Journal cover Journal topic
Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 9, 1823-1834, 2009
© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
10 Nov 2009
The tsunami triggered by the 21 May 2003 Boumerdès-Zemmouri (Algeria) earthquake: field investigations on the French Mediterranean coast and tsunami modelling
A. Sahal1, J. Roger2,3, S. Allgeyer2, B. Lemaire2, H. Hébert2, F. Schindelé2, and F. Lavigne1 1Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Laboratoire de Géographie Physique, UMR 8591, 1 place Aristide Briand, 92195 Meudon Cedex, France
2CEA, DAM, DIF, Bruyères le Châtel, 91297 Arpajon Cedex, France
3Centro de Geofisica da Universidade de Lisboa, Rua Ernesto de Vasconcelos, Faculdade de Cièncias Ed. C8, 6°, 1700 Lisboa, Portugal
Abstract. A field survey was organized on the French Mediterranean coasts to investigate the effects of the tsunami induced by the 21 May 2003 Boumerdès-Zemmouri (Algeria) earthquake (Mw=6.9). The results show that eight harbours were affected by important sea level disturbances that caused material loss. Unfortunately, the low sampling rate of the French tide gage records (10 min) does not allow for a proper evaluation of the tsunami wave amplitudes since these amplitudes were probably underestimated in the harbours where these sensors are installed. The survey brings to light regional and local contrasts among the harbours' hydrological responses to the tsunami.

To better understand these contrasts, a numerical simulation of the sea level elevations induced by the tsunami was conducted. The simulation showed a certain correlation between the field results and the wave amplification along the coast; however it underestimated the observed phenomena. Another simulation was then conducted using high resolution bathymetric grids (space step of 3 m) centred more specifically on 3 neighbouring harbours, however, again the simulation results did not match the amplitudes recorded through the observations. In order to better understand the wave amplification mechanisms inside each grid, a Gaussian signal was virtually broadcasted from the source to the harbours. Virtual sensors identified the periods which are stimulated – or not – by the arrival of the signal in each grid. Comparing these periods with those previously recorded emphasizes the proper period of each waterbody.

This paper evaluates the limitations of such a study, focusing specifically on (1) the importance of having accurate and precise data about the source (the lack of information about the signal amplitude leads to an underestimation of the tsunami, thus reproducing only a fourth to a third of the observed phenomenon), (2) the need for networked tide gages with high resolution records and short sampling rates, and (3) the importance of conducting field studies immediately after a tsunami occurs.

Citation: Sahal, A., Roger, J., Allgeyer, S., Lemaire, B., Hébert, H., Schindelé, F., and Lavigne, F.: The tsunami triggered by the 21 May 2003 Boumerdès-Zemmouri (Algeria) earthquake: field investigations on the French Mediterranean coast and tsunami modelling, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 9, 1823-1834,, 2009.
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