Tsunami science: 10 years since Sumatra 2004


December 26, 2004. What began as an undersea earthquake in the
Indian Ocean ended as the most deadly tsunami in recorded
history, with nearly 240,000 lives lost. This was a devastating wake-up call to coastal
communities and tsunami research. Prior to this event, only six of NOAA’s Deep-ocean
Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami or (DART) buoys were in place. Scientists could only predict tsunami arrival
times, not flood potential. And there was not a global tsunami warning
system. Today, ten years later, we can tell a different
story. U.S. and international coastlines are far
better prepared for such a catastrophe, thanks in large part to research and technology
developed at the NOAA Center for Tsunami Research at Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. NOAA’s DART array is now complete, with 39 buoys operated by the National Weather
Service’s National Data Buoy Center. Along with 21 international buoys, this array
can measure a tsunami wave as small as 1 centimeter in the open ocean and provide these data in real-time to forecast
when a tsunami may hit the coast and how much flooding there will be. NOAA scientists and engineers are currently
testing the fourth-generation DART buoy that will be able to measure local tsunamis as
well as distant ones. Flooding forecast models incorporate local
topography and historical tsunami data in order to more accurately predict exactly how
a tsunami might behave when it reaches shore. NOAA has 75 site-specific models that can
provide high-resolution flooding forecasts for effective response and mitigation during
a tsunami event. NOAA has gathered data from every tsunami
since 2004 to improve its forecast models. Today, it operates the world’s only real-time
tsunami flooding forecast system, using DART data to accurately compute flooding forecasts. The NOAA Tsunami Warning Centers makes tsunami
data available on the internet, and issue advisories, watches and warnings through the
Emergency Alert System and via NOAA Weather Radios. While it is impossible to prevent a tsunami,
we are now much better prepared to detect them and predict their paths and impacts, so those in coastal communities can take the
steps necessary to safely protect themselves.

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