2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake And Tsunami Case Study


[1] The devastating 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami stressed the need for assessing tsunami hazard in vulnerable coastal areas. Numerical modeling is but one important tool for understanding past tsunami events and simulating future ones. Here we present a robust simulation of the event, which explains the large runups and destruction observed in coastal Thailand and identifies areas vulnerable to future tsunamis, or safer for reconstruction. To do so, we use an accurate tsunami source, which was iteratively calibrated in earlier work to explain the large-scale tsunami features, and apply it over a computational domain with a finer grid and more accurate coastal bathymetry in Thailand. Computations are performed with a well-validated numerical model based on fully nonlinear and dispersive Boussinesq equations (FUNWAVE) that adequately models the physics of tsunami propagation and runup, including dissipation caused by bottom friction and wave breaking. Simulated runups in Thailand reproduce field observations with a surprising degree of accuracy, as well as their high degree of along-coast variation: a 92% correlation is found between (58) runup observations and computations, while the model explains 85% of the observed variance; overall, the RMS error is approximately 1 m or 17% of the mean observed runup value (skill of the simulation). Because we did not use runup observations to calibrate our coseismic tsunami source, these results are robust, and thus provide a uniquely accurate synoptic prediction of tsunami impact along the Andaman coast of Thailand, including those areas where no observations were made.

Case study: Boxing Day Tsunami, 2004

On 26 December 2004 a tsunami occurred in the Indian Ocean. It was the result of the Indio-Australian Plate subducting below the Eurasian Plate. It was caused by an earthquake measuring more than magnitude 9. The earthquake caused the seafloor to uplift, displacing the seawater above.

  • In open ocean the tsunami measured less than 1 metre high.
  • The tsunami travelled at speeds up to 800km per hour.
  • When the Tsunami reached the shores, the height of the wave increased to 15 metres in some areas.

Main impacts

  • A quarter of a million people died.
  • Two million people were made homeless.
  • People were swept away in the waters, which arrived rapidly and with little warning.
  • Thirteen countries were affected, the worst being Indonesia.
  • Indonesia was hit by the tsunami first. Fourty-five minutes later the tsunami reached Thailand.
  • Mangrove swamps helped to act as a barrier to reduce the energy of the water in some areas.
  • Short-term aid, such as water purification tablets, temporary housing and medical supplies were given from international countries.
  • Islands reliant on tourism and fishing, such as the Maldives, had to rebuild their industries.
  • An early warning system between countries surrounding the Indian Ocean has been set up.

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Map of Indian Ocean tsunami 2004

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