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Tsunami: Can Cut Warning Time By 20 Mins, Says New Study

Feb 17, 2016 07:55 PM EST
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Tsunami warning systems could potentially notify coastal communities 20 minutes earlier, by using old systems in a new way, says a new study.
(Photo : Pixabay)

Warning times for tsunamis could be cut by nearly 20 minutes using existing equipment, says a new study.

That is, Global Positioning System (GPS) instruments that exist at monitoring locations around the world could help to heighten the accuracy and speed of those warnings, as researchers led by Berkeley Seismological Laboratory said in a report recently accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. Essentially, because those measurements can be applied to showing how quakes shift the ocean floor, this could give us earlier warning and likely reduce damage to communities on coasts.

While it is true that tsunamis beginning as a result of earthquakes near shore are somewhat rare, the ones that do are particularly dangerous because they can spring up near a coastline in mere minutes. Having warnings for coastal communities can help to save as many lives as possible, as previous studies have found.

It would be possible to use real-time data from GPS instruments from hundreds of measurement stations around the world to look at the deformation of the sea floor that follows an earthquake. Then agencies could figure out how strong the resulting tsunami will be, reporting this information to coastal communities within two or three minutes.

"This isn't a deployment of new instruments, just a change in thinking and using these instruments," Diego Melgar at Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and the study's lead author said in a release. "Our results show that with what people have now, at geophysical monitoring agencies everywhere in the world, people can do this."

The new report lays out how to use that GPS data in tsunami prediction work, Barry Hirshorn, a senior geophysicist with NOAA, on Ford Island, Hawaii, who is not involved with the study, said in a statement. "We'll be able to issue faster and more accurate tsunami warnings - and have a better idea of the true magnitude of M8 plus earthquakes much more rapidly - in some cases even before the earthquake is over." 

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