A study by wave experts at UCD and Geological Survey Ireland suggests that tsunamis pose a significant threat to the south and west coasts of Ireland, but probably not to UCD.

The team of experts led by Professor Frédéric Dias have developed a new tsunami simulation code to simulate the life cycle of a tsunami. The code is being used to run simulations of the impact a serious tsunami would have on Ireland. This could greatly improve early warning capabilities; sufficient response time is crucial to reduce the impact of a tsunami. 

Ireland is not very likely to be hit by a tsunami any time soon, but it’s not impossible. Dias told The College Tribune that “the probability for Ireland to be hit again in the coming years is small but not completely negligible.” This is because the last serious tsunami to occur in Ireland was almost 300 years ago, in 1755, and the return period of these large tsunamis is “of the order of 500 years”. However, this time frame is only an indication, and a tsunami could hit sooner and stronger than anticipated. He said that “some of the recent devastating tsunamis worldwide took scientists by surprise, in the sense that they reached an intensity that was not expected in the areas they hit.” 

Professor Dias of the UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics describes tsunamis as “long waves generated by the displacement of a large volume of water”. They can cause a lot of damage to people and buildings. Most of these large volumes of water become displaced because of underwater earthquakes, but they can also be caused by “volcanic eruptions, underwater landslides, aerial landslides, rapid changes in barometric pressure and some more exotic phenomena.”

If a tsunami were to hit Ireland, the study showed it would be the south, south-east and west coasts of Ireland that would be particularly at risk of flooding from any future earthquake sources similar to that in 1755. 

The damage a potential tsunami would cause could be significant. The researchers simulated localised flooding and velocities. Professor Dias said that flooding was limited to low-lying areas, with the simulated height of these waves above sea level to be 3.4m in both the Dunmore East and Galway Bay regions. The speed of the wave was shown to be more than 4 metres per second in both of these areas, which professor Dias said could damage buildings, boats, and people at beaches. 

UCD students can rest assured they are probably not in any great danger while in college. Although there are parts of Ireland that may be vulnerable to a tsunami, The College Tribune has learned that UCD campus is not likely to be hit by a tsunami. However, Dias pointed out that because travelling is so easy these days (although not right now) “anybody can be hit by a tsunami”.

For example, Dias said that Sweden suffered the worst casualties among European countries in the 2004 Asian tsunami disaster because 20,000 Swedes were on holiday in Thailand when the tsunami struck. He said, “This is why it is important to emphasize that our study, even though it is focused on Ireland, will also help tsunami warning centres around Europe and possibly around the world.”

Julia Brick – Reporter