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Mathematician suggests firing deep-ocean sound waves could stop tsunamis

Why it matters to you

We'll all be a lot safer if this theory, suggesting future tsunamis could be halted in their tracks by using deep-ocean sound waves, is proven.

Tsunamis, also known as seismic sea waves, can be devastating. In 2004, a 100-foot wave in the Indian Ocean resulted in at least 230,000 deaths in one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. In 2011, another tsunami led to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster when waves exceeded the height of the plant’s sea wall.

It is therefore a massive understatement to say that figuring out a way to stop tsunamis in their tracks would be a good thing.

With that in mind, a mathematician at the U.K.’s Cardiff University has just presented a new idea he thinks could help: halting tsunamis by using deep-ocean sound waves to rob them of their amplitude and height.

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“The classical water wave theory ignores the effects of water compressibility on the grounds that acoustic (sound) and surface (gravity) waves are virtually decoupled,” Dr. Usama Kadri, from Cardiff University’s School of Mathematics, told Digital Trends. “This is justified for many applications as acoustic and surface water waves have very different temporal and spatial timescales that each can be treated as if the other did not exist.”

“[To the] contrary,” Kadri goes on, “acoustic-gravity wave theory concerns both compressibility and gravity effects and provides a general solution for these two types of waves. The most exciting part is that despite the differences, providing the right conditions, these waves will resonate with each other and exchange energy.”

Such acoustic-gravity waves could be repeatedly fired until a tsunami was dispersed.

It should be noted that, at present, this is still just a smart theory, rather than anything which has been tested in the real world. The next step would involve a proof-of-concept experiment, which could be carried out on a small scale at a research facility with a wave tank. For that to happen, Dr. Kadri said that he will need to “collaborate with experimentalists that have the proper facility and equipment.”

Only after that is done would serious thought need to be put into building a machine large enough to fire off suitably large acoustic-gravity waves.

“If it is proved theoretically, then the rest is an engineering challenge and a policy maker’s call,” Kadri continued. “There is a lot to be accomplished prior to any practical move. In particular, there is a need to study the environmental effects, along with a more realistic interaction scenarios.”