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Study Reveals Potential Tsunami Danger Zones

New Maps Meant to Aid in Evacuation Preparation and Planning


A team of scientists from USC’s Tsunami Research Center have released the latest, most accurate maps of potential tsunami inundation along California’s coast. The detailed maps estimate - with a distinct red line - the highest point on land the ocean could reach should a large tsunami strike during high tide. In total, the study shows, about 350,000 Californians are at potential hazard from earthquake-driven waves. To view all California maps, go here. A complete list of local maps is at the end of this article.

Each map (together they trace the entire state’s coastline from Del Norte to San Diego County) was created using numerical modeling and computer simulations in conjunction with field surveys and research. The effort was a collaboration between the USC Tsunami Research Center - headed by Costas Synolakis, Jose Borrero, and Aggeliki Barberopoulou - as well as the California Geological Survey and the California Emergency Management Agency.

According to Dr. Barberopoulou - who ran a nearly incalculable number of simulations that took into account coastline orientation, shoreline shape, and local topography - the main purpose of the study was to aid in evacuation planning should a large tsunami barrel down on California’s shore. “People should take the time to identify where they are on the maps to see if their house or workplace falls within inundation zones,” said Barberopoulou.

It has yet to be seen how the Emergency Management Agency will disperse or utilize the information, but it is Barberopoulou’s hope that the maps will be easily accessible to all. “In Hawaii they have tsunami inundation maps in their phone books,” Barberopoulou stated. “I’d like to see some steps taken along those lines to make people aware.”

When asked specific characteristics of Santa Barbara County’s coastline that would affect potential tsunami inundation, Barberopoulou responded that, because half of the county’s coasts face south and the rest face west, the area is susceptible to earthquake-driven waves from two different directions. Some of the largest inundation predicted by the model, she said, would be located at Coal Oil Point and the Santa Barbara Airport as well as Sandyland Cove in Carpinteria.

However, the county is generally well protected, Barberopoulou indicated, because of the high topography in close proximity to the beach, which also means easy access to high ground should an evacuation be necessary.

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