The tsunamis will be generated on mini scale by scientists under laboratory conditions.
University College London and hydraulic research consultant HR Wallingford are collaborating to construct the largest tsunami simulator in Europe. The aim is to improve understanding of how these devastating natural phenomena impact on structures and coastal defences.
The facility, which is being funded by a €1.9m European Research Council (ERC) grant, will be 70m long and 4m wide. It will enable – for the first time – the tsunami impact on urban areas to be simulated through modelling the effects that tsunamis have on coast defences, and how water is channelled around clusters of buildings.
The tsunami generator will also be used to evaluate whether flood and coastal defences are effective against tsunamis, or might amplify their destructiveness through allowing flood waters to build up in front of defences and then when they fail suddenly inundate areas behind, causing more devastation to areas previously thought to be safe.
The new generator works to produce a simulated tsunami using a pneumatic system adapted from methods to make model tides in hydraulic models, and similar to that used for some large leisure or surfing pools.
HR Wallingford says that these much longer waves act very differently to conventional storm waves in both the natural world and the laboratory, where they are simulated using piston motion wave machines. The new facility will improve and extend the world-leading technique where both crest-led and trough-led tsunamis can be generated in a laboratory setting.
It is intended that the research, once completed, will enable the team to produce engineering guidance which can aid in disaster management worldwide.
UCL professor of earthquake engineering Tiziana Rossetto, who is leading the research, said: “Tsunamis can be exceptionally destructive when they hit buildings, yet we really don’t know a great deal about how the massive horizontal forces they generate act on buildings to cause damage.
“The challenge has been to build a testing facility where we can accurately model these forces on a variety of physical structures, as well as how the forces change or are magnified by the way buildings are clustered together in coastal towns and cities.
“Our research at the facility will have far-reaching implications for both building and urban design in areas at risk of tsunamis, and could help mitigate some of the most devastating risks of the phenomena to both human lives and the land they depend on.”