Portable tsunami barriers proposed
A UH expert plans to test whether the rubber bulwarks can limit wave damage
A University of Hawaii scientist is proposing a study to determine whether large rubber barriers could be deployed in the path of a tsunami to block some of the energy from the destructive waves.
Kwok Fai Cheung, the chairman of the UH-Manoa Ocean and Resources Engineering Department, said he is applying for a National Science Foundation grant to test his theory that elastic barriers, possibly made out of rubber, could be deployed along the coast to block the force of the tsunami before it hits.
The barriers would be filled with water and act "like a rubber band," Cheung said. The tsunami may still come ashore, but it would not be as powerful or devastating.
Cheung is applying for about $300,000 over the next three years to test the barriers at Oregon State University, home of the world's largest tsunami laboratory. The facility can create waves in a large tank for studies.
A Kasimed Christian Cemetery worker cleaned a memorial yesterday to tsunami victims Meena, 21, son Ebenezer, 10, and daughter Gomathy, 3, who died last Dec. 26 when the wave came ashore in Madras, India.
Cheung has already received NSF funding for computer model studies of the use of the elastic barriers as breakwaters.
If he gets the new funding, Cheung would expand the computer models to study their impact on a tsunami.
Cheung is going to the Tsunami Wave Basin at OSU next year on another NSF grant to study the effect of reefs on tsunamis.
The UH scientist is a leading expert in the creation of computer models of tsunamis, and was busy even before the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami.
With state civil defense and the UH Sea Grant program, he is helping to redraw Hawaii's tsunami inundation zone maps.
Cheung is also working with the mathematical modelers and software experts in Seattle's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory to create computer models of potential tsunamis for Oahu's North Shore and Kahului.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility is developing computer tsunami models for 75 communities in the Pacific. Models have already been created for Hilo, San Francisco and Crescent City, Calif.; Kodiak, Alaska; Newport and Seaside, Ore.; and Neah Bay, Willapa Bay and Port Angeles in Washington state.
The models should make it easier to predict whether a deep-sea quake will produce a tsunami, how big it will be and how it will impact coastal communities.
Cheung said it can take hours to produce the mathematical calculations to determine whether an earthquake will produce a tsunami and how it will impact a particular coastline.
The idea behind the NOAA project is to create a number of computer models in advance so that scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii and elsewhere can use them to determine whether to issue a tsunami warning.
Tsunami warning center Director Charles "Chip" McCreery said the computer models will need to run within 10 minutes to be useful, because the calculations need to be repeated continually as the center gets more information from deep ocean buoys that help detect tsunamis.
After the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami, Congress authorized spending $40 million to greatly expand the system of satellite-linked buoys and sea floor detectors (called DART, for Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis), from seven buoys today to nearly 40 to be deployed throughout the Pacific, Atlantic and Caribbean by the end of 2007.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Associated Press contributed to this report.