Professor leads team to study impacts of tsunami-borne debris

Advances civil engineering knowledge

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
C.S. Papacostas, (808) 956-6538
Prof & Chair, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Posted: Sep 9, 2010

An international team of researchers led by H. Ronald Riggs, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, was awarded a $965,000 grant by the National Science Foundation for a three-year study to improve our understanding of the effects of tsunami-driven debris, such as logs, utility poles and steel shipping containers on buildings and other structures. The team includes Marcello Kobayashi, professor of mechanical engineering at UH Mānoa, and collaborators from Oregon State University, Lehigh University, Nagoya University and the Port and Airport Research Institute in Japan.
The impact forces imparted by debris on structures during tsunamis are not well known. At the same time, a vulnerable community’s potential “resilience” to tsunamis depends on the design of effective countermeasures based on scientific knowledge of these forces and updated building codes. This is especially important for “vertical” tsunami evacuation shelters, fuel and chemical storage tanks, and port and industrial facilities often located within tsunami inundation zones.
The UH Mānoa-led research team will carry out experiments at the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) facility at Lehigh to understand the impact of full-scale shipping containers on structural elements. At the Oregon State NEES Tsunami Research Facility, the knowledge gained at Lehigh will be applied to develop and test a 1:5 scale physical model of containers directed by laboratory-generated tsunami waves against a test structure. Similar tests will use debris such as logs and utility poles.
The project is expected to obtain a rich set of experimental data to develop and validate two numerical models. The first is a simplified model that can be immediately used in structural design and a more complex fluid-structure interaction model based on computational fluid dynamics theories. The second is an extended model that will allow the researchers to explore complex factors not included in the simple model and to consider scenarios that cannot be covered by the planned experimental observations.
Data from this National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) project will be archived and made available to other researchers and to the public.
A side benefit of the research is to include a significant involvement of Native Hawaiian undergraduate students who would be exposed to advanced educational opportunities here and on the U.S. mainland.
“Successful large-scale research these days often involves the collaboration of major research institutions,” said C. S. Papacostas, professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Professor Riggs’ accomplishments place our department in that category.”