Thursday, July 06, 2006

Tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean region

Nature reports:

The state-of-the-art system, set up and coordinated by the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), consists of a seismic network, a set of buoys deployed throughout the Indian Ocean, and several deep-ocean pressure centres that measure the power and propagation of waves.

All data are transmitted in real time to the existing tsunami warning centres in Japan and Hawaii, which have traditionally focussed on the Pacific. If a potentially tsunami-generating quake occurs in the Indian Ocean, these centres will issue a warning to the authorities in 24 countries around the Indian Ocean. Four countries, Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are not yet linked into the system. ...

But these countries still need to find the best way to get the information out to the people. If a tsunami were to strike tonight, millions living near beaches around the Indian Ocean would still not be alerted in time, says UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams.

"It is the last and crucial mile which is still missing," she says. "Some countries, such as Australia, India and Malaysia, are more active than others. But we are not sure how many do actually have the capacity of warning people before a tsunami hits the beach." Coastal populations could be warned by sirens, for example.