National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2021

Probabilistic tsunami hazard assessment (PTHA) for the southeast coast of Mainland China and Taiwan Island

Yuan, Y., H. Li, Y. Wei, F. Shi, Z. Wang, J. Hou, P. Wang, and Z. Xu

J. Geophys. Res., 126(2), e2020JB020344, doi: 10.1029/2020JB020344, View online (2021)

A Probabilistic Tsunami Hazard Assessment (PTHA) study on the Chinese Mainland and the Taiwan Island was conducted. Characterized by broad and shallow continental shelves, the offshore region along Chinese Mainland's east coast yields a significant nonlinear effect and bottom friction to the propagating long waves. To address these shallow‐water effects, a fully nonlinear Boussinesq model was used in the computation‐based PTHA framework. We found that the inappropriate usage of the linear wave model could considerably overestimate the tsunami hazards along the East China Sea (ECS) and the Yellow Sea. Tsunami hazard along the coastline of Chinese Mainland is generally moderate. Elevated tsunami hazard levels are found along both flanks of the Yangtze and Pearl estuaries. The probability of these coastlines impacted by 1 m or greater tsunami waves (at 10‐m isobath) is about 14%–40% in next century. The shallow and tongue‐shaped submarine terrain amplifies the hazard level by trapping the tsunami energy in these areas. Major subduction zones in the Northwest Pacific were identified as the main sources of destructive events along the coast of ECS and the Taiwan Island, while the Manila Trench is the main source zone that threatens the Northern South China Sea. The tsunami hazards generated by the crustal earthquakes are modest, yet not negligible, particularly in the Taiwan Strait. We found the risk of tsunami inundation along the coast of Shanghai is low based on the hazard curves of total water level that incorporates the aleatory uncertainty of tides.

Plain Language Summary. Tsunamis are infrequent yet devastating natural hazards. Most tsunami waves are generated by underwater earthquakes, and propagate onshore with transformation of wave amplitude and wave length. The Probabilistic Tsunami Hazard Assessment is a quantitative means to estimate the probability of tsunamis affecting the coastal areas of interest, with the purposes of enhancing public awareness and assisting disaster‐mitigation activities. Our study aims to address the common concerns of whether the subduction zones in the Pacific Ocean and the local crustal faults may endanger China's low‐lying coastal areas that are susceptible to tsunami inundation. The main finding of the study is that both flanks of the Yangtze Estuary and the Pearl Estuary possess higher levels of tsunami hazards due to their shallow and tongue‐shaped submarine terrains that amplify the hazard by trapping tsunami energy. How often tsunamigenic earthquakes occur, how the earthquakes rupture, and how the generated tsunami waves propagate onshore, are subject to large uncertainties. We analyze these uncertainties in terms of a sensitivity study. In particular, for very shallow and wide East China Sea shelf, the bias introduced by tsunami modeling is significant when the wave dynamics are not modeled accurately.

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