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Tsunami Warnings Now Faster, More Accurate 135

Posted by timothy
from the being-rich-is-the-best-defense dept.
CWmike writes "As the deadly tsunami generated by Friday's massive earthquake off the coast of Japan headed toward the United States, scientists at NOAA's Center for Tsunami Research tracked its progress in real-time. Dozens of deep-ocean tsunami-monitoring sensors more than three miles beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean picked up information on the silent swell of water and transmitted it by way of a satellite to the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash. Here, scientists crunched the data and quickly developed real-time predictions about how and when the tsunami would reach select locations in Hawaii, Alaska and the US west coast. The models predicted the wave arrival time, estimated wave height and the likely extent of inundation for about 50 communities likely to be affected."
Another piece of useful infrastructure: reader JustABlitheringIdiot writes "Google has launched a version of its Person Finder service for people caught up in the Japanese earthquake. The website acts as a directory and message board so people can look for lost loved ones or post a note saying they are safe."
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Tsunami Warnings Now Faster, More Accurate

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  • And? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cowboy76Spain (815442)

    Until we get the data to compare the model predictions with the real results, all that we know is that we have some model calculated fast... Just let it be a few more days (or hours) and then we can talk about something.

    • Until we get the data to compare the model predictions with the real results, all that we know is that we have some model calculated fast... Just let it be a few more days (or hours) and then we can talk about something.

      Umm... the tsunami hit California approximately 9 hours ago. How much longer do you think we should wait to see when the tsunami will hit California?

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        OK, it's now over 24 hours after the tsunami reached California. Please post the precise wave arrival time, actual wave height and the measured extent of inundation for about 50 communities predicted likely to be affected. Please use only data that were available to the public at 20110311-2010/Eastern.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      No, the models don't have to be that accurate. The sensors and a rough model are the main thing - *immediately* knowing there will be an event and roughly where, so people can be warned. Was that helpful today? Yes! [govtech.com]

      This wealth of data allowed scientists to estimate the intensity, wave height and projected time of landfall for the tsunami that struck Japan and then came ashore on the rest of the Pacific Rim. This lead time gave local authorities around the world the ability to close beaches and evacuate l

    • I'll give you an example. The model predicted a wave amplitude of 2.5 meters for Crescent City, CA. The observed amplitude was 2.47 meters. I'd say that's pretty good. Source: California Office of Emergency Services. It went around as an email today, but perhaps it's available on their website by now.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      Cart before the horse.... so what, we can detect and make some guesses about Tsunami propagating.

      This is like saying we can predict the propagation of radiation fallout.

      What about the 500 pound gorilla in the room? Earthquakes?

      A lot of good Tsunami modelling did for the folks living near the coast of Japan

      • by khallow (566160)

        Cart before the horse.... so what, we can detect and make some guesses about Tsunami propagating.

        A useful thing.

        This is like saying we can predict the propagation of radiation fallout.

        Another useful thing.

        What about the 500 pound gorilla in the room? Earthquakes?

        What about it? Are you really claiming that we should completely ignore the more predictable dangers of earthquakes simply because we can't predict earthquakes. Should we then drop earthquake-resistant building codes? Disaster preparedness?

        The 500 pound gorilla isn't our inability to predict when an earthquake will occur. Even if we could predict to the hour when it happens, we still have various dangers to people and property. It's our ability to endure large earthqua

  • by countertrolling (1585477) on Friday March 11, 2011 @07:55PM (#35459492) Journal

    A private service will charge a pretty penny for those warnings...

    • by wampus (1932) on Friday March 11, 2011 @07:58PM (#35459538)

      I'm sure they will if trends continue the way they have been. No more socialized oceanography! No more Marxist weather!

    • Opps, sorry... <Linky> [slashdot.org]

    • by magarity (164372)

      A private service will charge a pretty penny for those warnings...

      If only one person per oceanfront block subscribes to the fee service then whenever he comes running out of his house headed towards the hills the neighbors will know a wave is coming.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        Which is why there was no such warning system until the 2004 tsunami made it painfully clear it was well worth a public investment.
        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center which covers the Pacific Ocean was established in 1949. The 2004 quake you refer to was in the Indian Ocean which wasn't covered at the time. Since then the PTWC has extended its coverage to the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean Sea until suitable centers can be organized there.

          The models the PTWC uses are quite accurate, especially as to time frames, and so are very useful in sending out timely warnings. But if you're close enough to feel the quake you shouldn't expect to

        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center which covers the Pacific Ocean was established in 1949. The 2004 quake you refer to was in the Indian Ocean which wasn't covered at the time. Since then the PTWC has extended its coverage to the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean Sea until suitable centers can be organized there.

          The models the PTWC uses are quite accurate and so are very useful in sending out timely warnings. But if you're close enough to feel the quake you shouldn't expect to get a warning. You should jus

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Don't count on NOAA for too much longer. Just wait, in the eyes* of the US house majority leader, NOAA (1) is inefficient and wasteful by virtue of being the government and (2) has dirty hands from climate research. Notice I didn't say climate change, just merely collecting day to day climate related data points is evil. This is the same crowd that thinks pretending that teenagers don't have sex will cause teenagers to stop having sex.

      * For the sake of simplicity I'm assuming that the politician(s) in quest

      • by antifoidulus (807088) on Friday March 11, 2011 @10:19PM (#35460512) Homepage Journal
        Also that they employ people in blue districts. Don't think for a second that Republican cutbacks are anything more than punishing their political enemies. If they obviously cared about the deficit then Boehner would have argued against the F-35 engine program. But he didn't because it provided jobs in HIS district and made his political supporters rich. He doesn't care about the deficit any more than Bush or Reagan did, he is just out to silence those who dare oppose him.
      • Well, telling someone something enough times can actually get them to believe it, otherwise no one would think Obama is Kenyan. Repeat something too much, and you begin to believe it yourself. Anyways, he, or one of his "friends" probably has a private company ready to take over as soon as the NOAA funding is cut. They'll only charge two to twelve times the original price- what a steal!
    • That must be why Congress voted to cut funding for earthquake monitoring and tsunami alerts just this week. Nevermind the fact that an event even larger than the one is Japan is possible along the Cascadia Subduction Zone. This region stretches from Northern California to British Columbian. A magnitude 9 event here won't give the US coast the 6 - 9 hours we had this time. It will be more like minutes.

      As ever it seems the Republicans are penny-wise and pound foolish.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        You know, praying is a lot less expensive, and if God lets it happen no amount of money and monitoring is going to make a difference.

        The fact that so many Americans believe that bullshit is why we're going to ultimately cut funding to it and continue to do little to nothing about climate change.

        • They believe that God will make another world, more perfect that this if they pray loud and long enough. As a mexican, is in times like this when I can honestly say thank you to the american tax payer and take my hat off to the US scientists. This is a far better investment of tax dollars than new boomers.

    • So do government-run services. The cost is just spread out over the entire tax-base. You do realise the money the government spends comes out of your pocket, right?

      • You mean by cooperating and sharing the burden equally we can all have access to a service we all need and use? This sounds brilliant where do I sign up?

        • Not saying it's a bad thing. People just have a habit of thinking that if "the government" pays for it, it's free. If people felt more like the source of government funds was their own pocket, maybe we'd have more responsible government spending.

  • by jfengel (409917) on Friday March 11, 2011 @07:56PM (#35459512) Homepage Journal

    Fortunately, we decided that we could do without fripperies like the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20042264-503544.html [cbsnews.com]

    saving $126 million, fully .01% of this year's deficit. Now all we need to do is find 10,000 other equally useful programs to cut.

    • by gangien (151940)

      You know, there's a concept you may find interesting, that you really can't spend more than you can afford, no matter how much you want something...

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 11, 2011 @08:36PM (#35459876)

        You know, there are a lot of interesting concepts, such as return on investment, public benefit, and signal to noise.

        As far as the debt is concerned, tsunami warning expenditure is noise. As far as return on investment for public benefit, it's pretty damn huge.

        Now if you're looking for "signal" on the debt, there are much better candidates:

        1. Artificially inflated drug prices which are in turn provided as untaxed income, based on age.

        2. The tax cut extension, and lower top marginal tax rates in general.

        3. War. And I didn't start out making it no. 3 on purpose; but consider the utter disaster of a 3rd middle east war that some buffoons would actually like to see us get into, or WW3. Use your imagination. Some sources say it's only 5%; but I have a hard time believing that.

        4. Badly fought wars on nouns, like "drugs" and "terrorism". What's our dope smoking granny-groping budget? I dunno; but I'm pretty sure it's a lot more than tsunami warning, and way too high. Let's throw a good chunk of our prison budget in with this, and more lost tax revenue...

        5. Subsidies. Yes, I'm not just goring the Republican oxen here. The government has no business subsidizing education (department of ed, which Reagan wanted to get rid of) or housing. Agricultural is about the only one that makes sense, because you don't want to run the risk of having the free market decide that underproducing food is a good thing.

        • by Doc Ruby (173196)

          The government has no business subsidizing education

          The public has no business ensuring every child has the minimum education paid for? Why not? Why is "the free market" (whatever that is) qualified to decide that undereducating (some) children is a good thing?

      • by geekoid (135745)

        That doesn't mean you need to be stupid about what you cut.

        Since we are one of the leasts taxed countries in the industrialized world, may we could raise taxes to pay for stuff we want and need? How about we appropriately tax where the majority of the wealth is?

        There are better solution then making cuts they will turn us into a third world nation.

        You're simpleton views would be laughable if other people with the same views weren't using them to destroy this country.

        • by gangien (151940)

          OK you call me views simple.. and they are, because they are based in simple facts. You cannot spend more than you make(without bad consequences). whether an individual or a government.

      • Agreed. However, if you were to boost revenue by doing something crazy--you know, like raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year---you could actually afford these things.

        I know, I know. We have to "starve the beast."

      • by H0p313ss (811249) on Friday March 11, 2011 @08:46PM (#35459954)

        You know, there's a concept you may find interesting, that you really can't spend more than you can afford, no matter how much you want something...

        You might try explaining that to the defense department. How many NOAA or NASA programs could be funded just by cutting back defense spending by 10%?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          How many NOAA or NASA programs could be funded just by cutting back defense spending by 10%?

          All of them.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            How many NOAA or NASA programs could be funded just by cutting back defense spending by 10%?

            All of them.

            Several times over, even.

        • by gangien (151940)

          i'm fine with cutting just about anything personally, but everything you would cut, would get a response similiar to the gp. 'you can't cut x, it's too valuable or too important or it's morally wrong'. At the end of the day, if we can't afford it, we can't afford it, it's really irrelevant how badly it is or isn't needed.

          • by Doc Ruby (173196)

            So? Most of those responses are wrong. Most of them are simply paid for by the subsidized party, like the banks, the energy corps, the drug corps, the military corps, the telcos... AKA the US Chamber of Commerce. Who cares what responses you get that are wrong?

      • by raaum (152451)

        The current budget debates like to talk about "the American family's" budget.

        So, we have a family whose budget is horribly over income. They have:
        - a huge house with an correspondingly large mortgage (military)
        - 3 fancy cars with correspondingly high monthly payments (social security and medicare/caid)
        - and they like to eat out once a week (other discretionary spending)

        The Republican response is to cut the dinner down from a fine dining establishment to fast food.

        Ok. So this is going to make a tiny differen

      • by SeaFox (739806)

        That doesn't apply to governments, especially ours. The National Debt is the U.S. spending more than they can afford for decades now.

        Neither party can be held as the scapegoat for a problem that has been running so long, only the system itself can be responsible.

        • by gangien (151940)

          that's only true because foreign governments are stupid enough to buy our debt. At some point they will not(when they realize we have to print the money to pay), and we will be in a world of shit.

      • by glodime (1015179)

        You know, there's a concept you may find interesting, that you really can't spend more than you can afford, no matter how much you want something...

        The USA hasn't run up against that limitation yet. But it is planing on doing so in about 25 to 30 years to avoid "death panels".

      • by paiute (550198)

        You know, there's a concept you may find interesting, that you really can't spend more than you can afford, no matter how much you want something...

        Farkin' A! That's why I dropped my homeowners, my car, and my life insurance. Waste and fat trimmed from my budget.

        • Next time, just say you solved all your budget worries by cutting food out.

          It works, absolutely 100% guaranteed.

          Now if only we could get republicans to follow what they preach, then the world would be a better place in, what... about 1-3 weeks?

        • by gangien (151940)

          a better analogy would be to say you've got 5 cars and now your monthly payments are 2x what you make in a month. Boo hoo if you have to cut your spending.

      • by QuoteMstr (55051)

        We just gave an $800 billion tax breaks to millionaires, and even before that, our tax rates were some of the lowest in the industrialized world. We can certainly afford these programs. We merely need to decide what's more important: millions for a few, or safety, comfort, and happiness for millions. Personally, I'm on the side of humanity.

        • As I've seen written 100's of time in sarcasm "think of the children" seems to apply here. And with all the observations out there that the US is losing its status in the "#1's in the world" like education and life expectancy, moving the US up from one of the lowest tax rates to a higher tax rate is totally acceptable? And we didn't just "give" an $800 billion tax break to the rich, we extended this law. To all the people out there that want to tax "other people" I say give till it hurts first. Voluntar
      • Unless the money goes towards helping your rich friends ship jobs overseas and kill them furiners in order to take their resources, right?
        • by gangien (151940)

          of course. it would be impossible for anyone to advocate what i advocate, without want the rich to rape the poor.

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        OK, Republican, I want to see your letter to your congressmember pointing out that we can't afford a $TRILLION+ every year spent on war + "intelligence", so it must be cut back to at most $250B a year.

        Then we can afford to protect ourselves from earthquakes and tsunamis.

        Where's your letter already?

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      The headline is even more misleading than that. It makes it sound like this is something new, but this has been a capability that has existed for many years - in the Pacific ocean only.

      The Indian Ocean tsunami a few years ago illustrated that the same coverage doesn't exist elsewhere.

      Perhaps a coalition of nations in that region should offer to pay the US to extend its network, or create one of their own?

    • by 517714 (762276)
      Gee that's not biased at all, we have a GOP budget now, not a national budget. I challenge anyone to find a single mention of this subject prior to today. It is not news, it is revisionist propaganda. The Republicans use the same reprehensible tactics.
    • by malakai (136531)

      Fortunately, we decided that we could do without fripperies like the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center:

      http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20042264-503544.html [cbsnews.com]

      saving $126 million, fully .01% of this year's deficit. Now all we need to do is find 10,000 other equally useful programs to cut.

      From the article you cite:

      The budget, which proposed about $60 billion in budget cuts, would slash funding for the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That would potentially cripple the effectiveness of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, which issued a series of warnings over the past several days regarding the situation in Japan, where an 8.9 magnitude earthquake triggered a massive tsunami along the nation's east coast.

      For PTWC to be killed

      • by jfengel (409917)

        And you didn't even try to google the $126 million figure I gave? Nothing? Not even an instant's query as to why I might have said this? No curiosity whatsoever? Just "Hey, they said something negative about Republicans, they must be stupid"?

        Try this one, from that bastion of flaming liberalism, the Associated Press:

        http://wvgazette.com/ap/ApTopStories/201103120884 [wvgazette.com]

  • I don't know enough fluid dynamics or whatever; but I'm surprised "when" isn't just "distance / speed-of-waves", and "how big" is just "size * some 1/distance factor, or perhaps 1/distance-squared if energy goes down too.

    • I don't know enough fluid dynamics or whatever; but I'm surprised "when" isn't just "distance / speed-of-waves", and "how big" is just "size * some 1/distance factor, or perhaps 1/distance-squared if energy goes down too.

      Those calculations are easy. The problem lies in determining the size, direction, and speed of something that is invisible.

    • http://gizmodo.com/#!5781040/see-the-japans-massive-underwater-earthquake-ripple-across-the-world [gizmodo.com] -- Watch the video on this page, it might provide a little insight into how the waves travel. I didn't understand why Los Angeles wasn't given a more serious warning until I watched it. (I'm extra surprised that they were able to tell in advance that would happen...)

    • by istartedi (132515)

      Neither do I, but we're dealing with an irregular shape (the coast), Another irregular shape (the wave energy itself), refraction, superposition, differing ocean density (temp and salinity), and tides. My guess would be that the irregular form of the wave energy input makes it particularly difficult.

      • As I understand it, you're correct in that it's not the wave simulation itself that's difficult to model. It's reverse engineering the tsunami trigger event.

        Sort of like predicting where a bullet is going to hit without being able to see the gun.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      If you drove across country, and you left your house going 60 miles an hour, would your arrival time be distance / 60mph?

      No it would not because shit would get in your way and sometime slow you down.

      • If I left my house going 60 miles an hour, I would probably take a helluva spill. I think it would be better to pull over first.

    • by Carnildo (712617)

      "When", for the initial wave, is almost as easy as you say: it's mostly a factor of distance and speed. "How big" is much, much harder. You need to take into account the source (a point source such as a landslide needs to be treated differently from a line source such as an earthquake fault), reflections (a wave might bounce off the Japanese coastline leading to a second, delayed tsunami in Hawaii), refraction (a wave front bending around Hawaii might increase the wave energy arriving at San Francisco whi

    • Of course realizing something happened, computing predictions and distributing the information in a timely fashion is also non-trivial. I don't know exactly when they posted it, but there certainly wasn't much delay in getting predictions [noaa.gov] on the internet. The NOAA has some good information on their tsunami research program [noaa.gov] including information about today's event [noaa.gov] and a youtube video of the simulation [youtube.com]
    • by swalve (1980968)
      Another huge factor is the shape of the coast underwater. I forget what shape makes what difference, but a gently sloping coast is going to be affected differently than a dredged out harbor.
    • by ron_ivi (607351)

      Answering my own question ---- wow - it's awesome how the pattern of the Tsunami wave is almost exactly like the radiation patterns of an antenna shaped about the same shape as the fault:

      http://i.imgur.com/Unyfz.jpg [imgur.com]

      Wow math is cool!

  • Just thought I would add this. http://xkcd.com/723//url [xkcd.com]
  • Here in the USA I've read in news of exactly one person dead, and yes I'll troll and point out he and his friends were total DUMBASSES taking photos of incoming Tsunami waves at mouth of river outlet to ocean. His friends are lucky to be alive and can now reflect for years on how their utter stupidity got their companion killed horribly and how they made all their families suffer. I'm much more concerned how this system could have been better to help the Japanese,there were minutes between the quake and wh
    • in this age of instant comm could not have more been saved by instant messaging system?

      I'm pretty sure the effectiveness of an instant communication system is directly proportional to the number of users of said system. Sure, text messages can be fast and cheap but exactly zero people who don't have cell phones will receive them. Even getting people to respond to tornado sirens is not a trivial matter...

      • by rubycodez (864176)
        well, in 2007 the Japanese had 833 cell phones per 1,000 people. could even have land-line phone blast telemarketing style for those with no cell (i'm guessing the elderly maybe not plugged into the ether so much). Sure, there would be panic and the problems it causes, but some would get a chance
        • well, in 2007 the Japanese had 833 cell phones per 1,000 people.

          could even have land-line phone blast telemarketing style for those with no cell (i'm guessing the elderly maybe not plugged into the ether so much). Sure, there would be panic and the problems it causes, but some would get a chance

          You're talking about "reverse 911." They have it in a lot of major cities in the US now (including Dallas). It's a system that lets the government send emergency messages to blocks of phone numbers, like a robocaller but with things like Amber alerts or tornado warnings.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        Japan has 95% [wikipedia.org] cellphone penetration.
  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Friday March 11, 2011 @09:16PM (#35460146) Homepage

    ...harder, better, and stronger.

    • by 517714 (762276)
      Looks like Democrats couldn't anticipate the consequences since there are zero mentions of this prior to this morning. This is political posturing, and a poor attempt at revisionist history, and seeking to capitalize on a natural disaster. No Democrats opposed the cut or made any statements on the subject prior to today. In the information age, I expect a group as powerful as the Democratic party to manipulate the media better than this.
      • by PPH (736903)

        True. For all we know, the GOP cuts were aimed at eliminating the National Weather Service tornado warning programs. After all, those tornadoes have been sent by God to punish the wrong doers in the states in tornado alley (primarily red states). The people on the west coast trust science and are less likely to put their fate into the hands of God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Nah, well, it's hard to predict tsunamis and earthquakes - easier to predict the weather -
        Democrats did attempt to add more money to NOAA’s budget. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., offered an amendment to the CR that would have directed “no less than $710,641,000 to the National Weather Service Local Warnings and Forecasts.” The amendment was one of several Democratic spending proposals that was found to be out of order, and not voted on.
        Well, someone tried to add money to the budget - the state

    • by hedwards (940851)

      This is the same party that takes individuals seriously that say that oceans won't rise because God told them so.

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