On 11 March 2011, an exceptionally large tsunami event was triggered by a massive earthquake offshore, the northeast coast of Japan, which affected coastal infrastructure such as seawalls, coastal dikes and breakwaters in the Tohoku region. Such infrastructure was built to protect against the Level 1 tsunamis that previously hit the region, but not for events as significant as the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, which was categorized as a Level 2 tsunami [Shibayama, T., Esteban, M., Nistor, I., Takagi, H., Thao, N. D., Matsumaru, R., Mikami, T., Aranguiz, R., Jayaratne, R. & Ohira, K.  "Classification of tsunami and evacuation areas," Nat. Hazards 67(2), 365-386]. The failure mechanisms of concrete-armored dikes, breakwaters and seawalls due to Level 2 tsunamis are still not fully understood by researchers and engineers. This paper investigates the failure modes and mechanisms of damaged coastal structures in Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures, following the authors' post-disaster field surveys carried out between 2011 and 2013. Six significant failure mechanisms were identified for the coastal dikes and seawalls affected by this tsunami: (1) Leeward toe scour failure, (2) Crown armor failure, (3) Leeward slope armor failure, (4) Seaward toe scour and slope armor failure, (5) Overturning failure, and (6) Parapet wall failure, in which leeward toe scour being recognized as the major failure mechanism in most surveyed locations. The authors also propose a simple practical mathematical model for predicting the scour depth at the leeward toe of the coastal dikes, by considering the effects of the tsunami hydrodynamics, the soil properties and the type of structure. The key advantage of this model is that it depends entirely on quantities that are measurable in the field. Furthermore this model was further refined by conducting a series of hydraulic model experiments aimed to understand the governing factors of the leeward toe scour failure. Finally, based on the results obtained, key recommendations are given for the design of resilient coastal defense structures that can survive a level 2 tsunami event.
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