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Top Story

Paradigm shift needed for designing tsunami-resistant bridges

Researchers argue in a new study that a paradigm shift is needed for assessing bridges' tsunami risk. The study, motivated in part by hundreds of bridges being destroyed during recent tsunamis off the coast of Japan and in the Indian Ocean, advances the understanding of the physics at work when a tsunami slams into a bridge -- opening the door to designing coastal spans that are better able to withstand inundation by the giant waves. The researchers say it is not enough just to think in terms of overall tsunami load on a bridge -- the load on the bridge's individual structural components needs to be considered as well. Over the past 15 years, big earthquakes whose epicenters were in the ocean off the coasts of Japan and Indonesia have caused tsunamis that killed more than 250,000 people and caused more than $200 billion in damage. The damage includes washing away or otherwise dislodging hundreds of bridges, emphasizing the need to better understand the wave impacts' underlying physics.

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