National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Direct energy estimation of the 2011 Japan tsunami using deep-ocean pressure measurements

Tang, L., V.V. Titov, E. Bernard, Y. Wei, C. Chamberlin, J.C. Newman, H. Mofjeld, D. Arcas, M. Eble, C. Moore, B. Uslu, C. Pells, M.C. Spillane, L.M. Wright, and E. Gica

J. Geophys. Res., 117, C08008, doi: 10.1029/2011JC007635 (2012)

We have developed a method to compute the total energy transmitted by tsunami waves, to the case where the earthquake source is unknown, by using deep-ocean pressure measurements and numerical models (tsunami source functions). Based on the first wave recorded at the two closest tsunameters (Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART)), our analysis suggests that the March 11, 2011 Tohoku-Oki tsunami generated off Japan originated from a 300–400 km long and 100 km wide area, and the total propagated energy is 3 × 1015 J (with 6% uncertainty). Measurements from 30 tsunameters and 32 coastal tide stations show excellent agreement with the forecasts obtained in real time. Our study indicates that the propagated energy and the source location are the most important source characteristics for predicting tsunami impacts. Interactions of tsunami waves with seafloor topography delay and redirect the energy flux, posing hazards from delayed and amplified waves with long duration. Seafloor topography also gives its spectral imprint to tsunami waves. Travel time forecast errors are path-specific and correlated to the major wave scatterers in the Pacific. Numerical dissipation in the propagation modeling highlights the need of high-resolution inundation models for accurate coastal predictions. On the other hand, it also can be used to account for physical dissipation to achieve efficiency. Our results provide guidelines for the earliest reliable tsunami forecast, warnings of long duration tsunami waves signals and enhancement of the experimental tsunami forecast system. We apply the method to quantify the energy of 15 past tsunamis, independently from earthquake magnitudes. The small tsunami to seismic radiation energy ratios, and their variability (0.01–0.8%), reinforce the importance of using deep-ocean tsunami data, the direct measures of tsunamis, for estimates of tsunami energy and accurate forecasting.

Feature Publications | Outstanding Scientific Publications

Contact Sandra Bigley |