Japanese tsunami reveals new capability for tsunami warning network

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by GLENN FARLEY / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @GlennFarley

KING5.com

Posted on March 8, 2012 at 8:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 8 at 8:00 PM

SEATTLE -- A network of buoys scattered along the Pacific Rim designed to measure earthquakes and potential tsunamis is more valuable to coastlines than previously thought, according to one scientist.

In the 1990s, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration set out on a mission: to develop a buoy network around the Pacific Ocean that would warn people just how big a tsunami might be as it's heading their way.

Those buoys, known as DART buoys, are now a reality. Most of them are within a few hundred miles of the coast line.

A tsunami wave can hit the coastline in as little as 20 minutes of an earthquake. And because of that tight time frame, scientists never thought there was much use for the buoys on their own respective shorelines. The concept is that the buoys off the coast of Japan would warn the U.S. of a traveling tsunami, and U.S. buoys would warm Japan and other countries in Asia of one headed their way.

According to Vasily Titov, a scientist with NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, tsunami data recorded by buoys off the coast of Japan would have been valuable to the Japanese as well.

He says computer models developed from the buoy data could have accurately forecasted the degree to which the tsunami waves would race inland, and when those waves would arrive.

Now his agency is developing that ability into a new forecasting model that could help emergency managers better know just how much damage a local community like Hoquiam and Aberdeen miles away from the coast could face, and whether people will have homes to come back to once the evacuation is over.

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