A NASA-led research team has successfully demonstrated for the first time elements of a prototype tsunami prediction system that quickly and accurately assesses large earthquakes and estimates the size of resulting tsunamis.
After the magnitude 8.8 Chilean earthquake on Feb. 27, a team led by Y. Tony Song of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., used real-time data from the agency’s Global Differential GPS (GDGPS) network to successfully predict the size of the resulting tsunami. The network, managed by JPL, combines global and regional real-time data from hundreds of GPS sites and estimates their positions every second. It can detect ground motions as small as a few centimeters.
“This successful test demonstrates that coastal GPS systems can effectively be used to predict the size of tsunamis,” said Song. “This could allow responsible agencies to issue better warnings that can save lives and reduce false alarms that can unnecessarily disturb the lives of coastal residents.”
Song’s team concluded that the Chilean earthquake, the fifth largest ever recorded by instruments, would generate a moderate, or local, tsunami unlikely to cause significant destruction in the Pacific. The tsunami’s effect was relatively small outside of Chile.
Song’s GPS-based prediction was later confirmed using sea surface height measurements from the joint NASA/French Space Agency Jason-1 and Jason-2 altimetry satellites. This work was partially carried out by researchers at Ohio State University, Columbus.
“The value of coordinated real-time observations from precision GPS, satellite altimetry and advanced Earth models has been demonstrated,” said John LaBrecque, manager of the Solid Earth and Natural Hazards program in the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
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