National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2016

Real-time assessment and modeling of the 16 September 2015 Chile tsunami

Tang, L., V.V. Titov, C. Moore, and Y. Wei

Pure Appl. Geophys., 173(2), 369–387, doi: 10.1007/s00024-015-1226-3 (2016)

The magnitude 8.3 earthquake in central Chile on 16 September 2015 and the resulting tsunami severely affected the region, with 15 deaths (Onemi in Monitoreo por sismo de mayor intensidad. (In Spanish) [Available at: http://​www.​onemi.​cl/​alerta/​se-declara-alerta-roja-por-sismo-de-mayor-intensidad-y-alarma-de-tsunami/​], 2015), over one million evacuated, and flooding in nearby coastal cities. We present our real-time assessment of the 2015 Chile tsunami using the Short-term Inundation Forecasting for Tsunamis system, and post-event analyses with local community models in Chile. We evaluate three real-time tsunami sources, which were inverted at the time that the first quarter-, half-, and full-wave passed the first tsunameter (DART 32402, located approximately 580 km north–northwest of the epicenter), respectively. Measurement comparisons from 26 deep-ocean tsunameters and 38 coastal tide stations show that good model accuracies are achieved for all three sources, particularly for the local sites that recorded the most destructive waves. The study highlights the forecast speed, time and accuracy dependence, and their implications for the local forecast capability. Our analyses suggest that the tsunami's main origination area is about 100–200 km long and 100 km wide, to the north of the earthquake epicenter along the trench and the total estimated tsunami wave energy is 7.9 × 1013 J (with 13 % uncertainty). The study provides important guidelines for the earliest reliable estimate of tsunami energy and local forecasts. They can be obtained with the first quarter-wave of tsunameter recording. These results are also confirmed by a forecast analysis of the 2011 Japan tsunami. Furthermore, we find that the first half-wave tsunameter data are sufficient to accurately forecast the 2015 Chile tsunami, due to the specific orientation between the nearest tsunameter and the source. The study also suggests expanding the operational use of the local community models in real time, and demonstrates the applicability of the model results for “all-clear” evaluations, search and rescue operations, and near-real-time mitigation planning in both near and far fields.

Feature Publications | Outstanding Scientific Publications

Contact Sandra Bigley |