The world’s largest tsunami wave tank may help reduce death and destruction caused by the big waves. Photo by Sol Neelman, The Oregonian

Visitors watch the wave lab in action
Visitors watch the wave lab in action

With more than half the U.S. population living within 50 miles of a coastline, the danger of a devastating tsunami is very real.

Tsunamis, usually caused by undersea earthquakes, move at the speed of a jetliner and can travel great distances. The waves can be more than 100 feet high as they come ashore and often rush miles inland over low-lying land.

Even distant earthquakes can result in serious tsunami damage. For example, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake that rocked Alaska in 1964 generated a tsunami that killed four children at Beverly Beach on the Oregon coast and killed 11 more people in Crescent City, California. In addition, it caused damage at Seaside, Newport, and other Oregon coastal communities.

Enter OSU’s new Tsunami Wave Basin at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory on campus.

By combining the latest in information technology with earthquake engineering, the facility, funded by a $4.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will enable researchers anywhere in the world to participate remotely in real-time experiments in the basin.

Using the basin, researchers will study how tsunamis behave in different kinds of ocean terrain, depths, and distances, along with the impacts they have when they reach land. “What we’re really interested in is what happens when a tsunami hits a coastline where people are,” says Dan Cox, director of the Hinsdale facility.

Harry Yeh, an OSU civil engineering professor and renowned tsunami researcher, said tsunamis are too unpredictable to allow scientists to conduct research in the field. “With this system, we can model bays and rivers to see how we can mitigate the damaging effects of a tsunami,” he says.

The tsunami basin is one of three wave tanks at the Hinsdale research lab, which has been used for studying the effects of waves since 1972.

The public will have an opportunity to see the facility in action during an open house October 16-18.

OSU news release on basin opening

Oregonian article on basin dedication

Wave basin produces Time Picture of the Week

Wave research laboratory home page

Tsunami facility open house set October 16-18

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