Tsunami simulations for regional sources in the South China and adjoining seas

Emile A. Okal, Costas E. Synolakis, Nikos Kalligeris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


We present 14 scenarios of potential tsunamis in the South China Sea and its adjoining basins, the Sulu and Sulawezi Seas. The sources consist of earthquake dislocations inspired by the the study of historical events, either recorded (since 1900) or described in historical documents going back to 1604. We consider worst-case scenarios, where the size of the earthquake is not limited by the largest known event, but merely by the dimension of the basin over which a coherent fault may propagate. While such scenarios are arguably improbable, they may not be impossible, and as such must be examined. For each scenario, we present a simulation of the tsunami's propagation in the marine basin, exclusive of its interaction with the coastline. Our results show that the South China, Sulu and Sulawezi Seas make up three largely independent basins where tsunamis generated in one basin do not leak into another. Similarly, the Sunda arc provides an efficient barrier to tsunamis originating in the Indian Ocean. Furthermore, the shallow continental shelves in the Java Sea, the Gulf of Thailand and the western part of the South China Sea significantly dampen the amplitude of the waves. The eastern shores of the Malay Peninsula are threatened only by the greatest-and most improbable-of our sources, a mega-earthquake rupturing all of the Luzon Trench. We also consider two models of underwater landslides (which can be triggered by smaller events, even in an intraplate setting). These sources, for which there is both historical and geological evidence, could pose a significant threat to all shorelines in the region, including the Malay Peninsula.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1153-1173
Number of pages21
JournalPure and Applied Geophysics
Issue number6-7
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Focal mechanism
  • Numerical simulation
  • South china sea
  • Tsunami

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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