Tsunami Surveillance By Satellites

Could use of GPS provide faster alerts?

3 min read

Although the catastrophic tsunami that swept across the Indian and eastern Pacific oceans at the end of 2004 killed as many as 200 000 people and prompted wide calls for improving warning systems, those systems continue to suffer from serious shortcomings. Last July, when another tsunami hit the Indonesian island of Java, again there was too little warning, and in one coastal area at least 600 individuals died. Unfortunately, two warning buoys in the immediate area where the tsunami had originated came unmoored--but even if they had been working properly, the system in place probably would have provided adequate alerts only to people living far from the tsunami’s origin.

Could a system relying on signaling between Global Positioning System satellites and ground stations provide prompter warnings? A group of scientists led by space geodesist Geoffrey Blewitt say they have developed a concept for such a system and that it could detect deadly tsunamis in as little as 15 minutes.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.


For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

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