20 May 2005

Tsunami warning system in place soon - UN

An interim tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean should be in place by October, mainly through upgrading an existing network of tide gauges, the head of the United Nations oceanographic body said on Thursday.

By July next year, the Indian Ocean should be equipped with a high-tech array of wave and pressure sensors sending information to satellites that will alert a network of tsunami warning centres, said Patricio Bernal, who heads the Unesco's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

The Indian Ocean already has 57 gauges on the sea surface that broadcast information about climate, tide changes and other scientific data every hour or so. The commission plans to upgrade 21 to 23 of them so they can detect a potential tsunami.

"We intend to do this in the next six months by October, with the gauges broadcasting almost in real time," Bernal told Reuters in a telephone interview from his Paris headquarters.

"That will allow us to confirm the presence or the absence of a tsunami," he said

The upgraded tide gauges would transmit data about a potential tsunami to a satellite that would relay the information to existing tsunami warning centres for the Pacific Ocean in Japan and Hawaii. Those centres would be responsible for alerting Indian Ocean nations threatened by a tsunami.

The upgraded gauges would be located off northwestern Sumatra, Diego Garcia and off the coast of Mauritius.

"We have a reasonable network of detecting earthquakes. But it's important to put in place a network for detecting tsunamis - 93 percent of earthquakes don't produce tsunamis."

Source: www.iol.co.za


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