A Warning System For Tsunamis

Fabiana Lacau

The way that warning systems are set up are by analyzing patterns that have occurred in region-specific areas by using sensors in the ocean. However, these senors can’t say how hard the water will hit the coast or how much. If a real tsunami does not match any of the known scenarios a significant loss of life could occur.

Scientists at the Australian National University developed the Time Reverse Imaging Method to take real-time data from the ocean sensors and use that information to recreate what the tsunami looked like when it was born. If scientist have the source of the wave they can make much better predictions as to what might occur when it hits the shore. This new method is much more accurate and fast enough to compete with existing algorithms. The fact that new method is not based on guessing but real time information without sacrificing speed is something that is being emphasized by Jan Dettmer, a scientist from the university. [The Time Reverse Imaging Method] is not based on some guess, it’s based on [real-time] information,” said Jan Dettmer, a seismologist at the university. “[This method] would improve accuracy without sacrificing speed.”

The researchers studied plate tectonics in the Japan Trench to help create the algothrim.  With tsunamis killing an average of 8,000 people every year, according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction which it is imperative to give an early warning.

“Once the earthquake happens, then we have minutes,” Dettner said. Dettmer’s system takes scientists one step closer to accurately predicting a tsunami’s trajectory. In order to predict its course, you need know the initial sea surface displacement, or, what the wave looked like when it first started.

The plan is to apply test his method on other recorded earthquakes and fine-tune the technology until it is ready for implementation, which could be in less than five years.

“This is a step forward,” Dettmer adds. “This research can be part of the next generation of tsunami warning systems that are based on real time information.”

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