As the people of America remember the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, scientists are studying the near-calamity that happened that day in California.

The harbor entrance channel at Marina del Rey ran like a river as the ocean ebbed and flowed in and out of that man-made harbor, several hours after the tsunami passed. Santa Barbara reported strange swirling currents more than a day after the tsunami waves passed.

Damage was light here, but more extensive at Ventura, Santa Cruz and Crescent City, according to researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Tsunami Research Center. And Crescent City’s harbor was destroyed again, while repairs were almost finished from damage caused by post-tsunami currents caused by an 8.3 quake in Russia in 2006.

This study will set up computer models of tsunami currents and the existing water features at 27 harbors along the California coast.

“Imagine an oil tanker or cargo ship torn loose and out of control in the Port of L.A. or San Francisco Bay,” said study leader Patrick Lynett. “The problem could escalate very quickly.”

USC researchers have been hired by the State of California to look into the bizarre, unexpected currents that developed several hours after the main tsunami arrived in California, half a day after the 9.0 magnitude quake destroyed much of northeastern Japan’s coastal areas.

USC researchers will use computer maps and historical tsunami data to evaluate tsunami currents in harbors, and estimate their effect to the state’s harbors and ports.

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