There has been increasing public attention given to tsunamis since 2004 when the Indian Ocean Tsunami killed more than 230,000 people. Attention increased even further following the 2011 East Japan Tsunami, which killed more than 18,000 people and caused enormous economic damage, including devastating nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant. The U.S. Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Northern California) is vulnerable to similar local tsunamis generated by a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake. In Southern California, there is a tsunami threat that could be triggered by a submarine landslide off the Santa Barbara or Los Angeles Basin.

Based on the directivity characteristics of tsunami energy propagation, the entire U.S. West Coast is vulnerable to distant tsunamis originated in the eastern end of the Aleutian (Alaska) and also Philippine Main. The extreme scenario would be strong, long-duration earthquake ground shaking associated with the subduction fault rupture, followed by large tsunami inundation. Such a scenario is not an exception, but rather a common occurrence in the continental margin where major geologic subduction processes occur. Substantial structural damage caused by tsunamis in Japan underscores the urgency of re-examining the present engineering design practice for the multiple-hazard scenario.

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Destroyed by the tsunami by Rodolfo Schild, Steinbrugge Collection, S1791

Chile Earthquake, May 22, 1960
Steinbrugge Collection (S1791) by Rodolfo Schild

Tsunami by Hokusai

Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura) by Katsushika Hokusai: 

Town of Onagawa after the 2011 East Japan Tsunami event

Scene of the town of Onagawa, 18 hours after the 2011 East Japan Tsunami event (photo by Satake)

Tsunami Research Program

PEER’s tsunami research program is to develop an effective methodology for damage analyses for critical structures and lifelines: e.g. nuclear and fossil power plants, liquefied natural gas and oil storage facilities, civilian and military ports, emergency tsunami shelters, transportation corridors including coastal bridges, and important public facilities (fire and police stations, hospitals, and schools). Failure of critical coastal structures and lifelines likely lead to loss of life, delays in emergency response, and long-term economic impacts.

This research focus is a crucial gap in tsunami research efforts currently being conducted elsewhere. PEER’s methodology development – called Performance-Based Tsunami Engineering (PBTE) – will ultimately expand and extend the existing Performance-Based Earthquake Engineering (PBEE) methodology.

Flowchart of Performance Based Tsunami Engineering (PBTE)

Flow chart of Performance-Based Tsunami Engineering (PBTE)

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