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Episode Info: Jim Kaihatu Associate Professor, Assistant Department head for Research Texas A&M University DesignSafe episode 35   Son of immigrants from the Netherlands, (via Indonesia), Jim attended a technical vocational high school in Southern California. He was good at math and science and majored in design and drafting, thinking he’d be an architect. But his talents lay on the engineering side of buildings, so he majored in structural engineering at Cal Poly Pomona. Already intrigued by fluid mechanics, he then took a class in coastal and ocean engineering – which changed his career path to coastal engineering. The field was new, less explored, less codified, he says. He went on to earn his master’s degree at UC Berkeley, the birthplace of coastal engineering. He then got a job with the Army Corps of Engineers, but soon realized that if he wanted to do extensive research he needed a PhD. Kaihatu earned his PhD at the University of Delaware.   PhD in hand, he started out at the Office of Naval Research, doing ocean wave modeling for Navy forecasts. Kaihatu explains the kinds of data used in his equations, and how he used similar techniques to predict other fluid patterns, like rip currents, for the Navy.   Now at Texas A&M University, he often works on multidisciplinary research projects. He describes the challenges and pleasures of working with other scientists, biologists and chemists, on a particular NIH project. The team looked at Galveston Bay’s superfund sites. Kaihatu was the “disaster guy” modeling what might happen if areas with capped sediments were hit by a big storm. The idea was to plan ahead to avoid contamination and a health disaster in the area.   During the NEES project (2004-2014), Kaihatu had a chance to develop a payload project as part of a larger experiment in the Oregon State University wave tank facility, the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory. He studied the impact of short waves on tsunami waves found interesting things, including a strong dependence of short wave-fields on where a tsunami breaks, which suggest that a storm’s smaller waves could affect tsunami behavior.   He discusses another experiment, an expansion of the short wave idea, performed in a large wave flume instead of directional wave basin, with and without sediment. He discusses the challenge of dealing with large amounts of data in coastal engineering, when varied conditions at times give different results.   He discusses the evolution of the coastal engineering profession. Traditionally, he says, research engineers use models to study tsunamis. Over the last several decades, however, researchers are getting access to photos and videos of tsunami waves, which challenge the conventional wave models. One of the first sets of tsunami photos, Kaihatu explains, were taken by tourist named Anders Grawin during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand. Grawin’s photos revealed unexpected wave behavior: The tsunami was not just a solit...
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