Satellites captured not just one wave front that day, but at least two, which merged to form a single double-high wave far out at sea – one capable of traveling long distances without losing its power. Ocean ridges and undersea mountain chains pushed the waves together, but only along certain directions from the tsunami’s origin.
The discovery helps explain how tsunamis can cross ocean basins to cause massive destruction at some locations while leaving others unscathed, and raises hope that scientists may be able to improve tsunami forecasts.
At a news conference Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, Y. Tony Song, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); and C.K. Shum, professor and Distinguished University Scholar in the Division of Geodetic Science, School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University, discussed the satellite data and simulations that enabled them to piece the story together.
“It was a one-in-ten-million chance that we were able to observe this double wave with satellites,” said Song, the study’s principal investigator. “Researchers have suspected for decades that such ‘merging tsunamis’ might have been responsible for the 1960 Chilean tsunami that killed many in Japan and Hawaii, but nobody had definitively observed a merging tsunami until now.”
“It was like looking for a ghost,” he continued. “A NASA/French Space Agency satellite altimeter happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture the double wave and verify its existence.”
Shum agreed. “We were very lucky, not only in the timing of the satellite, but also to have access to such detailed GPS-observed ground motion data from Japan to initiate Tony’s tsunami model, and to validate the model results using the satellite data. Now we can use what we learned to make better forecasts of tsunami danger in specific coastal regions anywhere in the world, depending on the location and the mechanism of an undersea quake.”
The NASA/Centre National d'Etudes Spaciales Jason-1 satellite passed over the tsunami on March 11, as did two other satellites: the NASA/European Jason-2 and the European Space Agency’s EnviSAT. All three carry a radar altimeter, which measures sea level changes to an accuracy of a few centimeters.
Each satellite crossed the tsunami at a different location. Jason-2 and EnviSAT measured wave heights of 20 cm (8 inches) and 30 cm (12 inches), respectively. But as Jason-1 passed over the undersea Mid-Pacific Mountains to the east, it captured a wave front measuring 70 cm (28 inches).
The researchers conjectured ridges and undersea mountain chains on the ocean floor deflected parts of the initial tsunami wave away from each other to form independent jets shooting off in different directions, each with its own wave front.
The sea floor topography nudges tsunami waves in varying directions and can make a tsunami’s destruction appear random. For that reason, hazard maps that try to predict where tsunamis will strike rely on sub-sea topography. Previously, these maps only considered topography near a particular shoreline. This study suggests scientists may be able to create maps that take into account all undersea topography, even sub-sea ridges and mountains far from shore.
Song and his team were able to verify the satellite data through model simulations based on independent data, including the GPS data from Japan and buoy data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis program.
“Tools based on this research could help officials forecast the potential for tsunami jets to merge,” said Song. “This, in turn, could lead to more accurate coastal tsunami hazard maps to protect communities and critical infrastructure.”
Song and Shum’s collaborators include Ichiro Fukumori, an oceanographer and supervisor in JPL’s Ocean Circulation Group; and Yuchan Yi, a research scientist in the Division of Geodetic Science, School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State.
This research was supported by NASA.Contact: Y. Tony Song via Alan Buis (818) 354-0474; firstname.lastname@example.org
C.K. Shum | EurekAlert!
Upwards with the “bubble shuttle”: How sea floor microbes get involved with methane reduction in the water column
27.05.2020 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde
An international team including scientists from MARUM discovered ongoing and future tropical diversity decline
26.05.2020 | MARUM - Zentrum für Marine Umweltwissenschaften an der Universität Bremen
In living cells, enzymes drive biochemical metabolic processes enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very ability which allows them to be used as catalysts in biotechnology, for example to create chemical products such as pharmaceutics. Researchers now identified an enzyme that, when illuminated with blue light, becomes catalytically active and initiates a reaction that was previously unknown in enzymatics. The study was published in "Nature Communications".
Enzymes: they are the central drivers for biochemical metabolic processes in every living cell, enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very...
Early detection of tumors is extremely important in treating cancer. A new technique developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from normal tissue. The work is published May 25 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from...
Microelectronics as a key technology enables numerous innovations in the field of intelligent medical technology. The Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT coordinates the BMBF cooperative project "I-call" realizing the first electronic system for ultrasound-based, safe and interference-resistant data transmission between implants in the human body.
When microelectronic systems are used for medical applications, they have to meet high requirements in terms of biocompatibility, reliability, energy...
Thomas Heine, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry at TU Dresden, together with his team, first predicted a topological 2D polymer in 2019. Only one year later, an international team led by Italian researchers was able to synthesize these materials and experimentally prove their topological properties. For the renowned journal Nature Materials, this was the occasion to invite Thomas Heine to a News and Views article, which was published this week. Under the title "Making 2D Topological Polymers a reality" Prof. Heine describes how his theory became a reality.
Ultrathin materials are extremely interesting as building blocks for next generation nano electronic devices, as it is much easier to make circuits and other...
Scientists took a leukocyte as the blueprint and developed a microrobot that has the size, shape and moving capabilities of a white blood cell. Simulating a blood vessel in a laboratory setting, they succeeded in magnetically navigating the ball-shaped microroller through this dynamic and dense environment. The drug-delivery vehicle withstood the simulated blood flow, pushing the developments in targeted drug delivery a step further: inside the body, there is no better access route to all tissues and organs than the circulatory system. A robot that could actually travel through this finely woven web would revolutionize the minimally-invasive treatment of illnesses.
A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) in Stuttgart invented a tiny microrobot that resembles a white blood cell...
19.05.2020 | Event News
07.04.2020 | Event News
06.04.2020 | Event News
27.05.2020 | Information Technology
27.05.2020 | Physics and Astronomy
27.05.2020 | Earth Sciences