Observations and modeling of tsunami-induced currents in ports and harbors

Patrick J. Lynett, Jose C. Borrero, Robert Weiss, Sangyoung Son, Dougal Greer, Willington Renteria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


Tsunamis, or "harbor waves" in Japanese, are so-named due to common observations of enhanced wave heights, currents and damage in harbors and ports. However, dynamic currents induced by these waves, while regularly observed and known to cause significant damage, are poorly understood. Observations and modeling of the currents induced by the 2011 Tohoku and 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamis allows us to show that the strongest flows in harbor basins are governed by horizontally sheared and rotational shallow features, such as jets and large eddies. When examining currents in harbors, this conclusion will generally require a simulation approach that both includes the relevant physical processes in the governing equations and uses a numerical scheme that does not artificially damp these features. Without proper representation of the physics associated with these phenomena, predictive models may provide drag force estimates that are an order of magnitude or more in error. The immediate implementation of this type of analysis into tsunami hazard studies can mean the difference between an unaffected port and one in which 300. m long container vessels are detached from their moorings and drift chaotically.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-74
Number of pages7
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Apr 15
Externally publishedYes


  • Eddies
  • Field observation
  • Numerical simulation
  • Tsunami
  • Turbulent structures
  • Whirlpools

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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