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Shorelines may help tsunami flood forecasters by Becky Oskin March 14,2013   |  Source: LiveScience

Predicting flooding from tsunamis saves lives. After the Tohoku earthquake two years ago, alerts issued in advance of the monster waves saved thousands of people in Japan and other countries circling the Pacific Ocean.

But for many in Japan, the forecasts failed. Models could not predict how far inland the tsunami would rush, leading to thousands of deaths.

A new study suggests the devastating effects were heavily dependent on more than just the enormous size of the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that triggered the tsunami. The distance of the coast from the point where the earthquake ruptured also played a role. At just the right spacing from a coastline, a tsunami wave can focus its energy at the coast, sweeping farther inland than current models predict, researchers found.

"The effect of focusing that we have described can happen at a coastline directly in front of the (earthquake) source, where historically (the) most fatalities occur during tsunamis," said Vasily Titov, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Tsunami Research in Seattle and a study co-author. [Waves of Destruction: History's Biggest Tsunamis]

The results could improve computer models that predict tsunami flooding, the researchers said. The findings appear in the

 

© 2013 NBCNews.com

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