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UH Research to Focus on How Tsunami Debris Increases Damages

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Debris from the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami. (Photos courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi)

A more than $350,000 grant from a national foundation will support research by a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa scientist to answer a question: What about the damage imposed by everything else that tsunami waves sweep up, such as shipping containers, structures and vehicles?

Hyoungsu Park, an assistant professor in the UH-Mānoa Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, will use a four-year, $356,642 National Science Foundation grant to investigate how the accumulation of debris piled up against buildings as water rushes inland increases the force and damage of the tsunami waves. It’s hoped that the research can lead to the construction of buildings more resilient to tsunami waves and debris.

Debris from the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami.

“The 2011 Tōhoku (Japan) tsunami alarmed the researchers to predict and prepare for future tsunami events,” Park said in a press release. “Hawaiʻi is surrounded by active subduction zones, referred to as a ‘Ring of Fire,’ and will never be free from these coastal disasters. Through these physical modeling studies, we will identify and document mechanisms that cause tsunami-induced debris damming (accumulation) and resultant damming loading. The research outcomes will reduce the potential damage and identify improved mitigation and retrofit measures for buildings. The project eventually improves the current design guidelines for better resilience in coastal communities.”


Park will work with a collaborator at Louisiana State University to conduct experiments on elevated buildings at the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure facility at Oregon State University.

Different types of debris representing scaled shipping containers, logs and vehicles will be deployed using a large wave flume during the experiments. Park will examine various facets, including how debris flows toward and around buildings and how debris interacts when striking the buildings. The data will be used to parameterize debris damming and loadings, and eventually be shared with the research community.

The research will also contribute to the National Science Foundation’s role in the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program.


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