Catalan awarded grant to develop tsunami forecast database

in Funding
October 24th, 2012

Tsunamis are among the most significant large-scale hazards to which many coastal communities  around the world are exposed, and Chile is no exception. In fact, the country’s high seismicity  along the subduction zone between the Nazca and Sudamerican plates has triggered many tsunami events since records are kept. Its long stretch of coast is also exposed to trans-oceanic tsunamis generated elsewhere around the Pacific Ocean.

There are several ways to increase resilience of coastal communities to this hazard. An efficient tsunami warning system is especially valuable to alert coastal communities and prepare goverment and emergency response authorities. Chile’s long coastline and proximity to the fault zone, however, pose significant challenges for the accurate and fast determination of relevant parameters such as the arrival time and wave characteristics along the coast.

Prof. Patricio Catalán is the Principal Investigator of a new award of over US$700,000 by FONDEF-CONICYT to develop and implement a database of pre-modeled tsunami scenarios, using high-performance computing. This project is a collaboration involving researchers from the Civil Engineering Department (Departamento de Obras Civiles) at Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María, the Scientific and Technological Center of Valparaiso (Centro Cientifico Tecnológico de Valparaíso, CCTVal), Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the National Hydrographic and Oceanic Service of the Navy (SHOA). The three-year project aims to develop a forecast database similar to that available in countries such as Japan and Malaysia.

The extent of the Chilean coast and large range of tsunami magnitudes means that populating the database using traditional tsunami numerical models would take a very long tim. The research group will address this by developing and implementing tsunami modeling techniques that take advantage of the performance of Graphic Processing Units, GPUs.

The interval between events is used to populate the database, and in case of an event, table look-up procedures are used to find the best match between pre-computed scenarios and actual earthquake parameters, thus reducing the evaluation time to a mimimum.

Other products of the proposal include a detailed benchmarking of models and analysis of the 2010 Chilean tsunami, and the development of tsunami modeling guidelines.