Hawaii is always at risk of a damaging or deadly tsunami. The earlier these destructive waves can be detected, the more warning people would have to get to safety. That is why researchers are working on new technology to detect tsunami quicker.
A tsunami’s destructive power can be easily seen once the powerful waves reach shore, but they can be hard to spot in the open ocean. When a large earthquake happens, seismic sensors can measure the magnitude and pinpoint the location, but not all powerful earthquakes generate tsunami.
“We won’t know if a tsunami is generated and what is the nature of that tsunami until we get coastal readings or data from ocean bottom pressure sensors,” said Stuart Weinstein, the Deputy Director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
There is a network of about 60 special buoys in the ocean that take reading of tsunami waves, but most are near coastlines and may not pick up a tsunami until it gets close.
“Our initial assessment of the earthquake gives us a good idea if a tsunami has been generated, but we want to understand: how big is it and will it be destructive as it moves across the ocean?” asked Weinstein.
While there are a limited amount of buoys that can sense a tsunami, there is work to tap into the undersea cables crisscrossing the oceans. The goal to put sensors every 70 kilometers along those cables.
“The first three sensors we would add are temperature, pressure and seismic acceleration – which detects earthquakes, while the pressure sensor detects tsunami waves and other things,” said Bruce Howe, a research professor with the University of Hawaii.
This SMART system would not only give more warning if a destructive tsunami was generated, but would give scientists more data on these elusive forces of nature.
“You can see the wave in its entirety, and that lets you predict the details better for when a tsunami strikes land,” added Howe.
He is one of the researchers working on a project to install the smart cables off Portugal by the year 2026.
When it comes to tsunami detection, more sensors deep at the bottom of the ocean may not be the only way to spot them. Scientists may also start searching for them by looking up.
That is because these destructive ocean waves also disrupt the atmosphere.
“When you affect the ionosphere, you affect the speed of transmissions of satellites and GPS. Those can be sensed. We can use that information of the wave moving through the ionosphere to tell us what is going on in the oceans,” stated Weinstein.
All of this additional information could give coastal communities more time to get out safely before disaster strikes.
“It will help saves lives. The more accurate we can make a forecast the better off. That way we can identify which coastlines will have a hazardous impact,” added Weinstein.