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Better tsunami warnings in the works

Marie Eble of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration displays a schematic showing the amount of energy released (yellow and red) during the 2011 tsunami that struck Japan. Eble was one of 30 scientists from across the world who participated in a special tsunami forum last week. - WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News
Marie Eble of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration displays a schematic showing the amount of energy released (yellow and red) during the 2011 tsunami that struck Japan. Eble was one of 30 scientists from across the world who participated in a special tsunami forum last week.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

An academic brain-storming session will eventually yield more accurate tsunami warnings that Port Alberni will benefit from.

More than 30 world scientists and emergency management officials gathered at Ocean Networks Canada’s NEPTUNE shore station in Port Alberni on March 27 for a two-day tsunami forum (the second day switched to Sidney).

Specifically, the scientists were percolating the elements of a tsunami prediction model that will serve as the basis for a software system called WARN, or Web-enabled Awareness Research Network.

The two-year project is being underwritten with a $600,000 grant from the Canada’s Advanced Research and Innovation Network.

The initiative will involve buttressing the ONC existing sensor network by placing additional instruments on the water surface approximately 100 kilometres offshore.

When functional, WARN software will monitor sea level data received from the instruments to detect near-field tsunamis, or those which have less than 30-minutes of travel time.

“We need two things to feed the models: censor data and water, land and surface information,” said Benoit Pirenne, ONC associate director for digital infrastructure. “Once that is chewed through we’ll have a tsunami’s height and time of arrival.”

The system won’t prevent a tsunami but will instead help mitigate secondary impacts if one should develop.

Alberni Valley industrial stakeholders such as the Port Alberni Port Authority, its proposed transshipment container hub and LNG projects at the mouth of Alberni Inlet, Catalyst paper and APD mill would benefit from the system by being able to enact emergency procedures sooner, Pirenne said.

Oceanographer Srinivasa Kumar Tummala travelled from India to attend the forum. It was the first visit to Canada for Tummala, from the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services—but not the first time he’d heard of Port Alberni.

“I’d read about the tsunami here in 1964 and I was struck by the fact that there were no casualties,” said the director of the Indian National Tsunami Early Warning Centre.

The chances of a near-field tsunami surging into the Alberni Valley are great, Tummala said. A subduction zone is located nearby and once the pressure releases it will cause a large earthquake and subsequent tsunami. “The challenge is time: more time means more accurate warnings. Less time presents more of a challenge with accuracy,” he said.

Tummala knows of what he speaks. In 2004, an earthquake measuring 9.3 on the Richter Scale produced a tsunami that swept over coastal India with little advance warning, killing 14,000 people.

In response, the Indian government established the Indian Tsunami Early Warning System, as well as a warning centre. The centre is capable of issuing tsunami bulletins less than 10 minutes after any major earthquake in the Indian Ocean.

Tsunami science is dynamic though, a lesson Port Alberni should learn early. “No two events are alike. There are new things to be learned from every event,” Tummala said.

Alberni could benefit more from such a system than the current regional warning system, he added.

“Near-source regions can’t depend solely on regional centres for warnings,” he said. “An area with a threat in its backyard needs to detect an earthquake fast, very fast.”

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

Twitter.com/AlberniNews

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