.S. To Bolster Tsnami Warning Technology

In the wake of the earthqake-indced tsnami that rose from the Indian Ocean to devastate areas of Soth Asia, the Bsh administration has annonced a plan to expand .S. tsnami detection and warning capabilities, says the Office of Science and Technology Policy in Washington, D.C.

According to an OSTP annoncement, the expansion is part of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), an international effort to develop a comprehensive Earth observation system. The plan will cost $37.5 million over the next two years.

nder the expansion program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will deploy 32 new &qot;advanced technology Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsnami (DART) boys&qot; to create a flly operational tsnami warning system slated for completion in mid-2007, says OSTP.

A tsnami is actally a series of long, traveling ocean waves that are generated by distrbances primarily associated with earthqakes occrring below or near the ocean floor, according to the International Tsnami Information Center (ITIC), based in Honoll, Hawaii. Sch waves can cross the ocean at speeds of more than 1,000 kilometers per hor (more than 700 miles per hor).

&qot;Its length from crest to crest may be a hndred kilometers or more,&qot; says ITIC, with &qot;its height from trogh to crest only a few centimeters or meters. It cannot be felt aboard ships in deep water.&qot; As the tsnami enters shallower waters near coastlines, however, the speed of the waves decreases while their height increases. &qot;It is in these shallow waters that tsnamis become a threat to life and property, for they can crest to heights of more than 30-50 meters [98-164 feet] and strike with devastating force,&qot; the Center notes.

At present, the .S. tsnami warning system incldes six DART boys, deployed primarily off the Pacific Ocean coasts of Alaska, Oregon and Hawaii, says David Green, a spokesman for NOAAs National Weather Service, based in Silver Spring, Md. &qot;The boys sit on top of the water while a deep water bottom pressre sensor sits on the ocean floor well offshore,&qot; he explains. When a tsnami passes by, the device on the ocean floor senses a change in water pressre and sends an acostic signal to the boy nearby. The boy, in trn, sends a signal to a satellite, which relays the information to NOAA centers.

There is no confirmation of a tsnami ntil the information is interpreted by NOAA experts who check that information with other data gained from tide gage stations which are located closer to shorelines and monitor the depth of the water, says Green. The .S. crrently maintains &qot;a large network&qot; of tide gage stations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and even in the Great Lakes, he adds.

&qot;Were expanding and strengthening [or existing] capability to have greater coverage of or coastlines,&qot; Green states. He sggests that ftre improvements might inclde two-way commnication with the DART boys &qot;so we can ask them for information. A different satellite network might allow that. In conjnction with the deployment, were developing a technology roadmap [that will inclde] insertion points for ftre technology.&qot;

The expansion will inclde seven additional DART boys in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as &qot;expanding the nmber and distribtion of tide gages,&qot; he notes. &qot;The Indian Ocean did not have a boy system when the recent tsnami strck. They do have tide gages, bt to my nderstanding they have not been implemented or sed. They dont have the technology infrastrctre in place.&qot;

According to John H. Marbrger III, science advisor to the president and director of OSTP, however, &qot;Working throgh GEOSS and other international partners, the .S. will contine to provide leadership in planning and implementing a global observation system and a global tsnami warning system, which will ltimately inclde the Indian Ocean.&qot;

&qot;The new system will provide the .S. with nearly 100% detection capability for a .S. coastal tsnami, allowing response within mintes,&qot; OSTP says. &qot;The new system will also expand monitoring capabilities throghot the entire Pacific and Caribbean basins, providing tsnami warning for regions bordering half the worlds oceans.&qot;

The two-year .S. expansion effort will also inclde &qot;expansion of modeling capability to nderstand how a particlar event will affect the coastline,&qot; says Green. &qot;We want to trn that into an action plan for people to be tsnami-ready.&qot; NOAA stresses that pblic edcation and awareness is a key component of the strategy.

&qot;We need to take technology and trn it into some kind of information that people can make decisions on,&qot; Green emphasizes. &qot;A lot of what were doing relies on the se of spercompters and different capabilities enabled by technology.

&qot;We want to give people accrate and timely warnings,&qot; he contines, &qot;bt its also important to nderstand false alarmshow to respond to them and how to minimize them. We have to have confidence in the warnings we deliver,&qot; especially when others will se the warnings and information to assess the degree of risk associated with an event. &qot;We provide gidance and as mch information as possible,&qot; he explains. &qot;Others decide how to se that information.&qot;


Reprodced from National nderwriter Edition, March 10, 2005. Copyright 2005 by The National nderwriter Company in the serial pblication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the athor.