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UH scientist studies impacts of debris during tsunamis

The Maui News

A University of Hawaii scientist is exploring how debris piling up against buildings during tsunamis increases the force and damage of the waves, in hopes that the study will lead to the construction of buildings that are more resilient to tsunamis and debris.

A four-year, $356,642 grant from the National Science Foundation will help fund the research of UH-Manoa Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor Hyoungsu Park, according to a UH news release.

Park will work with a collaborator at Louisiana State University to conduct experiments on elevated buildings at the National Science Foundation-supported Natural Hazards Engineering Infrastructure facility at Oregon State University. Park said results of the experiments will lead to recommendations to improve existing design guidelines to construct safer buildings, identify factors that affect debris damming to determine measures that help reduce or mitigate the damming loads and improve tsunami vulnerability assessment of existing buildings to characterize risk and resilience.

“The 2011 Tohoku Tsunami alarmed the researchers to predict and prepare for future tsunami events,” Park said. “Hawaii is surrounded by active subduction zones, referred to as a ‘Ring of Fire,’ and will never be free from these coastal disasters. Through these physical modeling studies, we will identify and document mechanisms that cause tsunami-induced debris damming (accumulation) and resultant damming loading.”

Different types of debris representing scaled shipping containers, logs and vehicles will be deployed using a large wave flume during the experiments. Park will examine various facets, including how the debris interact with other pieces of debris, how the debris flow toward and around buildings and how the debris interact when striking the buildings.

Sensors will be placed in the debris to help track the motions of the debris. Data will eventually be shared online.

“The research outcomes will reduce the potential damage and identify improved mitigation and retrofit measures for buildings,” Park explained. “The project eventually improves the current design guidelines for better resilience in coastal communities.”

The project will also include research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in the experiments and computational modeling, outreach activities to engage high school students in the experiments and webinars for researchers and practicing engineers to promote the adoption of the research findings.

For more information about the Undergraduate Research Opportunities program, visit manoa.hawaii.edu/undergrad/urop/.

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