Collaborative Research : Nonlinear Long Wave Amplification in the Shadow Zone of Offshore Islands Grant uri icon


  • Field survey reports from recent tsunamis suggest that local residents in mainland areas shadowed by nearby islands may be under the impression that these islands protect them from tsunamis. Recent numerical results using the mathematical procedure known as "active learning" have generated substantial attention in world media (The Economist, Der Spiegel, Science, Korean Herald, Kathimerini), because they suggest that, in most cases, islands amplify tsunamis in the shadow zones behind them. In this application, the active learning methodology requires about 100,000 times fewer computations than conventional mathematical approaches, and it is unclear if the amplification effect is real. Through comprehensive laboratory experiments, the physical manifestation of this effect will be studied. If indeed the physical experiments confirm the numerical idealizations, this research will help save lives by better targeting educational campaigns to at risk populations. For example, it will be determined if coastlines shadowed by offshore islands along the Pacific Coast of the US are more vulnerable than earlier believed.The early numerical results from active learning are only applicable for non-breaking waves. While many existing numerical codes attempt to model mild long-wave breaking, as they sometimes do, it is unclear how well they perform when scattered long waves break and interact. It is equally unclear if the isthmus between islands scatters the wave energy or focuses further in the mainland behind them, or under what geographical conditions either effect prevails. Through the laboratory experiments, it will be determined if this vexing phenomenon persists when waves break. The results will help validate active learning as a mathematical procedure for uncertainty reduction which greatly reduces computational costs. Also, a substantial laboratory data set will be developed to help benchmark numerical computations for interacting breaking wave fronts, under conditions as yet unstudied. An outreach campaign is planned to educate populations at risk and improve the awareness of emergency managers on this unusual amplification phenomenon.

date/time interval

  • 2015 - 2019