National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2019

Ocean observations required to minimize uncertainty in global tsunami forecasts, warnings, and emergency response

Angove, M., D. Arcas, R. Bailey, P. Carrasco, D. Coetzee, B. Fry, K. Gledhill, S. Harada, C. von Hillebrandt-Andrade, L. Kong, C. McCreery, S.-J. McCurrach, Y. Miao, A.E. Sakya, and F. Schindelé

Front. Mar. Sci., 6, 350, Oceanobs19: An Ocean of Opportunity, doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00350, View online (2019)

It is possible that no catastrophe has mobilized the global ocean science and coastal emergency management communities more than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Though the Pacific tsunami threat was recognized, and a warning system had been in place since 1965, there was no warning system in the Indian Ocean, and almost 230,000 people perished. More broadly, the event highlighted critical gaps in global tsunami science and observation systems. In 2004, real-time coastal and deep-ocean observation systems were almost non-existent. Tsunami sources were inferred based on rough seismic parameters. Since then, tremendous strides have been made under the auspices of IOC/UNESCO toward better understanding tsunami mechanisms, deploying advanced real-time tsunami observation systems, and establishing tsunami warning and mitigation systems for the four main ocean basins at risk from tsunamis. Nevertheless, significant detection, measurement, and forecast uncertainties remain to meet emergency response and community needs. A new generation of ocean sensing capabilities presents an opportunity to address several of these uncertainties. Ocean bottom pressures can be measured over dense, multisensor grids linking stand-alone buoy systems with emerging capabilities like fiber-optic cables. The increasing number of coastal sea-level stations provides the higher time and space resolution needed to better verify forecasts and account for local variability. In addition, GNSS sensors may be able to provide solid-earth data needed to define seismic tsunami sources more precisely in the short timescales required. When combined with advances in seismology, other emerging techniques, and state-of-the-art modeling and computational resources, these capabilities will enable more timely and accurate tsunami detection, measurement, and forecasts. Because of these advances in detection and measurement, the opportunity exists to greatly reduce and/or quantify uncertainties associated with forecasting tsunamis. Providing more timely and accurate information related to tsunami location, arrival time, height, inundation, and duration would improve public trust and confidence and fundamentally alter tsunami emergency response. Additionally, this capability could be integrated with related fields (e.g., storm surge, sea-level rise, tide predictions, and ocean forecasting) to develop and deploy one continuous, real-time, accurate depiction of the always moving boundary that separates ocean from coast and, sometimes, life from death.

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