Tsunamis are devastating events that can take thousands of lives and leave towns and cities devastated. And while all of us would like to protect ourselves from these events, the task is not so easy, says earthquake engineer Tiziana Rossetto at TEDxBrussels, partly because the movement of these earthquake-triggered waves is a thing hardly understood and difficult to predict.
“There is very little understanding as to how tsunamis behave toward shore,” Rossetto says, “and we know almost nothing about how they interact with buildings.”
Why? For one, tsunamis are rare, so real-world data is scarce, Rossetto says, and two, because creating a model for how a tsunami might act after it has reached shore is a task very, very complicated to complete. Once a tsunami hits the coastline, there is a lot of motion for scientists to account for — the wave’s interaction with barrier walls, houses, structures and so on — and these sorts of interactions are much more difficult to model than a tsunami’s movement from earthquake trigger to shore, which is how scientists create tsunami alerts.
“These models break down as the tsunami hits the shoreline,” Rossetto says, “– as it inundates the land — because of the complex fluid processes that need to be simulated.”
So, in order to better understand tsunami behavior, Rossetto and her team aimed to create mini lab-made tsunami waves — using the information we do know about tsunamis to gather what we do not. “The problem is,” Rossetto says, “that tsunami in real life have a wave period of about 20 to 40 minutes, and that is very difficult to recreate in a small laboratory scale.” And, further, some serious tsunami waves have a trough-like quality to them, something historically absent from lab-made waves.
To recreate the unique qualities of tsunami waves, Rossetto and her team worked to create a pneumatic tsunami generator — a wave maker able to produce lab-appropriate waves that exhibit the same properties of tsunamis.
This tsunami generator has allowed Rossetto to monitor these tsunami waves’ behavior when interacting with models of homes, buildings, barriers and more, including through a simulated building fit with sensors that measure the pressure and the force of the wave on the model.
“This is opening all sorts of new frontiers for us in terms of understanding tsunami,” Rossetto says, preparing for what they will learn next.
To learn more, watch Rossetto’s whole talk below:
Insight from the TEDx office — why we like this talk:
The speaker is a trained earthquake engineer and research scientist who is actively completing university-based research on her idea — the need and methods to further our knowledge of tsunami behavior. She gives a talk that is data-based and rich with research, all while turning a complex idea into an understandable concept for even those who have no engineering background. She uses supporting visuals to help fill out the idea and explains why this research is important.