis prompted global action to mitigate the impacts of future disasters. In this Review, we summarize progress in understanding tsunami generation, propagation and monitoring, with a particular focus on developments in rapid early warning and long-term hazard assessment. Dense arrays of ocean-bottom pressure gauges in offshore regions provide real-time data of incoming tsunami wave heights, which, combined with advances in numerical and analogue modelling, have enabled the development of rapid tsunami forecasts for near-shore regions (within 3 minutes of an earthquake in Japan). Such early warning is essential to give local communities time to evacuate and save lives. However, long-term assessments and mitigation of tsunami risk from probabilistic tsunami hazard analysis are also needed so that comprehensive disaster prevention planning and structural tsunami countermeasures can be implemented by governments, authorities and local populations. Future work should focus on improving tsunami inundation, damage risk and evacuation modelling, and on reducing the uncertainties of probabilistic tsunami hazard analysis associated with the unpredictable nature of megathrust earthquake occurrence and rupture characteristics.

Key points

  • The scale and tragedy of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and the 2011 Tohoku Tsunami prompted the widespread deployment of tsunami observation networks and the development of tsunami modelling, which have enabled tsunami early warning systems to approach near-real-time inundation forecasts, based on the dense arrays of offshore observation data.

  • Earthquake magnitude alone does not characterize the size or impact of the ensuing tsunami disaster. The tsunami source (such as earthquake location and rupture characteristics), coastal geomorphic features, and exposure of densely populated areas have key roles in tsunami behaviour, inundation extent and the level of impact.

  • Probabilistic tsunami hazard assessment (PTHA) is a recently developed method of considering the variability of tsunami conditions for risk mitigation. PTHA can be used in engineering design and to draw up tsunami inundation maps at different return period levels, which can be used to plan local and regional hazard mitigation.

  • To mitigate future tsunami risks, we must be able to reproduce the inundation depth and flow velocity of tsunamis that run up to urban areas. A combination of numerical and physical models is needed to better understand the complex interactions between building layouts, structures, debris and non-hydrostatic flow.

  • Long-term tsunami assessments will inform authorities about requirements for software and hardware countermeasures. Hardware or structural measures (such as sea walls) can reduce loss of life and assets during an event, whereas software or non-structural measures (such as evaluation, assessments and planning) can reduce loss of life.

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Fig. 1: Overview of tsunami generation, propagation, early warning and long-term assessment.
Fig. 2: Historical giant tsunamis.
Fig. 3: Ocean-bottom pressure monitoring network in Japan.
Fig. 4: Components of earthquake occurrence and rupture models.
Fig. 5: Hierarchy of length scales for tsunami simulations.
Fig. 6: Multi-hazard assessments combine risks from earthquake and tsunami hazards.
Fig. 7: Evacuation assessments for urban environments under different tsunami scenarios.

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Acknowledgements

N.M. acknowledges funding from Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (KAKENHI) (grant numbers 20KK0095 and 21H04508), JST/JICA SATREPS Indonesia and the DPRI-ERI Research Fund (grant numbers 2019-K-01 and 2021-K-01). K.G. acknowledges funding from the Canada Research Chair programme (grant number 950-232015) and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Discovery Grant (grant number RGPIN-2019-05898). P.A.C. acknowledges funding from ANID; the Chile Centro de Investigación para la Gestión Integrada del Riesgo de Desastres (CIGIDEN) (grant number ANID/FONDAP/15110017) and the Centro Científico Tecnológico de Valparaíso (grant number ANID PIA/APOYO AFB180002). PMEL contribution #5397.

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N.M. and K.G. led the writing and revision of the manuscript, with input and contributions from K.S., D.C., P.A.C., F.I., T.T., P.L., T.M., A.M., V.T., T.-C.H. and R.W. All authors made substantial contributions to the discussion of content.

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Correspondence to Nobuhito Mori.

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Related links

Japan Meteorological Agency: Earthquakes and tsunamis–disaster prevention and mitigation efforts: https://www.jma.go.jp/jma/kishou/books/jishintsunami/en/jishintsunami_en.pdf

NOAA Global Historical Tsunami Database: https://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/hazard/tsu_db.shtml

NOAA Tohoku 2011 Tsunami Main Event Page: https://nctr.pmel.noaa.gov/honshu20110311/

The International Disaster Database (EM-DAT): https://www.emdat.be/

Supplementary information

Glossary

Long-term assessment

Estimation of hazard intensity and frequency based on historical data or model results.

Tsunami hazard

Height or velocity of tsunami, used in tsunami hazard assessments.

Risk

Combination of hazard, exposure and vulnerability.

Megathrust fault

The boundary between the two converging tectonic plates at a subduction zone

Megathrust earthquake tsunami

A tsunami that occurs at a subduction zone following a megathrust earthquake.

Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis

(DART). A tsunami monitoring system that consists of OBP sensors and moored surface buoys for real-time communication of data via satellites, developed by NOAA.

Far-field tsunami

Tsunami with waves that affect coastal regions far away (over 1,000 km) from the location of the tsunami source.

Ocean-bottom pressure

(OBP). A kind of sensor that monitors ocean-bottom pressure and converts it to sea-level heights, enabling detection of tsunamis in the deep ocean.

Seafloor Observation Network for Earthquakes and Tsunamis

(S-net). A network of 150 OBP stations connected by a network of over 5,800 km of submarine cables, installed along the Japan Trench after the 2011 Tohoku tsunami.

Deep Ocean-floor Network system for Earthquakes and Tsunamis

(DONET/DONET2). A Japanese network of approximately 50 OBP sensors connected by submarine cables along the Nankai trough.

Tsunami early warning systems

(TEWS). Real-time tsunami alert systems, in which estimates of tsunami heights are based on seismic and/or tsunami observation data.

Near-field tsunami

Tsunami with waves that affect regions near the location of the tsunami source.

Probabilistic tsunami hazard assessment

(PTHA). A probabilistic quantification of tsunami intensity and frequency, based on assessments of earthquake frequency, hazard footprints and damage susceptibility.

ShakeAlert

Earthquake early warning system developed by USGS and partners, which combines rapid earthquake detection with alert messages broadcast to a variety of people, infrastructure and devices, such as personal mobile phones.

Magnitude

A measure of an earthquake’s size or strength.

Palaeotsunami

A tsunami that occurred prior to historical records or has no written observations.

Gutenberg–Richter model

Empirical relation used to estimate earthquake frequency.

Moment magnitude

(Mw). A measure of earthquake magnitude based on its seismic moment.

Wave dispersion

Waves of different periods that travel at different phase speeds (waves with shorter periods travel at slower phase speeds).

Tsunami mitigation parks

Purpose-designed spaces in coastal regions that are built to reduce tsunami forces beyond the park, thereby helping to protect critical infrastructure or communities.

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Mori, N., Satake, K., Cox, D. et al. Giant tsunami monitoring, early warning and hazard assessment. Nat Rev Earth Environ 3, 557–572 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-022-00327-3

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