Research funded by UH grant to focus on tsunami damage caused by debris

Debris from the 2011 Tohoku tsunami. Image courtesy of UH Manoa.

A $356,642 grant from the National Science Foundation over four years will support a University of Hawaii at Mānoa scientist who is investigating how the accumulation of debris piled up against buildings when water rushes in inland increases the strength and damage of tsunami waves.

The hope is that this search for public impact will lead to the construction of buildings that are more resistant to tsunami waves and debris.

“When people consider the damage caused by the massive waves of the tsunami, most only think of the large waves crashing onto the shore,” the UH researchers said, “However, what about Damage from anything the waves sweep over, such as shipping containers, structures, and vehicles?

Debris from the 2011 Tohoku tsunami. Image courtesy of UH Manoa.

Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UH Mānoa, Hyoungsu Park, will work with a collaborator at Louisiana State University to conduct elevated building experiments in the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure supported by the NSF at Oregon State University.

Park said the results of the experiments will lead to recommendations to improve existing design guidelines for constructing safer buildings, identify factors that affect debris dams to determine measures that help reduce or mitigate debris loads. dam, and improve the tsunami vulnerability assessment of existing buildings to characterize risks and resilience.


“The 2011 Tohoku tsunami alarmed researchers to predict and prepare for future tsunamis,” Park said in a UH press release. “Hawaiʻi is surrounded by active subduction zones, known as the ‘Ring of Fire,’ and will never be safe from these coastal disasters. Through these physical modeling studies, we will identify and document the mechanisms that cause dams to form. tsunami-induced debris (accumulation) and resulting dam loading The research findings will help reduce potential damage and identify improved mitigation and retrofit measures for buildings The project will eventually improve current design guidelines for improved resilience in coastal communities.

Hyoungsu Park, UH Mānoa Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor. Screenshot courtesy of UH Mānoa.

Different types of debris representing chipped shipping containers, logs and vehicles will be deployed using a large wave flume during the experiments.

Park will look at various facets, including how debris interacts with other debris, how debris flows to and around buildings, and how debris interacts when it hits buildings.

Optical measurement sensors and IMU (internal measurement unit), which are chipped in the debris, will be used to track the movements of the debris.


The data will be used to parameterize dams and debris loads, and will eventually be shared with the research community on the NHERI website. This research will also contribute to the NSF’s role in the National Earthquake Risk Reduction Program.

Wave flume at Oregon State University’s Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure Facility. Image courtesy of Oregon State University.

The project will include research opportunities for undergraduate students through the UH Mānoa Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Summer Undergraduate Research Experience Program and graduate students to participate to experiments and computer modelling, outreach activities to engage high school students in experiments, and webinars for researchers. and practicing engineers to promote adoption of research findings.

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