Tsunami hazard assessment in the Hudson River Estuary based on dynamic tsunami–tide simulations

  • Michael Shelby
  • Stéphan T. GrilliEmail author
  • Annette R. Grilli
Part of the Pageoph Topical Volumes book series (PTV)


This work is part of a tsunami inundation mapping activity carried out along the US East Coast since 2010, under the auspice of the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation program (NTHMP). The US East Coast features two main estuaries with significant tidal forcing, which are bordered by numerous critical facilities (power plants, major harbors,...) as well as densely built low-level areas: Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson River Estuary (HRE). HRE is the object of this work, with specific focus on assessing tsunami hazard in Manhattan, the Hudson and East River areas. In the NTHMP work, inundation maps are computed as envelopes of maximum surface elevation along the coast and inland, by simulating the impact of selected probable maximum tsunamis (PMT) in the Atlantic ocean margin and basin. At present, such simulations assume a static reference level near shore equal to the local mean high water (MHW) level. Here, instead we simulate maximum inundation in the HRE resulting from dynamic interactions between the incident PMTs and a tide, which is calibrated to achieve MHW at its maximum level. To identify conditions leading to maximum tsunami inundation, each PMT is simulated for four different phases of the tide and results are compared to those obtained for a static reference level. We first separately simulate the tide and the three PMTs that were found to be most significant for the HRE. These are caused by: (1) a flank collapse of the Cumbre Vieja Volcano (CVV) in the Canary Islands (with a 80 km3 volume representing the most likely extreme scenario); (2) an M9 coseismic source in the Puerto Rico Trench (PRT); and (3) a large submarine mass failure (SMF) in the Hudson River canyon of parameters similar to the 165 km3 historical Currituck slide, which is used as a local proxy for the maximum possible SMF. Simulations are performed with the nonlinear and dispersive long wave model FUNWAVE-TVD, in a series of nested grids of increasing resolution towards the coast, by one-way coupling. Four levels of nested grids are used, from a 1 arc-min spherical coordinate grid in the deep ocean down to a 39-m Cartesian grid in the HRE. Bottom friction coefficients in the finer grids are calibrated for the tide to achieve the local spatially averaged MHW level at high tide in the HRE. Combined tsunami–tide simulations are then performed for four phases of the tide corresponding to each tsunami arriving at Sandy Hook (NJ): 1.5 h ahead, concurrent with, 1.5 h after, and 3 h after the local high tide. These simulations are forced along the offshore boundary of the third-level grid by linearly superposing time series of surface elevation and horizontal currents of the calibrated tide and each tsunami wave train; this is done in deep enough water for a linear superposition to be accurate. Combined tsunami–tide simulations are then performed with FUNWAVE-TVD in this and the finest nested grids. Results show that, for the 3 PMTs, depending on the tide phase, the dynamic simulations lead to no or to a slightly increased inundation in the HRE (by up to 0.15 m depending on location), and to larger currents than for the simulations over a static level; the CRT SMF proxy tsunami is the PMT leading to maximum inundation in the HRE. For all tide phases, nonlinear interactions between tide and tsunami currents modify the elevation, current, and celerity of tsunami wave trains, mostly in the shallower water areas of the HRE where bottom friction dominates, as compared to a linear superposition of wave elevations and currents. We note that, while dynamic simulations predict a slight increase in inundation, this increase may be on the same order as, or even less than sources of uncertainty in the modeling of tsunami sources, such as their initial water elevation, and in bottom friction and bathymetry used in tsunami grids. Nevertheless, results in this paper provide insight into the magnitude and spatial variability of tsunami propagation and impact in the complex inland waterways surrounding New York City, and of their modification by dynamic tidal effects. We conclude that changes in inundation resulting from the inclusion of a dynamic tide in the specific case of the HRE, although of scientific interest, are not significant for tsunami hazard assessment and that the standard approach of specifying a static reference level equal to MHW is conservative. However, in other estuaries with similarly complex bathymetry/topography and stronger tidal currents, a simplified static approach might not be appropriate.


Federal Emergency Management Agency Tsunami Hazard Tsunami Source Tsunami Inundation Tide Interaction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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The authors gratefully acknowledge funding for this work, provided by Grants #NA14NWS4670041 and #NA15NWS4670029 of the U.S. National Tsunami Hazards Mitigation Program (NTHMP).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Shelby
    • 1
  • Stéphan T. Grilli
    • 1
    Email author
  • Annette R. Grilli
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ocean EngineeringUniversity of Rhode IslandNarragansettUSA

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