National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2013

Modeling of the 2011 Japan tsunami - Lessons for near-field forecast

Wei, Y., C. Chamberlin, V. Titov, L. Tang, and E.N. Bernard

Pure Appl. Geophys., 170(6–8), 1309–1331, doi: 10.1007/s00024-012-0519-z (2013)

During the devastating 11 March 2011 Japanese tsunami, data from two tsunami detectors were used to determine the tsunami source within 1.5 h of earthquake origin time. For the first time, multiple near-field tsunami measurements of the 2011 Japanese tsunami were used to demonstrate the accuracy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) real-time flooding forecast system in the far field. To test the accuracy of the same forecast system in the near field, a total of 11 numerical models with grids telescoped to 2 arc sec (~60 m) were developed to hindcast the propagation and coastal inundation of the 2011 Japanese tsunami along the entire east coastline of Japan. Using the NOAA tsunami source computed in near real-time, the model results of tsunami propagation are validated with tsunami time series measured at different water depths offshore and near shore along Japan’s coastline. The computed tsunami runup height and spatial distribution are highly consistent with post-tsunami survey data collected along the Japanese coastline. The computed inundation penetration also agrees well with survey data, giving a modeling accuracy of 85.5 % for the inundation areas along 800 km of coastline between Ibaraki Prefecture (north of Kashima) and Aomori Prefecture (south of Rokkasho). The inundation model results highlighted the variability of tsunami impact in response to different offshore bathymetry and flooded terrain. Comparison of tsunami sources inferred from different indirect methods shows the crucial importance of deep-ocean tsunami measurements for real-time tsunami forecasts. The agreement between model results and observations along Japan’s coastline demonstrate the ability and potential of NOAA’s methodology for real-time near-field tsunami flooding forecasts. An accurate tsunami flooding forecast within 30 min may now be possible using the NOAA forecast methodology with carefully placed tsunameters and large-scale high-resolution inundation models with powerful computing capabilities.

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