Monitoring the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami

Posted on 14 March 2011

The speed at which the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan last Friday, and the devastation they left in their wake was shocking and horrific. Technology and how we use it, without a doubt seems insignificant against such a back-drop, yet it’s worth mentioning there were monitors in place during this horrible event and they played a key role in early warnings for other countries, and for building our body of knowledge ahead of future earthquakes and tsunamis.

Wayne Rash writing in eWeek described the Tsunami monitoring system located throughout the Pacific Rim. He explained that there are two types of monitors, buoys that record tsunami activity as it rolls over them and another set of monitors attached to piers and other coastal structures that Rash explained measures the severity of the Tsunami as it begins to hit shore. He describes it as follows:

Each of these buoys, located mostly around the highly seismically active Pacific Rim (also known as the “Ring of Fire”), reports the signs of a tsunami as it passes. Once this data is gathered and processed at the tsunami-warning centers in Hawaii and elsewhere, it delivers a nearly instantaneous, real-time picture of the speed, direction and severity of a tsunami.

As the waves arrive, they trigger a device called a tide station. These perform a similar function to the DART buoys, but they are attached to piers and other coastal structures, and measure the actual severity of the tsunamis as they arrive from the open ocean.

You can see from this video (which was likely generated using this monitoring equipment) just how much of the Pacific basin was affected:
In the end, the fact that monitoring was in place might have helped in some small way, as the tsunami rushed across the ocean and gave coastal authorities a warning, they might not have otherwise had. While monitors couldn’t stop the waves, they could at least do their job and provide warnings and data to build a higher level of scientific understanding for the future.

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