Modelling the Anak Krakatau volcano, tsunami to better prepare U.S. for future tsunamis

Last month’s eruption of the Anak Krakatau volcano in Indonesia and the deadly tsunami that followed caused two University of Rhode Island scientists to spring to action.

Tsunami expert Stephan Grilli of URI’s Ocean Engineering Department and volcanologist Steven Carey, professor emeritus at GSO, were planning to visit the site next summer to conduct surveys of the seafloor nearby. The area around Anak Krakatau is the former site of the Krakatau volcano, which erupted in 1883 and is still considered one of the largest catastrophic volcanic eruptions in modern history.

The recent eruption of Anak Krakatau – which means “son of Krakatau” – is providing Grilli and Carey with a new opportunity to gain additional insights and create models that they hope will help the United States better prepare for future tsunamis.

Grilli and Carey were awarded a $489,000 grant from the National Science Foundation last spring to survey the site of the 1883 eruption, along with a matching grant to colleagues from England and California. They still intend to follow their original plan, though the recent eruption may move up their timeline.

Their objective is to study the underwater deposits of lava from the 1883 eruption because many questions still remain about it. That eruption caused a 50-foot tsunami wave that wreaked havoc on the islands of Java and Sumatra, but scientists are still uncertain exactly how it happened.

“When Krakatau erupted, there were no people there, but the energy of the eruption was transferred over a much larger area via the tsunami,” Carey said. “There are present-day volcanoes that could have the same mechanism and create devastating tsunamis that we need to be prepared for today.”

Read the press release