Modeling the 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami: Case study of impact in Thailand

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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. Copyright 2007 by the American Geophysical Union.

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans