Tsunami Algorithm Developed To Warn About Future Catastrophes

First Posted: May 26, 2016 05:40 AM EDT

Seismologists have reportedly developed an algorithm that can help give early warnings to coastal cities about incoming tsunamis in the future. The new system recreates the movements of a tsunami to predict its threat level.

According to a report, a team of scientists from the Australian National University created the algorithm after studying plate tectonics in the Japan Trench. Called the Time Reverse Imaging Method, the algorithm uses real time data from ocean sensors and takes the information to recreate how a tsunami looked when it first originated.

At present, the tsunami warning systems depend on area specific situations based on earlier patterns in the region, because seismologists use ocean sensors that detect abnormal movements. However, the experts are unable to make accurate calculations about how much water will hit the coast, or predict how hard the impact will be and the consequent effect. Therefore, if the actual tsunami does not match the predictions or the known scenarios, then it is dangerous for the human population along the coastline and inward, leading to substantial loss of life.  

Lead researcher Jan Dettmer and his team analyzed information gathered by sensors on the floor of the Pacific Ocean to build the algorithm. The data from March 2011's Tohoku-Oki earthquake and tsunami were collected in particular to go back in time mathematically. Subsequently, the researchers calculated what the tsunami looked like when it was born, based on the first wave appearance and initial sea surface displacement.

Once the team had the initial movement of the tsunami, it was added to the sensor data to project what the tsunami would look in the future on hitting land. Dettmer then checked the results of the actual tsunami against his algorithm, to hone it more.  "[The Time Reverse Imaging Method] is not based on some guess, it's based on real-time information," Jan Dettmer said. "This method would improve accuracy without sacrificing speed. Once the earthquake happens, then we have minutes. This is a step forward. This research can be part of the next generation of tsunami warning systems that are based on real time information."

The scientist now plans to test the system on other earthquakes that have occurred in the past, and their consequent effects, to fine tune the algorithm until it is ready to be used. The actual implementation will take place in the next five years or less.

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