World Tsunami Awareness Day – meet RPS Tsunami expert Dr Tayebeh Tajalli Bakhsh

The UN’s World Tsunami Awareness Day- every November 5- focuses on understanding tsunami risk and developing asset resiliency.

05 Nov 2021

We interviewed Dr Tayebeh Tajalli Bakhsh, Ph.D. Ocean engineering, who is part of the RPS Ocean Science team in Rhode Island, and an expert in modelling Tsunami waves. The devastation caused by a tsunami from the Indian Ocean in 2004, with more than 200,000 lives tragically lost, has been her motivation to get to focus on understanding this geo-hazard- to help with resilient coastal communities and save lives.

What are tsunamis and what causes them?

Tsunamis are a series of waves generated mainly by earth activities, including underwater earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic activities that displace ocean water. Tsunami waves can travel across the ocean at the speed of a jet, and can form a series of waves tens of meters high onto land! Understanding the behavior of this geohazard more accurately and deeply will save lives, minimise property loss and/or damage and help us to build resilient coastal infrastructure in the future. 

How are urbanisation and climate change impacting coastal areas and the resiliency of coastal infrastructure?

About 40% of the world population, ~2.4 billion people, currently live within 100 km of the coast. Urbanisation results in more infrastructure, which indirectly or directly impacts the environment. 

Climate change is causing sea levels to rise and is affecting and intensifying extreme weather and natural disaster events. For example, when the frequency and the severity of storms increase, the risk to offshore and onshore infrastructure also increases. The science around climate change suggests rising sea levels are putting coastal zone infrastructure and the communities that live in and around them, at higher risk for extreme flooding (including tsunami inundation) and erosion, by increasing the background water level.

How do coastal/ocean engineers help shape a sustainable future?

Coastal engineering has become a major part of ocean engineering. Climate change has caused sea levels to rise and the number and severity of storms to increase. This increases the risk to offshore and onshore infrastructure.

Ocean engineers can shape a sustainable future by:

  • Analysing the behaviour of natural disasters, to save lives, minimise property damage and build resilient coastal infrastructure
  • Assisting in the siting, design and build of renewable energy harvesters, like resilient offshore wind turbines or tidal energy harvester
  • Protecting the ocean from pollution and waste disposal by helping communities to improve sewage systems, and government and oil and gas industry to have emergency response plans in case of events like Deep Water Horizon
  • Developing new and innovative technology to study oceans and coasts

What are you working on now?

Having a sustainable future and a resilient coastal community are motivating for me. I am assisting with analysing natural disasters to save lives and minimise property damage through assessing the geohazards and extreme conditions in the siting, design, and build of renewable energy harvesters- like offshore wind turbines or tidal energy harvester. I also conduct environmental assessments of ocean pollutions like oil spills.

Another focus has been on the ‘inundation’ or flooding of coastal infrastructure and energy facilities. For example, I've focused on coastal nuclear power plants, oil refineries, or cable landing sites of offshore wind farms and how the load or wave pressure affects the siting of these types of structures. In addition, we look at the impact of offshore windfarm developments on the hydrodynamic circulation and environmental conditions.

As an ocean engineer, Dr. Tayebah TajalliBakhsh focuses on hydrodynamic modelling, sustainability and climate resilience, coastal flooding from tsunami and storm surge, and offshore renewable energy.

Although extreme events and geohazards such as Tsunamis are rare, they will continue to occur. If you would like more information on this critical subject, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

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