National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2017

Consistent estimates of tsunami energy show promise for improved early warning

Titov, V., Y.T. Song, L. Tang, E.N. Bernard, Y. Bar-Sever, and Y. Wei

Pure Appl. Geophys., 173(12), 3863–3880, doi: 10.1007/s00024-016-1312-1 (2016)

Early tsunami warning critically hinges on rapid determination of the tsunami hazard potential in real-time, before waves inundate critical coastlines. Tsunami energy can quickly characterize the destructive potential of generated waves. Traditional seismic analysis is inadequate to accurately predict a tsunami’s energy. Recently, two independent approaches have been proposed to determine tsunami source energy: one inverted from the Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) data during the tsunami propagation, and the other derived from the land-based coastal global positioning system (GPS) during tsunami generation. Here, we focus on assessing these two approaches with data from the March 11, 2011 Japanese tsunami. While the GPS approach takes into consideration the dynamic earthquake process, the DART inversion approach provides the actual tsunami energy estimation of the propagating tsunami waves; both approaches lead to consistent energy scales for previously studied tsunamis. Encouraged by these promising results, we examined a real-time approach to determine tsunami source energy by combining these two methods: first, determine the tsunami source from the globally expanding GPS network immediately after an earthquake for near-field early warnings; and then to refine the tsunami energy estimate from nearby DART measurements for improving forecast accuracy and early cancelations. The combination of these two real-time networks may offer an appealing opportunity for: early determination of the tsunami threat for the purpose of saving more lives, and early cancelation of tsunami warnings to avoid unnecessary false alarms.

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