Time Evolution of Man-Made Harbour Modifications in San Diego: Effects on Tsunami Amplitudes and Currents

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Aggeliki Barberopoulou1,2, Mark Legg2,3 and Edison Gica4,5, (1)National Observatory of Athens, Athens, Greece, (2)University of Southern California, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Los Angeles, CA, United States, (3)Legg Geophysical, Huntington Beach, CA, United States, (4)NOAA Seattle, Seattle, WA, United States, (5)University of Washington Seattle Campus, Joint Institute for the Atmosphere and the Ocean, Seattle, WA, United States
Harbors are typically modified to enhance operations and increase space in ports. Ports are usually designed to protect boats and docks against sudden vertical water fluctuations. Tsunami currents however are often ignored-current monitoring is usually not quantitative- in the design of harbor modifications. Damage from tsunami currents in ports has occurred in several recent tsunamis (Sea of Japan, 1983; Chile, 1960, 2010; Tohoku, 2011). Significant tsunami currents (>2 m/sec) often occur without substantial wave amplitudes (<1-2 meters). Because tsunami amplitudes are used as the basis to determine event “significance”, the hazard from potentially strong currents may be overlooked. In order to evaluate the impact of anthropogenic effects on tsunami impact at ports, we examine the history of man-made modifications made to San Diego Bay since the late nineteenth century.

Digital elevation models were created based on historic nautical charts of 1892, 1935, 1945 and at present. Tsunami simulations were conducted based on two distant events (1960 Chile and 2011 Tohoku) and two hypothetical severe local cases (San Clemente fault bend and Coronado Canyon landslide). The distant events provide historical comparisons with the model while the local events are based on offshore geology and tectonic activity.

Most of the changes in San Diego Bay have included dredging, enlargement of the North Island/Coronado, widening of the Silver Strand, and creation of new marinas by enhancing already existing dunes or filling and creating breakwaters. Those changes mostly occurred during the first half of the 20th century. Post- 1965 the bay has sustained a similar appearance to the bathymetry/topography we know today.

Early harbor configurations showed strong currents in the narrow channel between Point Loma and North Island/Coronado while overtopping of the narrow Silver Strand to the south occurred. The modern configuration finds increased currents at the harbor entrance and between Coronado and downtown San Diego, where the channel has been narrowed, while widening of the Silver Strand appears to reduce overtopping.

Since the change in tsunami impact is not a linear function of modifications in the harbor, we will discuss on how these man-made modifications introduce or relocate strong currents and inundation in the bay.