Have you ever wondered what causes those gigantic sea waves known as tsunamis? Today we meet Philip Liu, one of Taiwan’s renowned tsunami experts. Liu is known for his frontline research in the field of water wave theory. He was also instrumental in setting up a pioneering tsunami warning system that’s been used in the U.S. Our very own Stephany Yang takes us to meet Liu, who has ridden a big career wave of his own.
Philip Liu is an academician at Academia Sinica. He has also served as an associate dean of the College of Engineering at Cornell University. He is currently a distinguished professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the National University of Singapore, and also the university’s vice president for research and technology. His most recent research has focused on nonlinear waves.
In most recent years at Singapore, we have focused on studying nonlinear waves for the deep water and also shallow water. What we have discovered was that some of the theory which has been used for more than 40 to 50 years contains some mistakes, and so we have corrected these mistakes. I think the new results will have long-term impacts in engineering applications. In ocean engineering, especially.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree focusing on civil engineering at National Taiwan University in 1968, Liu studied at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received a Master of Science degree in civil engineering in 1971 and a doctorate in science in 1974. Liu is a frontline researcher in the fields of tsunami dynamics, water wave theory, wave-breaking processes, sediment transport, and the interaction of waves with structures. He pioneered the development of a unified mathematical model for wave behavior, along with a tsunami monitoring and warning system.
The tsunami model we developed over the years can be used to simulate the tsunami wave propagation from the ocean all the way to the coastal regions so that you can estimate the inundation of the flooding area by the tsunami. And also, this type of model can be used in the tsunami forecasting process to estimate when a tsunami is going to arrive in a certain location and when the tsunami occurs. The model has been actually used by the forecasting system used in the United States for the routine sort of estimation how, when, how much, and how large a tsunami will actually arrive in a certain area.
In the wake of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, his team visited Japan to conduct field research. The research was not only instrumental for Japan but also significant for Taiwan in evaluating safety conditions.
We went to do a survey after the tsunami. A week after tsunami to look at the inundation areas caused by the tsunami and also try to understand the situation with the nuclear power plant. That is important information for us. For Taiwan to evaluate the safety conditions in the nuclear plant in Taiwan.
Over the course of his career, he has received many academic awards. He has trained nearly 30 Ph.D. graduates who are now prominent professors and researchers.
One of my students, Dr. Tso-ren Wu, actually is the one has been using a similar model that we developed and helping Taiwanese governments to assess the tsunami hazards, and also I believe he has used a similar model to look at the safety issues in terms of nuclear power plants on the different locations in Taiwan.
Liu says tsunamis are not only generated by earthquakes but also by landslides. He hopes to conduct further research on landslide-generated tsunamis in the future.
The tsunami can be generated by earthquakes and also by landslides. And also, even volcano eruptions. I think most of the work has been focused on earthquake-generated tsunami but the modeling capabilities for estimating the tsunami generated by landslide is still not very strong or very well done. I think in the future, in the next few years, probably the focus will be on really trying to model the landslide-generated tsunamis because in reality that, in many locations around the world, the landslide can still generate quite a bit of tsunamis.
During a talk at National Taiwan University, Liu encouraged researchers to never stop observing, asking questions, pursuing the truth, and maintaining their enthusiasm for exploring the unknown.
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