Testing tsunami loads

Yuriy Mikhaylov

Civil and environmental engineering doctoral student Yuriy Mikhaylov’s research on tsunami-resistant structures is now more important than ever given the destruction of this year’s devastating tsunami and earthquake in Japan.  

Mikhaylov first became interested in design of structures during his undergraduate studies at UH Mānoa. At first, his interest was in structural dynamics and how the structures behaved under seismic loading.  However, after expressing interest in graduate school, Professor Dr. Ian Robertson persuaded Mikhaylov to pursue work on tsunami loading on coastal structures. 

“I found this proposal interesting because it meant that I would not have to spend countless hours in a laboratory analyzing strings of numbers that may or may not be useful,” recalled Mikhaylov.

Mikhaylov’s research involves the design of six prototypical buildings, per the International Building Code 2006, in several locations of varying seismicity and soil types. The buildings will be subjected to tsunami loads in modeling studies that consider eight kinds of forces, including height and velocity of waves and debris damming, to analyze the behavior of the structures.  The idea is to find out how tsunami-resistant the structures are per the current building code, and if they aren’t, then research what else is required to ensure that they are.

Said Mikhaylov, “It’s an unusual opportunity in the doctoral program to work on a topic that a layman can understand.  I feel lucky to be involved in this project because I am not only studying something that is interesting to me, but am also learning valuable design experience.”

The parameters required for calculating tsunami loads, such as water height and velocity, are not measured or recorded anywhere; however, with advanced technology, the March 2011 tsunami in Japan has left lots of video footage and physical evidence. 

Currently, Robertson and Mikhaylov are analyzing some of this evidence to get a better understanding of what happened to the structures in Japan during the tsunami. Their research will provide a snapshot of what can be expected if a similar event were to occur on the west coast of the United States.  By having a clearer understanding, a set of guidelines for tsunami-resistant designs can be established and incorporated into building codes to help ensure that everyone is better prepared if and when the next tsunami comes.

Mikhaylov received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UH Mānoa and is currently working as a structural designer for Baldridge and Associates Structural Engineering. In his spare time, he plays violin for the University of Hawai‘i Symphony and at various functions statewide.


People spending the night in the subway on March 11, 2011, in Tokyo, Japan, after a destructive 9.0 earthquake hit off the northeastern coast of Japan.

People spending the night in the subway on March 11, 2011, in Tokyo, Japan, after a destructive 9.0 earthquake hit off the northeastern coast of Japan.

Top photo: Tsunami from the March 11 Japan earthquake causes severe damage to a small craft in Maalea Harbor in Maui.

This entry was posted in Gallery, Story of the Week and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.