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Monday, 4 July 2011

Warnings and predictions

Warnings and predictions

Tsunami warning sign
One of the deep water buoys used in the DART tsunami warning system
Drawbacks can serve as a brief warning. People who observe drawback (many survivors report an accompanying sucking sound), can survive only if they immediately run for high ground or seek the upper floors of nearby buildings. In 2004, ten-year old Tilly Smith of Surrey, England, was on Maikhao beach in Phuket, Thailand with her parents and sister, and having learned about tsunamis recently in school, told her family that a tsunami might be imminent. Her parents warned others minutes before the wave arrived, saving dozens of lives. She credited her geography teacher, Andrew Kearney.
In the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami drawback was not reported on the African coast or any other eastern coasts it reached. This was because the wave moved downwards on the eastern side of the fault line and upwards on the western side. The western pulse hit coastal Africa and other western areas.
A tsunami cannot be precisely predicted, even if the magnitude and location of an earthquake is known. Geologists, oceanographers, and seismologists analyse each earthquake and based on many factors may or may not issue a tsunami warning. However, there are some warning signs of an impending tsunami, and automated systems can provide warnings immediately after an earthquake in time to save lives. One of the most successful systems uses bottom pressure sensors that are attached to buoys. The sensors constantly monitor the pressure of the overlying water column. This is deduced through the calculation:
\,\! P = \rho gh
P = the overlying pressure in newtons per metre square,
ρ = the density of the seawater= 1.1 x 103 kg/m3,
g = the acceleration due to gravity= 9.8 m/s2 and
h = the height of the water column in metres.
Hence for a water column of 5,000 m depth the overlying pressure is equal to
\,\! P = \rho gh=\left(1.1 \times 10^3 \ \frac{\mathrm{kg}}{\mathrm{m}^3}\right)\left(9.8 \ \frac{\mathrm{m}}{\mathrm{s}^2}\right)\left(5.0 \times 10^3 \ \mathrm{m}\right)=5.4 \times 10^7 \ \frac{\mathrm{N}}{\mathrm{m}^2}=54 \ \mathrm{MPa}
or about 5500 tonnes-force per square metre.
Regions with a high tsunami risk typically use tsunami warning systems to warn the population before the wave reaches land. On the west coast of the United States, which is prone to Pacific Ocean tsunami, warning signs indicate evacuation routes. In Japan, the community is well-educated about earthquakes and tsunamis, and along the Japanese shorelines the tsunami warning signs are reminders of the natural hazards together with a network of warning sirens, typically at the top of the cliff of surroundings hills.[27]
The Pacific Tsunami Warning System is based in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. It monitors Pacific Ocean seismic activity. A sufficiently large earthquake magnitude and other information triggers a tsunami warning. While the subduction zones around the Pacific are seismically active, not all earthquakes generate tsunami. Computers assist in analysing the tsunami risk of every earthquake that occurs in the Pacific Ocean and the adjoining land masses.
Photo of seawall with building in background
A seawall at Tsu, Japan
Photo of evacuation sign
Tsunami Evacuation Route signage along U.S. Route 101, in Washington
As a direct result of the Indian Ocean tsunami, a re-appraisal of the tsunami threat for all coastal areas is being undertaken by national governments and the United Nations Disaster Mitigation Committee. A tsunami warning system is being installed in the Indian Ocean.
Computer models can predict tsunami arrival, usually within minutes of the arrival time. Bottom pressure sensors relay information in real time. Based on these pressure readings and other seismic information and the seafloor's shape (bathymetry) and coastal topography, the models estimate the amplitude and surge height of the approaching tsunami. All Pacific Rim countries collaborate in the Tsunami Warning System and most regularly practice evacuation and other procedures. In Japan, such preparation is mandatory for government, local authorities, emergency services and the population.
Some zoologists hypothesise that some animal species have an ability to sense subsonic Rayleigh waves from an earthquake or a tsunami. If correct, monitoring their behavior could provide advance warning of earthquakes, tsunami etc. However, the evidence is controversial and is not widely accepted. There are unsubstantiated claims about the Lisbon quake that some animals escaped to higher ground, while many other animals in the same areas drowned. The phenomenon was also noted by media sources in Sri Lanka in the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.[28][29] It is possible that certain animals (e.g., elephants) may have heard the sounds of the tsunami as it approached the coast. The elephants' reaction was to move away from the approaching noise. By contrast, some humans went to the shore to investigate and many drowned as a result.
  • Along the United States west coast, in addition to sirens, warnings are sent on television & radio via the National Weather Service

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