Oregon Researchers Simulate Tsunami

September 25, 2007

A giant tsunami struck Seaside, Ore. last week — at least, a model version of the town, built by researchers at Oregon State University to demonstrate the potentially devastating effects of a real tsunami.

“This is sort of a ‘sim’-tsunami,” said Harry Yeh, an ocean engineer professor at the college.

The exercise at Oregon State’s O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, showed that there would be little time to get out of the way of a 35-foot wave in the coastal resort town, and that the best escape route might be straight up.

Because Seaside’s downtown is so flat, the search for higher ground will be an exercise in futility for anyone who’s not able-bodied. It could be particularly dangerous for the thousands of tourists who flood into Seaside every summer, and might not be aware that they need to head for the Coast Range the moment they feel the ground shake.

Professors at the wave research lab are hoping that the model they’ve built will allow them to figure out which buildings would be buried in water, so that they can compare the results with computer-generated guesses about where the waves will go.

And they want to figure out whether there’s a better alternative for some folks than to race away along roadways that will likely be buckled in the accompanying earthquake.

To answer these questions, scientists and engineers will place optical sensors in the miniature village, which is fifty times smaller than the actual town. The sensors will collect data as a hydraulic dam simulates a tsunami by pushing a wall of water across a basin and towards the waiting “buildings.”

The sensors will gather information about how high the waves are, how fast they travel and how deep they will be, once the town is inundated.

The research could also determine whether it would be a good idea to build vertical shelters like the ones in Japan, so that residents can flee upward.

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