National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2024

50 years of PMEL tsunami research and development

Bernard, E., C. Meinig, V.V. Titov, and Y. Wei

Oceanography, 36(2–3), 175–185, doi: 10.5670/oceanog.2023.208, View open access article online at Oceanography (external link) (2023)

This article chronicles the 50-year history of tsunami research and development at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), beginning with the merger in 1973 of the Joint Tsunami Research Effort and PMEL. It traces the development of instrumentation and modeling that brought a better understanding of tsunamis and improved warning systems. The advantage of having observational engineering and flooding modeling under one roof are highlighted. Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami (DART) research and development led to technology transfer to NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) that now operates and maintains 39 buoys and serves as real-time data distributor for other nations. This technology was also patented and licensed by PMEL to meet the needs of the international community. DART licensee Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) has manufactured over 60 buoys for eight different countries. DART data are essential for accurate tsunami warnings, so the global society benefits by receiving lifesaving information before the arrival of a tsunami.

PMEL’s tsunami flooding modeling research led to technology transfer to NOAA’s tsunami warning centers, the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, and international tsunami preparedness communities. Short-term flooding modeling research was initiated at PMEL to improve NOAA tsunami warning operations to better serve US coastal communities. The same validated modeling technology was then applied to produce hazard maps for coastal communities in the United States and internationally through the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC). Tsunami hazard maps are an essential first step in preparing a community for the next tsunami. Using these maps and other preparedness criteria, a community can become “Tsunami Ready” for the next event. Tsunami Ready has been adopted by the IOC as the global standard for preparedness of at-risk communities with total populations exceeding 890 million people.

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