National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2008

Characteristics of oceanic impact-induced large waves—Re-evaluation of the tsunami hazard

Wünnemann, K., R. Weiss, and K. Hoffmann

Meteorit. Planet. Sci., 42(11), 1893–1903, doi: 10.1111/j.1945-5100.2007.tb00548.x (2007)

The potential hazard of a meteorite impact in the ocean is controversial with respect to the destructive power of generated large ocean waves (tsunamis). We used numerical modeling of hypervelocity impact to investigate the generation mechanism and the characteristics of the resulting waves up to a distance of 100-150 projectile radii. The wave signal is primarily controlled by the ratio between projectile diameter and water depth, and can be roughly classified into deep-water and shallow-water impacts. In the latter, the collapse of the crater rim results in a wave signal similar to solitary waves, which propagate and decay in agreement with shallow-water wave theory. The much more likely scenario for an asteroid impact on Earth is a relatively small body (much smaller than the water depth) striking the deep sea. In this case, the collapse of the transient crater results in a significantly different and much more complex wave signal that is characterized by strong nonlinear behavior. We found that such waves decay much more rapidly than previously assumed and cannot be treated as long waves. For this reason, the shallow-water theory is not applicable for the computation of wave propagation, and more complex models (full solution of the Boussinesq equations) are required.

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