Spotlight: Yong Wei

Research Scientist - Tsunami Modeling and Forecasting

Twenty years ago in China not many high school kids had a clear idea about what they would study in college or what they would eventually be doing as a career. In those days they could not get much advice about college education because most people, including their parents, never had the chance to go to a college, or even high school. In 1991, Yong was one of the few who did. He chose an oceanography college because he had never seen the ocean but he was fascinated by everything about it. Fortunately, it turned out to be one of the best decisions that Yong ever made.

From 1991 to 1998 Yong worked to earn his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Ocean University of Qingdao (now Ocean University of China), the most prestigious oceanography college in the country. Yong left his native China in 1999 to obtain his Ph.D. from the Department of Ocean and Resources Engineering at the University of Hawaii. His Ph.D. thesis was on the long wave runup model and tsunami forecast. He then worked as a postdoc fellow in the same department for three months before he joined JISAO in 2006 as a tsunami modeler working with a group of world-class tsunami scientists at NOAA Center for Tsunami Research (NCTR).

With his passion for tsunami forecast modeling strengthened by his work at JISAO and NCTR, Yong considers the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami a "milestone" which made him more certain that his research and career are progressing in the right direction. Yong believes that this devastating tsunami was a wakeup call for coastal communities to take action and work towards building reliable worldwide tsunami warning and forecast systems, and he is very proud to be at the forefront of that effort.

Yong is now a senior research scientist specializing in tsunami modeling and forecast, hydrodynamics of long waves, coastal hazard mitigation, and geophysical data analysis. His primary responsibility at JISAO and NCTR is to oversee a multi-year effort to develop tsunami forecast models for 75 coastal communities (mostly major harbors) along U.S. coastlines. As part of the core of NOAA’s tsunami forecast system, these models Yong standing in a mud field in Anegadaprovide real-time forecasts of tsunami flooding in these communities immediately following the determination of the source of the progressive tsunamis using measurements from deep-ocean tsunameters. Because of telescoped high-resolution setup, these models can also be used for long-term tsunami hazard assessment at each individual community if needed. This multi-year project is entering its final year in 2012. So far, 65 models have been developed since 2005. Accomplishment of these models, together with the establishment of the global network of 56 deep-ocean tsunameters, symbolizes a giant leap in modern tsunami warning and forecast technology since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami when zero deep-ocean measurements and coastal flooding forecasts were available.

While following as many real-time tsunami events as possible, Yong is also involved with a multi-year project to develop a NUREG on tsunami hazard assessment guidelines for U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is focused on both short-term and long-term planning for tsunami hazards posed on nuclear power plants.

The interdisciplinary atmosphere in JISAO and PMEL has given Yong opportunities to collaborate with many prestigious scientists within other disciplines such as paleo-sedimentary, storm wave modeling, flow forces, and geophysical data analysis. His participation with a USGS team in investigating the cause (tsunami or storm surge) of the overwash evidences on Anegada, British Virgin Islands has brought him new insights into the natural hazards in the Atlantic.   

Another reason that Yong knows he had made the right decision to attend oceanography college in 1991 is that he met the love of his life there. In 1998 Yong married his beautiful and lovely wife, Dr. Liujuan Tang, who is also a senior tsunami modeler at Yong with his wife Liujuan and daughter AdinaJISAO. It has been more than 20 years from the very first day they fell for each other. Their adorable daughter, Adina, is now a talkative and “goofy” two-and-half-year-old. Yong enjoys watching Adina put together a 60 piece puzzle within minutes, yet his most relaxing moment is his everyday walk between the house and mailbox with Adina yapping from behind, “Daddy, wait for me!” on her little red tricycle.

In his spare time Yong enjoys playing soccer, sometimes a forward and sometimes a goalie, at Arena Sports next to the NOAA campus with his team Maremoto (Spanish for tsunami), a group of JISAO and PMEL tsunami geeks who try their best to compete with fast young cubs.