National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2016

Time evolution of man-made harbour modifications in San Diego: Effects on tsunamis

Barberopoulou, A., M.R. Legg, and E. Gica

J. Mar. Sci. Eng., 3(4), 1382-1403, doi: 10.3390/jmse3041382 (2015)

San Diego, one of the largest ports on the U.S. West Coast and home to the largest U.S. Navy base, is exposed to various local and distant tsunami sources. During the first half of the twentieth century, extensive modifications to the port included but were not limited to dredging, expansion of land near the airport and previous tidal flats, as well as creation of jetties. Using historical nautical charts and available Digital Elevation Models, this study gives an overview of changes to San Diego harbor in the last 150+ years due to human intervention and examines the effects of these changes on tsunamis. Two distant and two local scenarios were selected to demonstrate the impact of modified nearshore topography and bathymetry to incoming tsunamis. Inundation pattern, flow depths, and flooded localities vary greatly from year to year in the four scenarios. Specifically, flooded areas shift from the inner harbor to outer locations. Currents induced by the distant tsunamis intensify with modifications and shift from locations primarily outside the harbor to locations inside. A new characteristic in tsunami dynamics associated with port modifications is the introduction of high current spots. Numerical results also show that the introduction of high currents could threaten navigation, vessels, and facilities at narrow openings and also along the harbor “throat”—therefore, at an increased number of locations. Modifications in the port show that changes could have a negative but also a positive impact through constraint of flooding outside of the harbor and shifting of high currents to locations of minimal impact. The results of this study may be used as a first step toward future harbor design plans to reduce tsunami damages.

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