HISTORICAL SUMMARY OF EARLY TSUNAMI RESEARCH IN THE U.S.
Tsunami Research in the U. S. began at the University of Hawaii after the April 1, 1946 tsunami struck the Hawaiian Islands and caused many deaths and extensive destruction. Francis Shepard from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Gordon Mcdonald, and Doak Cox from the University of Hawaii participated in the initial survey and wrote an extensive report on the tsunami and its impact. Additional Pacific- wide tsunamis that struck the Hawaiian Islands in 1952, 1957 and 1960, were investigated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and University of Hawaii scientists, who documented wave height distribution and impact, mainly in the Hawaiian Islands.
Following the devastating May 22, 1960 tsunami from Chile, the State of Hawaii provided funds for a program of tsunami investigations at the University. Doak Cox, then employed at the Sugar Planters Research Facility transferred to the University. He was joined by Martin Vitousek, Rockne Johnson, Gordon Groney and others who had participated in the International Geophysical Year. On October 13 and 19, 1963, two Saturdays apart, the Honolulu Observatory (HO) of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USCGS), issued tsunami warnings for earthquakes off Hokkaido, Japan. No tsunamis of significance occurred in Hawaii and the public perceived that the tsunami warnings were faulty. There was a great deal of criticism in the press about the inconvenience and there was growing pressure to improve the existing U.S. Tsunami Warning System, administered by the Honolulu Observatory (now known as the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, or PTWC).
In 1964, the construction of the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics (HIG) building was completed at the University of Hawaii campus in Manoa Valley. Dr. George Woollard arrived from the University of Wisconsin to assume the HIG Directorship. He brought with him geophysicists, graduate students and the contracts he had with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to continue his investigations of the MOHOLE project. [HIG later evolved into HIGP, a branch of SOEST.] "MOHOLE", and in competition with the then Soviet Union, was the race to drill through the earth's crust to the mantle and determine its consistency and possibly determine the earth's and our solar system's evolution. Finding the thinnest part of the earth's crust to drill the MOHOLE became one of the major research projects. The Geology, Oceanography and Geophysics Departments came under the umbrella of HIG at that time. The University’s newly established Computing Center occupied a wing of the 3rd floor. A fishing boat from Alaska, the “Neptune”, was purchased and equipped to conduct the offshore seismic surveys for a MOHOLE site and other oceanographic investigations. Graduate students in Oceanography, Geology and Geophysics begun to participate in these surveys and study tsunamis as well.
The 1964 Aleutian Earthquake and Tsunami intensified a program of tsunami research at HIG. Doak Cox, Ralph Moberly, Augustine Furumoto were given additional funds by the State and by the National Academy of Engineering to investigate the 1964 tsunami. Doak Cox hired graduate students to assist in this effort. George Pararas-Carayannis was one of them. He prepared wave refraction diagrams of the 1964 tsunami and, jointly with Gus Furumoto, wrote an HIG Report about the tsunami source. mechanism. This report, one prepared by Doak Cox and another by Harold Loomis were included in the final volume of the National Academy of Science on the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964.
In 1965, an agreement was reached between the University of Hawaii and the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (USCGS) to form the Joint Tsunami Research Effort (JTRE). Additional funding was provided by the State and the USCGS to continue the on-going tsunami research at HIG and to support the cooperative effort by bringing in new people. The tsunami research team at that time included professors, researchers and graduate students who were already working at HIG or other University of Hawaii departments. Some of them had dual appointments and could only work on a part time basis. Doak Cox, Gus Furumoto, Bill Adams, Martin Vitousek, Rockne Johnson, Harold Loomis, and HIG graduate students Don Hussong, Fred Duennebier, Floyd McCoy, Gary Stice, Frisbee Campbell, George Pararas-Carayannis, Daniel Walker, Tom Sokolowski and others were already participating actively in the tsunami research program. Most of the people had dual appointments, worked part-time or were paid from other University funding. For example Harold Loomis was with the Mathematics Department.
Subsequently in 1965, Gaylord Miller, Gordon Groves, Lester Spielvogel and Jim Larsen joined the Group. Bill Adams served as the initial Director of JTRE (Joint Tsunami Research Effort), then Gaylord Miller - who had worked with Walter Munk at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography on long period wave research. Rudolph Preisendorfer was a visiting scientist. Doak Cox assumed the Directorship of the Environmental Center at the Univeristy but continued to be active with JTRE. In 1967 George Pararas-Carayannis went to work as oceanographer for the newly formed International Tsunami Information Center (ITIC), under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, but continued close cooperation on JTRE Group research – working with Doak Cox on the historical tsunami database and with Gaylord Miller on numerical modeling and tsunami travel time charts for the warning system. Subsequent government reorganizations brought JTRE under the joint auspices of the University of Hawaii and the newly established U.S. Environmental Services Science Administration (ESSA) then, in the 1970’s, the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, ERL, NOAA (ESSA reorganized under this new name) provided funding through the University’s Research Corporation to support newly appointed scientists and additional graduate students.
During the 1970s Gaylord Miller, George Curtis, Harold Loomis, and Lester Spielvogel continued to carry out tsunami research at the University of Hawaii with such support. Charles Mader was with the Los Alamos Laboratory, but was an active participant in the U.S. tsunami program. There was no other significant tsunami research being carried out anywhere in the U.S. at the time, although scientists like George Carier at Harvard were primarily involved in theoretical studies of wave theory.
Focus of Research
scope of the early research at JTRE in Hawaii - was as
diversified as the background and expertise of the scientists
For example, Harold Loomis published a number of papers on the hydrodynamics of long period waves, their normal modes of oscillation in confined bays and harbors, the effects of resonance on long wave amplification and on the spectral analysis of tsunami records. Gaylord Miller, an expert on long period waves, worked on a tsunami propagation modeling program, the run-up of bores, and the relative spectra of tsunamis and tides. Tom Sokolowski worked on a quadripartite seismic array to supply additional data for the Tsunami Warning System. Gordon Groves, Bob Harvey and Eddie Bernard worked on the dissipation of tsunamis, their spectral decomposition and the non-linear behavior at islands and continental coastlines.
Bill Adams, George Pararas-Carayannis and others, continued to work on tsunami anomalies and precursory seismic phenomena as predictors of potential tsunami inundation. Charles Mader refined his pioneering work on the numerical simulation of tsunamis. Rockne Johsson worked on acoustic waves of submarine volcanic eruptions, and earthquake locations and length of earthquake ruptures from T-phase signatures. Together with Fred Duennebier they worked on T-phase sources, their spectral variations, and their use in earthquake epicenter determinations. Gus Furumoto worked on ionospheric recordings of Rayleigh waves and the seismicity of Hawaii. Together, with graduate students Cambell Frisbee and Donald Hussong they analyzed seismic refraction surveys of the Hawaiian Ridge to determine velocity layers and the crustal stucture of the Hawaiian Archipelago.
Rudolph Preisendorfer worked on classic canal theory, multimoded long surface waves and on tsunami theory (generation, boundary, propagation, refraction, diffraction, scattering, trapping and resonance problems). Lester Spielvogel worked on asymptotic theory for waves with radial symmetry and on the speed of solitary waves and run-up of waves on sloping beaches. Dan Walker worked with George Sutton on oceanic mantle phases and the systematic analysis of compressional and shear wave arrivals at hydrophones on Pacific Island stations. Ralph Moberly and Floyd McCoy Jr. worked on the marine geology of the sea floor of the Eastern Hawaiian Islands. Also, Gary Stice and Floyd McCoy Jr. worked on the Geology of the Man’ua Islands in Samoa. Floyd McCoy developed a keen interest in the Bronze Age eruption of the volcano of Santorini in Greece and wrote about the volcano’s eruption phases and the tsunami it generated. Martin Vitousek worked extensively on tsunami instrumentation and high resolution data telemetry systems. Together with Gaylord Miller they used vibrotron instrumentation to measure tsunami and other low-frequency waves in the deep ocean. These are only some of the early research activities that were carried out at JTRE in the first decade of its establishment, and this was the extent of early tsunami research in the U.S.
JTRE’s Contributions to the Pacific Tsunami Warning System
In 1965, the newly established JTRE played a significant role in many improvements of the Tsunami Warning System. Several of the JTRE scientists participated as observers and provided input to the First Meeting of the International Coordinating Group of the Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific (ITSU) at the East West Center in 1968. This international meeting resulted in the formation of the Pacific Tsunami Warning System, of ITIC (Information Center) and the relocation of the World Data Center A – Tsunami to the Information Center. Gaylord Miller and other JTRE scientists participated as members of the U.S. team in several other ITSU meetings.
JTRE established an early experimental local Tsunami Warning System for the Hawaiian Islands. Martin Vitousek and Bill Adams, in cooperation with he Hawaii Volcano Observatory and the Hawaii Civil Defense Agency, established data telemetry of sea level from existing tide gauges. They positioned two new pressure sensors along the south and west coasts of the island of Hawaii. A third unit consisting of a bottom–mounted pressure sensor and an acoustic transponder was placed below a buoy about 100 km north of the Hawaiian Islands. This was the predecessor to the DART ocean buoy systems presently in use around the world's oceans for the detection of tsunamis.
The historical tsunami catalogs of tsunami events developed by Doak Cox and George Pararas-Carayannis in the early 60's in close cooperation with Kumizi Iida (Nagoya University in Japan) and published as HIG reports. The historical data was of great help to the warning system and to Hawaii’s Civil Defense Agency. Based on such data, the tsunami danger zones were determined and the first tsunami evacuation maps were prepared and published as charts in the Hawai'i telephone book to inform the public. Also, numerically developed charts of differences in seimsic p-wave arrivals at diferent seismic stations around the Pacific prepared by George Pararas-Carayannis and James Sasser in 1965, became a much more rapid method for locating the epicenters of tsunamigenic earthquakes by the Honolulu Observatory – which at that time was still using a globe and a tape to measure “p” and “s” signal time differences to estimate distances and triangulate for epicenter determinations.
The JTRE Group was also very active in the mid 60’s in making a number of recommendations for improvements to what was then called the Seismic Sea Wave Warning System, subsequently renamed the Pacific Tsunami Warning System. Some of these recommendations were adopted and helped improve considerably the assessment of potential tsunamis and the speed by which tsunami warnings were issued. For example, Gaylord Miller and George Pararas-Carayannis prepared the first tsunami travel charts for many of the new stations to the Tsunami Warning System (i.e. Acapulco, Attu, Canton, Eniwetok, Kwajalein, Johnston, La Jolla, Marcus, Nauru, Samoa, and Wake) thus enabling the warnings issued by PTWC to include tsunami travel information and estimated times of arrival (ETA’s). George Pararas-Carayannis continued this work using spherical earth models and subsequently prepared additional tsunami travel time charts for Adak, Crescent City, Dutch Harbor, La Punta, La Jolla, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seward, Sitka and Tofino - as well as flat earth approximations (with variable grid systems and deep/shallow water interphases) for refinements of the tsunami travel times in bays and continental shelves. Additionally, after joining ITIC where the directorship of the World Data Center A - Tsunami had been transferred, George Pararas-Carayannis continued to work on the historical tsunami database, updating the catalogs of Tsunamis for the Pacific and Alaska (with Doak Cox) and for Hawaii, Samoa and the Atlantic, an Atlas of Tsunami Marigrams and helped develop bibliographies and a very extensive tsunami library for the use of JTRE and visiting scientists. This database was subsequently provided to Jim Lander and the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDS when the World Data Center A - Tsunami was transferred to Boulder, Colorado.
With the passing of Gaylord Miller, and the recruitment of Charles Helsley as the second Director of HIG, a series of discussions about the future of JTRE, took place. Since it had been years since a Pacific-wide tsunami, a proposal had been made to close JTRE down. This coincided with a move by NOAA to expand their Cooperative Institute Program. The Boulder CI ( CIRES) was established in 1967. New CI's were developed at Seattle (JISAO), Miami (CIMAS) and Norman (CIMMS). In Hawaii JIMAR was created, MOU signed in September 1977. The JTRE staff was incorporated within JIMAR and the new CI had three initial research themes:
1. tsunamis and other long-period ocean waves,
2. equatorial oceanography (reflecting new JIMAR Director, Dennis Moore's interests)
JIMAR base funds came from PMEL (tsunami) and EPOCS (Equatorial Pacific Ocean Climate Study). Gradually the tsunami effort shrank. The NOAA support for the staff decreased and individuals moved to other UH departments (e.g., Loomis), or away from the UH program (Spielvogel). By the late 1970’s, The University tsunami program was down to George Curtis (who later retired) and Chuck Mader. George Pararas-Carayannis, as Director of ITIC, continued to conduct post tsunami surveys following destructive tsunamis in Indonesia, Phillippines, Peru, Colombia, Mexico and to develop an extensive historical tsunami data base. Subsequently, JIMAR supported a small tsunami effort, mostly helping individuals (Gerard Fryer and Barbara Keating) and small support for graduate students (jointly with Sea Grant). During the 1980’s, University of Hawaii alumni Walt Dudley joined the University of Hawaii at Hilo and wrote an account of Tsunami Inundations on Hawaii. In 1981, Bill Adams, Gus Furomoto and George Pararas-Carayannis founded the Tsunami Society and begun publishing the International Journal "SCIENCE OF TSUNAMI HAZARDS" - where most of the early tsunami research papers were published in the U.S. In the 1990’s Dan Walker, Chip McCrery, Gerard Fryer and Barbara Keating (all in HIG), and Cheung, Teng, Brandis (Engineering) continued the Tsunami Research program in Hawaii, but funding was inadequate. No major Pacific-wide tsunami had occurred.
Barbara Keating and others at the University of Hawaii and at PTWC subsequently served officers in the Tsunami Society for several years. Doug Luther collaborated with Eddie Bernard and PMEL in the study of infra-gravity waves (the other long-period ocean waves). Subsequently Gerard Fryer and Vindell Hsu moved from the Univeristy of Hawaii to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center at Ewa Beach. Much of the subsequent work formerly done via JIMAR is either at the Pacific Disaster Center or in the Department of Engineering (through Eddie Bernard’s National Tsunami Mitigation Project). The Tsunami Society and its officers – played key roles – in establishing the early tsunami research program in the U.S. and continue to publish a multidisciplinary journal on tsunami hazards.
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