Awareness of tsunami hazards has heightened in recent years, following a magnitude 9.3 earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra in December 2004. Tsunamis the quake generated struck the coastal city of Banda Aceh, killing nearly 178,000 people.
Improving tsunami forecasts
Before the quake, the US had deployed only six tsunami-detection buoys, largely as tools for exploring ways to improve tsunami forecasts, according to Helmit Poartmann, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Data Buoy Center near Biloxi, Miss. Now, the center has 39 buoys spread through the Pacific, in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and in the Caribbean Sea.
In addition, NOAA received funding to keep its two tsunami-warning centers, one based in Honolulu, the other in Palmer, Alaska, operating full time, notes Jenifer Rhoades, the tsunami program manager for the National Weather Service.
The additional data these buoys provide, combined with advanced models of the sea floor along coasts and the behavior of tsunamis as they radiate from their source, allow forecasters to constantly refine their projections of likely wave height at landfall.