How a Tsunami early warning system works

Hokusai's The Great Wave

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Tsunamis are probably one of the most powerful and destructive forces of nature. Being by-products of underwater earthquakes, these gigantic waves can decimate an entire coastline, causing untold devastation – not only to buildings and houses but to human life also.

They are caused when a powerful earthquake occurs underwater. The seabed moves causing a large shift in the water. In an attempt to fill the gap in the seabed, the water flows in or is pushed out and a shallow but extremely deep wave is created which radiates outwards from the epicenter. Much like dropping a pebble into water, waves travel outwards from where the pebble hit and dispersed the water.

This wave then grows and as the seabed rises approaching coastlines the tsunami wave grows in height and slows down in speed creating a wall of water which hits the coastlines with tremendous force and can flow far inland.


how tsunamis are caused

how tsunamis work

Due to the sheer power that tsunamis possess there is currently no way of preventing or limiting it’s damage potential. This is not a natural force that can be weathered and waited out like hurricane until it moves on. The only way is to leave the danger areas as quickly as possible. For that to happen you need a tsunami early warning system!

Luckily thanks to technology this exists, enabling warnings to be sent and give more time to allow people to get out of the path of the tsunami.

Without these systems and other technologies such as earthquake and hurricane resistant buildings have helped to limit this loss -especially with recent natural disasters such as in the earthquake in Haiti 2010, and today’s earthquake and tsunami that is devastating Japan and threatens other countries such as Russia, Philipines, Australia, and even as far as west coast USA and Hawaii.

Hi-tech buoys are used to get the warnings out. Pressure sensors are placed on the seabed in tsunami likely regions. These send signals to buoys that can themselves detect when they are suddenly pushed upwards by a large wave or sucked down by the shifting of the sea-bed. It sends this information via satellite to early-warning stations that analyze the data. Here they can calculate a short time after the earthquake occurred, the path and strength of the oncoming tsunami, warning the areas in danger.

tsunami early warning

Technology like this is vital in preserving life, especially in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and hurricanes are common place. The above system and others like it give as much warning to people as possible in order to prevent the loss of human life.

If you are affected by the pacific ring of fire or are concerned about friends and relatives who may be in those regions, you can check these sites out for more information:

Google’s Person finder for the 2011 Japan earthquake

The Pacific Tsunami warning center

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