Tsunami warner. DART tsunameters can detect pressure from tsunamis on the ocean bottom and send warnings to threatened areas.

Tidal Wave of Alerts

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

Officials in Washington, D.C., and Port Louis, Mauritius, have announced plans to build one new tsunami warning system and expand another, capping weeks of scrambling by government scientists to bolster global tsunami defense since the South Asia disasters

Speaking yesterday in Port Louis, the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Koichiro Matsuura announced that the group will establish a global warning network that could be operational by June 2007. Today in Washington officials announced a plan to expand the existing American detection network and improve public readiness this year.

In South Asia, scientists raised few warnings of the tsunami that struck 26 December. Even if they had, nations there lack the infrastructure necessary to react. Therefore, UNESCO's estimated $30 million plan entails not only new tidal, seismic, and wave detectors, but also manned centers to analyze ocean data and coordinate evacuation efforts.

U.S. plans focus on an effort to protect North American shores by expanding the number of wave detectors in the Pacific from six to about 24, while adding another seven in the Atlantic. White House science advisor John Marburger, speaking at a press conference today, said the enlarged network would be part of the global UNESCO effort and an element of the White House's proposed Global Earth Observation System of Systems. Wave detectors off North America's Pacific shores, for example, could give Asian nations crucial hours of warning before long-ranging waves reached their coasts. The American plan also includes upgrading current seismic and wave-detection instruments, new inundation maps for the east coast of North America, and reinvigorated education campaigns about tsunami risk in coastal communities. "It's not just a question of putting some buoys out there," Marburger said.

Patricio Bernal, executive director of UNESCO'S Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, says that funds to pay for the Indian Ocean system have come from a number of nations, with Germany and India having publicly pledged $35 million and $25 million in resources respectively. Stateside, the White House has proposed $37.5 million in new funds for the U.S. effort, much of which the president wants Congress to lay out this year as part of a supplemental spending measure now under consideration. The House Science Committee plans a hearing on 26 January to review the plan.

Related sites
International Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warning Group in the Pacific
International Tsunami Information Center
Office of Science and Technology Tsunami plan

Posted in Asia