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Cornell tsunami expert to lead U.S. scientific delegation into Sri Lanka’s wave-ravaged areas


Philip Liu, Cornell University professor of civil and environmental engineering, will lead a delegation of American scientists from the National Science Foundation’s Tsunami Research Group and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) into the tsunami-ravaged areas of Sri Lanka, Jan. 9-16.

The scientists will examine inundation areas, estimate wave heights, determine the precise arrival time of the tsunami, scour the area for geological evidence and sediment deposits and examine structural damage. "The goal here is to obtain information to further our understanding of these waves, with the hope of improving predictive capabilities and help future development of tsunami warning systems," Liu wrote in a letter to Gen. Asoka Jayawardhama of Sri Lanka’s defense ministry.

Undersea earthquakes, landslides or volcanic eruptions produce these giant seismic sea waves. Liu’s prime expertise is in tsunamis and waves propagation, and he helped to develop the tsunami warning system for countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean.

His research centers on understanding the characteristics of ocean-wave climates and the way that waves interact with coastlines and coastal structures. "We are engaged in theoretical research on the propagation and transformation of linear and weakly nonlinear water waves over complex ocean bathymetry [changes in water-depth measurements]," Liu says. His Cornell team has developed a model to calculate wave amplitude and the direction of wave propagation in the near-shore environment.

At Cornell, Liu uses a 120-foot-long wave tank to research the sediment transport and ripple formation under ocean waves. Liu employs particle imaging velocimetry, which measures the speed of water turbulence under breaking waves. He is developing numerical schemes, using the Cornell Theory Center’s supercomputing facilities, to generate three-dimensional images of flows to measure the dynamics of water waves.

Joining Liu on this mission to Sri Lanka will be: Harindra Joseph Fernando, professor, Arizona State University; Costas Synolakis, professor, University of Southern California; Patrick Lynett, assistant professor, Texas A&M University; Bretwood Higman, graduate student, University of Washington; Bruce Jaffe, oceanographer, USGS; and Robert Peters, geologist, USGS. Three New Zealand scientists also will join the American team: James Goff, geologist, GeoEnvironmental Consultants; William Power, physicist; and Neville Palmer, GPS technician, both from the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences.

Blaine P. Friedlander Jr. | EurekAlert!
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