Improve Tsunami warnings using GPS technology

Tsunami warningMarch 2011 will forever be engraved in the memories of the people in Japan. The country was shaken by an earthquake off its coast that produced giant waves called tsunamis headed for the Japanese coastline. Tsunamis are capable of producing significant losses in life and property and the number of casualties can be unprecedented especially if the waves strike without warning as was the case in the Indonesian Coast.

However, the losses were not so high in Japan on account of gps technology that allowed the Japanese authorities to issue a tsunami warning just a few seconds after the earthquake occurred. Though the earthquake magnitude was not accurately read at first, it was quickly corrected on careful analysis of the system. The authorities had stated that that the earthquakes magnitude was 7.1 but was later revised to a scale of 9.

Various researchers think tsunami warnings can be issued faster and accurately with the use gps or global positioning system. Researchers at NASA and others in a number of universities in the US believe this technology could give ten times more accurate readings than any other tsunami advance warning technology. The system is currently in its testing phase with hundreds of gps receivers that have been placed in various strategic locations on the Pacific.

These receivers placed in the ocean provide real-time data on any seismic activity that is happening in the ocean in a region known as the Cascadian subduction zone. This is a tectonic belt that has the potential of producing high magnitude quakes of more than 9 on the Richter scale. In case of any seismic activity, the sensors transmit the data to the lab in about a tenth of a second.

The speed of data transmission of the gps system allows researchers to locate the epicenter of the earthquake and determine the time it takes for tsunamis to make it to the coastline. The relevant personnel can then issue a tsunami alert way before the waves crash on the coastline.

Though the gps system is highly effective in transmitting data faster about any tectonic activity that might lead to a tsunami, it has its own weaknesses. The system can’t accurately give a reading on the force of an earthquake especially for quakes that are higher on the Richter scale. Quakes that measure a scale from 7 upwards may not be accurately measured by the system. This happens because the stronger earthquakes shake the ocean floor for longer durations. However, this is not a highly consequential problem of the gps technology.

In case of an earthquake like that which happened outside the Japanese coastline, the GPS technonology could have enabled scientists to quickly measure the earthquake’s magnitude and determine if it would have any other aftereffects like a tsunami. In the case of the Japanese event, the scientists underestimated the damage potential of the earthquake and therefore the first warnings did not give a full account of the potential of a tsunami.

The NASA scientists used the Japan scenario as a model and were able to give an accurate assessment of the earthquake’s magnitude as well as its aftereffects in time that is ten times faster than that issued in the Japanese case. If this was a real case of a tsunami alert warning, the faster warnings translate to more lives saved.

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