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31 March 2005

Global Tsunami Warning System Needed, U.S. Agency Says

Steps taken since December 2004 tsunami improve information exchange

Steps taken since the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami allowed for better information exchange between the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and countries under the threat of a potential tsunami after the earthquake off the coast of Sumatra March 28.

But, according to a March 30 NOAA press release, many hours of waiting for confirmation that no tsunami resulted from the quake highlights the need for a more robust tsunami detection system.

"We knew quickly about the earthquake, its approximate magnitude and location, yet it took hours to determine if, in fact, it created a tsunami," said David Johnson, director of the NOAA National Weather Service. "The world needs more observing systems to issue timely, accurate and focused warnings."

The NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, received notification of the 8.7-magnitude quake in northern Sumatra eight minutes after it occurred. The center analyzed the data and issued a tsunami bulletin 11 minutes later.

PTWC alerted the U.S. State Department, which sent messages to U.S. embassies in Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Mauritius.

Within 35 minutes of the quake, NOAA’s National Weather Service notified the consulates of India and Indonesia, which informed emergency management agencies in those and nearby countries.

With no tsunami warning buoys or tide gauges in the Indian Ocean, a tsunami could not be confirmed until observation reports arrived from local authorities or until the time that a tsunami could reach an existing gauge, which took several hours.

The United States, with NOAA as lead agency, is working with 60 countries, the European Union and many nongovernmental agencies to plan and implement the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), which includes a global tsunami warning system.

Information about tsunamis and tsunami warning systems are available at the following Web sites:

NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center: http://www.prh.noaa.gov/ptwc/

Bulletins from the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center: http://www.prh.noaa.gov/ptwc/bulletins.htm

NOAA Earth Observing System: http://www.noaa.gov/eos.html

NOAA tsunami page: http://www.noaa.gov/tsunamis.html

NOAA tsunami research: http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tsunami/

Text of the NOAA press release follows:

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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Press release, March 30, 2005

[Washington, D.C.]

NOAA EMPHASIZES NEED FOR GLOBAL TSUNAMI WARNING SYSTEM

March 30, 2005 — News of a major undersea earthquake in Indonesia resonated across the globe on Monday. Fortunately a destructive tsunami did not follow, unlike the previous strong earthquake that occurred only three months ago. Steps taken since the December 26 disaster allowed for a better exchange of information between NOAA and countries under the threat of a potential tsunami, but many hours of waiting for confirmation highlights the need for a more robust tsunami detection system.

The NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, received notification of the 8.7 quake in northern Sumatra eight minutes after it occurred, analyzed the data to determine location and magnitude, and issued a tsunami bulletin 11 minutes later. PTWC alerted the U.S. State Department, which then sent messages to the U.S. Embassy in Thailand, Myanmar, Jakarta, India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Mauritius.

Also, within 35 minutes of the quake, the Pacific Region Headquarters of the NOAA National Weather Service notified the consulates of India and Indonesia who then informed emergency management in those and surrounding countries.

According to PTWC's initial bulletin, there was no tsunami warning or watch for the Pacific Basin and no tsunami threat to the Pacific coastlines, but given the severity of the quake there was the potential for a widely destructive tsunami to originate from the quake's epicenter.

Those regions were warned of the possibility and urged to take immediate actions.

With buoys and tide gauges currently absent from the Indian Ocean, an actual tsunami could not be confirmed until observation reports were received from local authorities or until a tsunami reached an existing gauge, which took several hours.

Sea level readings from several of these gauges, far from the epicenter and received more than two hours after the earthquake, indicated a non-destructive tsunami was generated. A 10 cm wave was recorded at Cocos Island, followed by a 23 cm wave 20 minutes later.

"Here we go again. We knew quickly about the earthquake, its approximate magnitude and location, yet it took hours to determine if, in fact, it created a tsunami," said Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), director of the NOAA National Weather Service. "The world needs more observing systems to issue timely, accurate and focused warnings."

"We believe that with a worldwide tsunami detection and warning system in place—one that includes Deep-ocean Assessment and Recording of Tsunami, or DART, buoys along major known subduction zones—the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center could have had a deep ocean measurement for this event in one hour, and based on that data, the warning message would probably had been canceled," Johnson said.

The United States, with NOAA as lead agency, is currently working with approximately 60 countries, the European Union and many non-governmental agencies in planning and implementing GEOSS, the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, that includes a global tsunami warning system.

"The Global Earth Observation System of Systems would certainly help us understand what is happening in our environment and assist in developing recommended actions to hazards like tsunamis in a more timely, accurate and focused manner," Johnson added.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web Sites

NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center  http://www.prh.noaa.gov/ptwc/

Bulletins from the NOAA Pacific Tsunami Warning Center  http://www.prh.noaa.gov/ptwc/bulletins.htm

NOAA Earth Observing System  http://www.noaa.gov/eos.html

NOAA Tsunamis Page  http://www.noaa.gov/tsunamis.html

NOAA Tsunami Research  http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tsunami/

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