By Andrew Liszewski
Before 2004 I knew what a tsunami was but after seeing the effects of the Indian Ocean tsunami that year I now have a greater understanding of just how destructive they can be. But besides the power of the initial wave crashing into the shore, the tsunami can be just as deadly as it flows back out to sea. It basically drags a huge volume of sand and soil along with it which devastates the foundations of buildings and other structures making them unstable.
So in order to fully understand this effect (and build more resilient structures and foundations) researchers hired the coastal-engineering specialists at HR Wallingford in Oxfordshire to build a new type of wave tank that could create a miniature, controlled tsunami. Using scale models of buildings and extensive measuring devices the researchers will have a better opportunity to study exactly what happens as a tsunami makes landfall. Here’s a basic idea of how the tank works:
Engineers use fans to suck water out of the narrow, 150-foot-long flume into a low-pressure tank. A set of valves release air into the tank and force water into the flume, generating a miniature wave. Water continues to flow from the tank, adding to the wave’s back end to replicate a tsunami’s ultralong wavelength. In 50 seconds, the process creates a scale version of a 9,000-foot-long, 100-foot-tall monster.
Even at just one-hundredth scale the tank is still quite large but it will provide far more useful data on how a tsunami behaves than what video footage or satellite imagery is capable of showing.