National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2011

Effects of harbor modification on Crescent City, California's tsunami vulnerability

Dengler, L., and B. Uslu

Pure Appl. Geophys., 168(6–7), 1175–1185, doi: 10.1007/s00024-010-0224-8 (2011)

More damaging tsunamis have impacted Crescent City, California in historic times than any other location on the West Coast of the USA. Crescent City’s harbor has undergone significant modification since the early 20th century, including construction of several breakwaters, dredging, and a 200 × 300 m2 small boat basin. In 2006, a M w 8.3 earthquake in the Kuril Islands generated a moderate Pacific-wide tsunami. Crescent City recorded the highest amplitudes of any tide gauge in the Pacific and was the only location to experience structural damage. Strong currents damaged docks and boats within the small boat basin, causing more than US $20 million in damage and replacement costs. We examine how modifications to Crescent City’s harbor may have affected its vulnerability to moderate tsunamis such as the 2006 event. A bathymetric grid of the basin was constructed based on US Army Corps of Engineers soundings in 1964 and 1965 before the construction of the small boat basin. The method of splitting tsunamis was used to estimate tsunami water heights and current velocities at several locations in the harbor using both the 1964–1965 grid and the 2006 bathymetric grid for the 2006 Kuril event and a similar-sized source along the Sanriku coast of Japan. Model velocity outputs are compared for the two different bathymetries at the tide gauge location and at six additional computational sites in the harbor. The largest difference between the two grids is at the small boat basin entrance, where the 2006 bathymetry produces currents over three times the strength of the currents produced by the 1965 bathymetry. Peak currents from a Sanriku event are comparable to those produced by the 2006 event, and within the boat basin may have been higher. The modifications of the harbor, and in particular the addition of the small boat basin, appear to have contributed to the high current velocities and resulting damage in 2006 and help to explain why the 1933 M w 8.4–8.7 Sanriku tsunami caused no damage at Crescent City.

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