New tsunami software will help protect vulnerable coastal communities

16 Sep 2011 15:31:17.920

PA 274/11

A new piece of software has been developed to help protect vulnerable coastal communities from the destruction of a tsunami. The mathematical model has created significant interest in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan six months ago.

The software can be used to predict the flow induced by the tsunami as it hits land. It can predict the run-up and flooding as the tsunami hits the coast and should inform the future design and location of buildings and structures in tsunami prone areas.

Professor Nicholas Dodd, from the Coastal Dynamics and Engineering Group (CoDEG) in the Infrastructure and Geomatics Division of the Faculty of Engineering at The University of Nottingham, said: “This software, and indeed the work we’ve been doing generally on swash type motions, is world leading. For the first time we have reasonable confidence that we can accurately predict the morphological impact of a tsunami from a given a sediment transport description, as well as the inundation.”

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Development of the new software is the result of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), set up in 2009, between The University of Nottingham and HR Wallingford, an independent research and consultancy in civil engineering and environmental hydraulics. The research was also funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The mathematical model has been developed by Dr David Kelly, Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate, and Professor Nicholas Dodd and in collaboration with Dr Michiel Knaapen from HR Wallingford’s Coasts and Estuaries Group.

The KTP built on Dr Kelly’s work during his PhD at the University on simulation of swash motions (the swash is the region of the beach periodically covered and uncovered by waves)—both the water motion and beach change. This research has now been developed into a commercial model to predict beach change.

Professor Nicholas Dodd said: “We can now explore different scenarios for such an impact to deliver worst-case scenarios to inform disaster preparedness as well as the design and location of infrastructure. To do this we would require accurate bathymetric data, a reasonable description of the type of land surface that could be inundated and the grain size of any potentially erodible material, along with knowledge of the tsunami itself. This latter information could, for instance, be in the form of a 1 in 100 year event, or a prediction of nearshore tsunami height directly after such a seismic event.”

A tsunami is a shallow water wave (i.e. the water motion extends, more or less uniformly, over the whole water column) that is usually generated by seismic activity. In the open ocean their height is very small, but near the shore all that energy, which extends to the deep ocean floor, is condensed into a much shallower region, thus increasing the height of the wave.

Tsunamis can be responsible for vast amounts of sediment transport with the onshore transport of sediment during the run–up and remobilisation and erosion of sediment in the run–down. The grain size of sediment transported during tsunami inundation can range from silt to large boulders.

The new software is able to calculate the motion of the leading edge of the tsunami run-up and run-down, as well as to predict the flow depth and velocities as the tsunami inundates previously dry land.  It is also capable of simulating the accompanying morphological change for specific sediment types.

KTP is Europe's leading programme to help businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside with researchers. Each KTP employs researchers to work on specific projects, which are core to the strategic development of the business.

Paul Yeomans, Business Development Officer with the University’s Research Innovation Services, said: “This project has been an excellent example of taking cutting edge research and applying it into a real world situation to make a significant impact upon the business and their end user.”


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More information is available from Professor Nicholas Dodd, at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 9514164,


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Additional information: HR Wallingford was established as the Hydraulics Research Station of the UK Government in 1947, HR Wallingford became a private entity in 1982. Since then HR Wallingford has operated as an independent, non profit distributing organisation committed to building knowledge and solving problems, expertly and appropriately.

Today, HR Wallingford has a 60 year track record of achievement in applied research and specialist consultancy. HR Wallingford has a unique mix of know-how, assets and facilities including state of the art physical modelling laboratories, a full range of computational modelling tools and, above all expert staff with world-renowned skills and experience.

HR Wallingford has a pedigree of excellence and a tradition of innovation, which is sustained by re-investing profits from operations into programmes of strategic research and development, designed to keep HR Wallingford, and its clients and partners, at the leading edge. With headquarters in the UK, HR Wallingford reaches clients and partners globally through a network of offices, agents and alliances around the world.

Notes to editors:  The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

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Story credits

More information is available from Professor Nicholas Dodd, at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 9514164,; or Dr David Kelly, at HR Wallingord, on +44 (0)1491 822211, d.kelly@hrwallingford
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

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