Tsunami Monitoring

Posted by Sam Churchill on

The horrific tsuami this Sunday is one of the worst disasters in recorded history. The death toll has topped 150,000 with more than 500,000 estimated injured. Without clean water, respiratory and waterborne diseases could break out within days, putting millions at “grave risk,” the U.N. children’s agency said.

Only four other earthquakes on record were as large as the one that hit the Indian Ocean Sunday.

The latest news on the disaster is available at Google News, Yahoo Full Coverage, ABC, BBC, CNN, CBC, CBS, MSNBC, Rediff, NPR, NY Times, the Washington Post and USA Today. Additional Blog Links and stories are available at Wikipedia, C/Net and tsunamihelp.blogspot.com.

Center for International Disaster Information, Amazon’s online Red Cross Relief, US AID, Relief Web, Network for Good and Mercy Corps among others are mobilizing aid efforts. The United States initially promised $35 million in aid and later bumped it to $350 million. Corporate contributions have far exceeded the $44 million aid contribution of the U.S. government. To put it into perspective, Howard Stern earns $500 million. The tsunami disaster is one of those rare events that transcend politics, comments Daniel Schorr of NPR.

The 2nd most deadly tsunami, more than one hundred years ago in 1883, followed the eruption of Indonesia’s Krakatoa Volcano. An estimated 36,000 people died as a result of that eruption, the majority of them from tsunamis. Arther C. Clarke wrote about it.

Some believe Dr. Tad Murty is the father of Tsunami monitoring. Murty has been studying tsunamis for 40 years — and helped develop the warning system now in place for countries that border the Pacific Ocean.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Conrad Lautenbacher has renewed his call for a Global Ocean Observing System that could patch together many governments’ sensors.

Thousands of lives could have been spared, Asian officials said Monday, if warnings had alerted civilians to head inland after a huge undersea earthquake in Indonesia. The earthquake was unusually large geographically; some 1,200 km (740 mi) of faultline slipped 15 m (50 ft) along the subduction zone where the India Plate dives under the Burma Plate. This formed a shock wave in the Indian Ocean.

The India Plate is part of the great Indo-Australian Plate, which underlies the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal, and is drifting northeast at an average of 5 cm/yr (2 in/yr), relative to the Burma Plate. The Burma Plate carries the Nicobar and Andaman Islands and northern Sumatra, and is pushed by the Sunda Plate to its east. Both the Burma and Sunda Plates are considered portions of the great Eurasian Plate. The tectonic activity that results as these plates scrape against each other.

There is no system to track tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. That’s because they are very rare in the Indian Ocean and because there isn’t the money to implement the systems.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Honolulu, which detected the underwater quake, did not have direct contacts with Indian Ocean nations. It issued a bulletin at 0114 GMT when it detected the temblor off the coast of Indonesia, but with no early warning system in place in Asia, scientists had no choice but to begin working their phones.

U.S. officials who detected the quake tried frantically to reach contacts in the region but they were unable to do so because there was no warning mechanism in place.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake — the largest in 40 years — off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, triggered waves of up to 10 metres high which gathered speed as they spread. It took an hour and a half for the wave to get from the earthquake to Sri Lanka and an hour for it to get … to the west coast of Thailand and Malaysia.

According to WikiPedia, the earthquake was the fourth most powerful recorded since 1900, and the confirmed death toll so far is 150,000, in large part due to the ensuing tsunami. The deadliest earthquakes since 1900 were the Tangshan, China earthquake of 1976, in which at least 255,000 were killed, the earthquake of 1927 in Xining, Qinghai, China (200,000), the Great Kanto earthquake which struck Tokyo in 1923 (143,000), and the Gansu, China earthquake of 1920 (200,000). The deadliest known earthquake in history occurred in 1556 in Shaanxi, China, with an estimated death toll of 830,000, though figures from this time period may not be reliable.


Digital Globe’s high resolution satellite imagery (above) have before and after shots. Other satellite imaging is available from Orbimage, Space Imaging, ImageSat, Indian Remote Sensing and RadarSat and Spot. India’s Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said today it’s positioning their remote sensing satellites and updating India’s Crisis Management Group with the latest images.

Live Seismographs
  • Alaska Tsunami Ctr & Links
  • Hawaii Tsunami Center & Museum
  • PMEL Tsunami Research Program
  • USGS Earthquake Ctr
  • Tsunami Links
  • U/W’s Live Seismographs
  • Cascades Volcano Observatory
  • Live MT Saint Helens Seismograph
  • U/W’s Recent Quakes
  • Live California Seismographs
  • World Quake Map
  • Calif/Nev Life Seismo
  • N. Calif Recorders
  • San Francisco Quakes
  • Seismology Backgrounders
  • Savage Earth
  • Discovery Planet
  • Virtual Earth Quake
  • International Seismological Centre
  • USGS Global Quake Map
  • Tsunami Hazard Ctr
  • Tsunami Mitigation
  • Yahoo Quake News
  • Each tsunameter has a pressure recorder anchored to the seafloor. The recorder’s readings are beamed up to a buoy, then relayed to NOAA’s network of geostationary weather satellites (GOES). The real-time satellite data are analyzed at NOAA’s tsunami warning centers in Hawaii and Alaska, which issues alerts to emergency officials.

    The Coast Guard plans will use dozens of buoys bobbing off U.S. coastlines from Maine to Alaska extending the reach of a Automated Identification System. It monitors large vessels heading in and out of ports, extending the network and relaying information from hundreds of miles off shore.

    An international warning system was started in 1965, the year after tsunamis associated with a magnitude-9.2 temblor struck Alaska and the West Coast in 1964. It is administered by NOAA. The PMEL Tsunami Research Program seeks to mitigate tsunami hazards to Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

    Member states include all the major Pacific rim nations in North America, Asia and South America, was well as the Pacific islands, Australia, New Zealand, France, which has sovereignty over some Pacific islands, and Russia. The Indian Ocean has rarely experienced tsunamis and does not have an active warning system.

    “The department had up to an hour to announce the emergency message and evacuate people but they failed to do so,” Thammasarote Smith, a former senior forecaster at Thailand’s Meteorological Department was quoted as saying in The Bangkok Post newspaper. “It is true that an earthquake is unpredictable. But a tsunami, which occurs after an earthquake, is predictable,” he said.

    The chief weather forecaster in Thailand first sent out warnings on radio and television after the first waves. A website warning went up about three hours later. But by then, at least 700 had died in Thailand.

    Australian Prime Minister John Howard has said he will investigate what role his country could play in helping to set up a warning system. It could take a year to set up the system.

    Major recorded tsunamis:

    Dec. 26, 2004: A 9.0-magnitude earthquake centred off the Indonesian island of Sumatra triggers tsunamis that pound the shorelines of nine countries, killing tens of thousands of people.

    July 17, 1998: A tsunami triggered by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake offshore triggers a tsunami that hits Papua, New Guinea. Waves as high as 12 metres kill about 3,000 people and destroy whole villages.

    June 3, 1994: Earthquakes cause a series of waves more than 60 metres high that slam into Eastern Java and Indonesia, killing 200 people.

    July 12, 1993: An underwater earthquake off the coast of Hokkaido in Japan generates five-metre-high waves that leave 202 dead.

    Aug. 17, 1976: Tsunamis generated by an earthquake near Mindanao, Philippines, kill 8,000.

    March 27, 1964: The largest earthquake of the 20th century in the northern hemisphere, with a magnitude of 8.4., strikes off Alaska’s shore. It spurs tsunami waves as high as six metres, which kill more than 120 people and cause more than $106 million US in damages.

    March 3, 1933: An earthquake-generated tsunami strikes Sanriku, Japan. It kills nearly 3,000 people, destroys 9,000 houses and sinks about 3,000 ships.

    June 15, 1896: A tsunami with waves up to 30 metres high pounds the east coast of Japan around Yoshihimama, leaving about 27,000 dead.

    Aug. 27, 1883: A volcanic eruption near Krakatoa, Indonesia, triggers tsunamis that kill about 36,000.

    U.S. scientists said they recorded the seismic networks but had no idea which direction the tsunami would be travelling. “If they had tidal gauges and a tsunami warning system, many people who died would have been saved,” said Waverly Person, director of the U.S. Geological Survey national earthquake information service in Golden, Colo.

    “They could have tracked the waves,” he said. “They won’t tell you how high the waves will be, but they can tell you when they will hit. Local authorities can warn citizens to get off the coast.”

    There is usually about 20 minutes to two hours to get people away from the coast when a tsunami is expected.

    Geologist Brian Atwater (above) shows a cross-section of cedar killed by the last Cascadia earthquake in January, 1700. Atwater discovered proof that a recurrant massive subduction zone tsunami hits the West Coast every 300-450 years. The US Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program has mapped the west coast of the United States.

    The Cascadia Subduction Zone Quake will generate two Tsunami waves, one propagating towards the coast, and the other towards the deep ocean and Hawaii. It will take only minutes to reach the coasts of Oregon, Washington, southern British Columbia, and northern California with wave heights reaching close to 12m (~36ft) in some scenarios.

    An international warning system in the Pacific was created in 1965. The system is administered by the U.S.-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The Alaska Tsunami Ctr and Hawaii Tsunami Center are the main nerve centers for the US west coast. The PMEL Tsunami Research Program, in Newport, Oregon, monitors the Navy’s old Sound Surveillence system for rumblings on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, about 200 miles of the Oregon coast. The Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network, the Cascades Volcano Observatory and Nature of the Northwest have Earthquake hazard maps for Tillamook, Coastal Oregon and Portland among others with new ones released on Jan. 26, 2000, the 300th anniversary of the giant Cascadia earthquake of 1700.

    The Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) operates facilities like Oregon State’s Tsunami Wave Basin which models Tsunamis.

    The Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array (PANGA) supports field experiments in mainland Mexico, Baja California, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. It measures millimeter-scale displacements with the Pacific Northwest region. Modern digital seismic arrays produce three-dimensional images of North America’s continental crust and the deeper mantle on which it “floats.” EarthScope, a project of both the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey, is using a network of receivers, called the Plate Boundary Observatory. They are installing 5 new GPS stations on Mt. Saint Helens.

    The 250-station Southern California Integrated GPS Network (SCIGN), is a multi-agency effort jointly sponsored by NASA, NSF, USGS, and the W.M. Keck Foundation, under the umbrella of the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC). Over the next five years, SCIGN will become an integral part of the multi-agency, multi-disciplinary Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO), an observatory of high-precision geodetic instruments spanning western North America. The USArray component of the EarthScope experiment is a continental-scale seismic observatory.

    The GPS system will consume about half of the budget for the $200 million EarthScope’s Plate Boundary project (FAQ). It will blanket the United States with seismic stations. The undertaking will measure latitude and longitude at 875 permanent GPS stations, graphing how the earth moves over time. Each receiver can measure relative distance changes of less than 0.5 millimeters. GPS receivers, strainmeters and new satellite radar imagery will measure and map the smallest movements across faults, the magma movement inside active volcanoes and the very wide areas of deformation associated with plate tectonic motion.

    A Transportable Array seismic station was installed near Mt Saint Helens in September, 2004, by Wishkah Valley School in Aberdeen, Washington. The seismic data from this station and others are available through the IRIS Data Management Center. Students at the K-12 school are using the recorded data to learn more about the local geology and natural hazards.



    Earthscope may have been an easier political “sell” than John Delany’s Neptune Project a $250 million underwater subduction zone monitoring project off the Pacific coast.

    The Juan de Fuca plate is subducting under the North American plate and we all need to know what’s happening down there (Flash Animations). The subduction zone could blow anytime. PMEL’s Ocean Seismicity monitors The Zone. Monster tsunamis and 9.0 (or above) earthquakes will happen in the Northwest. Guaranteed.

    Some 40 million people live and work along the east coast of the United States. Some researchers believe this entire population unknowingly lives under threat of a sudden catastrophe.

    Scientists have now found evidence that a colossal wave will one day devastate the east coast of America. It will be far bigger than any normal tidal waves, or tsunami. It is what scientists call a mega-tsunami.


    Much of La Palma (above), the most volcanically active of the Canary Islands, is said to be inherently unstable and could produce a mega tsunami, wiping out much of the East Coast (pdf).

    Related DailyWireless stories include; Monitoring Mount St Helens, Oceanographic Dead Zone, Subducting the Zone, West Coast Grid, Grid Becomes Self-Aware, Just Say No, Sensor Nets, Meshing at Intel, Oceanographic Wireless, WiFi At Sea, Spying on the Ocean, and Earthquake Monitoring.


    Newer DailyWireless updates include; Global Tsunami System Announced, RadarSats Image Tsunami, Tsunami Mapping, Mobile Satellite Access, Tsunami Warning Ideas, Off shore data links and the Global Grid.

    Additional DailyWireless articles include Earthquake First Responders, Hurricane Frances Lineworkers, Hurricane Help, ISP in a trailer, Mobile COWS, Tagging Photos with GPS, Blogging On The Road, Video Blogging, War Blogging Comes Home, Tachyon & Datastorm Satellite News, and Wireless Priority Service Worked.


    Posted by Sam Churchill on Monday, December 27th, 2004 at 2:11 pm .