National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2018

The role of near-shore bathymetry during tsunami inundation in a reef island setting: A case study of Tutuila Island

Dilmen, D.I., G.H. Roe, Y. Wei, and V.V. Titov

Pure Appl. Geophys., 175(4), 1239–1256, doi: 10.1007/s00024-018-1769-1, View online (2018)

On September 29, 2009 at 17:48 UTC, an Mw = 8.1 earthquake in the Tonga Trench generated a tsunami that caused heavy damage across Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga. One of the worst hits was the volcanic island of Tutuila in American Samoa. Tutuila has a typical tropical island bathymetry setting influenced by coral reefs, and so the event provided an opportunity to evaluate the relationship between tsunami dynamics and the bathymetry in that typical island environment. Previous work has come to differing conclusions regarding how coral reefs affect tsunami dynamics through their influence on bathymetry and dissipation. This study presents numerical simulations of this event with a focus on two main issues: first, how roughness variations affect tsunami run-up and whether different values of Manning’s roughness parameter, n, improve the simulated run-up compared to observations; and second, how depth variations in the shelf bathymetry with coral reefs control run-up and inundation on the island coastlines they shield. We find that no single value of n provides a uniformly good match to all observations; and we find substantial bay-to-bay variations in the impact of varying n. The results suggest that there are aspects of tsunami wave dissipation which are not captured by a simplified drag formulation used in shallow-water waves model. The study also suggests that the primary impact of removing the near-shore bathymetry in coral reef environment is to reduce run-up, from which we conclude that, at least in this setting, the impact of the near-shore bathymetry is to increase run-up and inundation.

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