On December 26, 2004, a massive underwater earthquake in the Indian Ocean triggered a giant tsunami, the effects of which rank it as one of the deadliest natural disasters in modern history. Meaning “harbor wave” in Japanese, the tsunami raced across the ocean, and water inundated the coastal communities of ten countries, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake.
On Tuesday, March 22, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, James Kirby, Edward C. Davis Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Delaware, will present “Tsunamis: Science Issues and Social Impacts.” The lecture, which includes lunch, is part of the Wilmington Lunch and Lecture Series sponsored by the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies and the Sea Grant College Program.
Kirby will begin his talk by describing what causes these devastating waves. Tsunamis occur when a sudden vertical movement of the ocean floor causes a wave or series of waves to form when the mass of water above the affected area is displaced. The tsunami moves out in a circle from the spot where it started, similar to the way ripples of water move out from the place where a rock has been dropped into a pond.
The December tsunami resulted from an earthquake that measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, causing an estimated 750 miles of fault line to slip 60 feet. The earthquake occurred in the extreme western edge of the “Ring of Fire” — so named because it is where most of the seismic activity in the world occurs — and was the fourth strongest earthquake recorded in the world since 1900.
“The events of December 26, 2004, have vividly reminded us of the dangers associated with the potential for tsunami generation in seismically active areas of the world’s ocean,” says Kirby. “A proper response to these risks includes the establishment of operational warning systems as well as the promotion of design and construction techniques aimed at minimizing structural damage in inundated zones.”
According to Kirby, these activities require the application and continuing development of advanced techniques for modeling the generation, propagation, and inundation of a tsunami. The development of such models has been a long-term focus of research by Kirby and his colleagues at the University of Delaware’s Center for Applied Coastal Research.
Kirby also will describe the underlying assumptions used to develop these models and present several case studies that illustrate their application, including the December 26 tsunami event. He will conclude his talk by discussing the relative likelihood of a tsunami striking the east coast of the United States.
A member of the University of Delaware faculty since 1989, Kirby earned a doctorate in civil engineering from the University of Delaware in 1983. He also has a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and a master’s degree in engineering mechanics from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Kirby’s main research interest is in the theoretical foundation and numerical implementation of computer models used to calculate wave propagation on the surface of the ocean. His work has led to the development of several open-source model codes, one of which is being used in tsunami research. Open source codes give scientists the ability to read and modify a model so it can be adapted for various uses.
The lecture includes lunch at the award-winning Hotel du Pont. To reserve your seat, at $15 per person, call (302) 831-8062. Or e-mail your reservations to MarineCom@udel.edu.