UTS Science: Tsunami warning systems

Facilitator: So, [Marianne], I understand
that you’re studying tsunami warning systems. Tell me about that.
Marianne: Well, we did write a paper as a class in 2009 led by our lecturer, Dr Layna
Groen. The objective of our research was to maximise the warning potential in some of
the coastal regions in the Mediterranean region. We were very inspired by the fact that there
is currently no tsunami warning system in place, so it did give the project a sense
of importance. Facilitator: We’ve all seen that tsunamis
can really be devastating. Can you tell me a little bit more about how they form?
Marianne: A tsunami forms as a series of water waves and this is caused by a large displacement
in the body of the water. Common causes of this can be things such as underwater volcanoes,
earthquakes and landslides. So as the large water waves get closer and closer to a shoreline,
the speed and the height of the wave keep getting larger and larger, so you can only
imagine how devastating the effects can be if a proper tsunami warning system wasn’t
in place. Facilitator: So, specifically, what did your
research involve? Marianne: It involved looking at current data
in the Mediterranean, analysing that data and the outcome being if we needed to add
any more warning buoys in the Mediterranean in order to give an effective warning to the
population. Facilitator: How do you study them? I mean,
surely you’re not out there on a surfboard? Marianne: I wish we were, but the way we did
it, we had to calculate a warning potential value and that’s how many people are effectively
warned. The way we did that, we had to calculate three times. The times were the time taken
for a tsunami to travel from its generation point to the population centre and the time
taken for it to travel from its generation point to the detector and then the time taken
for the detector to transmit this data to a warning centre and for the population to
react. Facilitator: So am I right in thinking that
specifically what you’re doing is using statistics to predict tsunamis?
Marianne: That’s right. We used a lot of statistics and mathematics in our model, and the model
we used to calculate the warning potential had a lot of mathematical formulas in it.
So it is very reassuring in a way to have a calculation predict whether or not we would
put a certain buoy in a specific location. I, myself, didn’t realise how versatile mathematics
and statistics could be. It is spread across various disciplines and to use it so applied
in this research was quite amazing to see the outcome.
Facilitator: What did you discover? Marianne: It did take a whole six months to
finish the project from collecting the data, analysing the methods and just bringing everything
together, creating our model. In the end we did find that, if we placed a few tsunami
warning buoys and sea level monitoring stations in different locations around the Mediterranean,
it did end up that we’d get a pretty good outcome on the warning potential. So effectively,
we can be saving lives, which is a great feeling. We had our paper published in an international
journal, which felt amazing for all of us and as undergraduate students we definitely
don’t expect to get a publication from our degree but that was definitely a very big
upside to the project.

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