Prospect of Nonlinear Freak Tsunami Waves from Stochastic Earthquake Sources

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Eric L Geist, USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, Menlo Park, CA, United States
The prospect of freak (or rogue) tsunami edge waves from continental subduction zone earthquakes is examined. Although the hydrodynamics that govern tsunamis are formulated from the shallow-water wave equations, the dispersion relation for edge waves is similar to that for deep-water waves. As a result, freak waves can result from many of the same mechanisms as for deep-water waves: spatial focusing, dispersive (temporal) focusing, modulation instability, and mode coupling from resonant interaction. The focus of this study is on determining the likelihood of freak edge waves from the two nonlinear mechanisms: modulation instability and mode coupling. The initial conditions are provided by coseismic vertical displacement from a subduction thrust earthquake. A two-dimensional stochastic slip model is used to generate a range of coseismic displacement realizations. The slip model is defined by a power-law wavenumber spectrum and Lévy-law distributed random variables. Tsunami edge waves produced by this source model have a broader spectrum with energy distributed across many more modes compared to edge waves derived from the simplified earthquake sources used in the past. To characterize modulation instability, methods developed for a random sea are modified for seismogenic edge waves. The Benjamin-Feir parameter constrains how many unstable wave packets are possible in a time series of finite length. In addition, because seismogenic tsunami edge wave energy is distributed across a number of modes, nonlinear mode coupling can result both in the collinear case and in the counter-propagating case where edge waves are reflected by coastline irregularities. Mode coupling results in the appearance of a third edge wave mode that can greatly increase the variability in wave heights. Determination of possible freak tsunami edge waves is important for assessing the tsunami hazard at longshore locations distant from the rupture zone of continental subduction zone earthquakes.