Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering have developed simulations of potential tsunami activity in the Indian Ocean using their own simulation and analysis software.
“We have been developing since the late 80’s a fairly sophisticated numerical code that takes information about the earthquake and makes projections about how far the tsunami is going to travel inland — what we call inundation,” says Costas Synolakis, director of the USC Tsunami Research Center.
The code Synolakis and his team have been developing is called MOST (Method of Splitting Tsunami), a finite-difference algorithm that is capable of simulating three stages of a tsunami: the earthquake, transoceanic propagation and inundation. “In engineering and this kind of analysis in wave hydrodynamics we still do our own programming; there are no packaged products out there that will do simulation for tsunamis,” says Synolakis.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is also using MOST to create real-time projections for tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean. “NOAA is actually right now considering licensing the technology out; they’ve done an incredible amount of development work,” says Synolakis.
Synolakis and his team at the Research Center also use 3D Studio Max to produce animation models of the simulations by inputing grid information from their analysis. “We have a set of mathematical equations that we have to solve in time and space, so these models typically can have up to 50,000 x 50,000 points in a grid and we have to upgrade this grid continuously as the tsunami proceeds,” he says.
One of Synolakis’s goals with his work is to help policy makers and civil defense workers around the world visualize the possibility of a tsunami so there won’t be a repeat of the killer tsunami faced in 2004. “This is where the surface renderers and the modern animation tools are fantastic because people can really see and to a certain extent feel what may happen,” says Synolakis. “They’re excellent, excellent tools for public education.”
Other current applications for the software and technology include calculating storm surges during hurricanes and predicting what happens in lakes and reservoirs during a moving weather front.
Synolakis just published a paper titled "Far-field tsunami hazard from mega-thrust earthquakes in the Indian Ocean" about his most recent work mapping the Indian Ocean.