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The Algorithm That Can Predict When a Tsunami Will Strike

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Front edge of a tsunami?

Researchers at Australian National University developed a system that can recreate the movements of a typical tsunami to determine its threat level.

Credit: iStock

Australian National University (ANU) researchers have developed the Time Reverse Imaging Method, an algorithm that can recreate the movements of a typical tsunami to determine its threat level.

The system takes real-time data from ocean sensors and uses the information to re-create what the tsunami looked like before it formed.

Existing tsunami-warning systems rely on region-specific scenarios based on previous patterns in that area, but scientists cannot make accurate projections of how much water will hit a coast, and how hard.

The researchers developed the algorithm by focusing on data from the Tohoku-Oki earthquake and tsunami from March 11, 2011. They used the data to calculate what the tsunami looked like when it first began, and then added sensor data from the Pacific Ocean floor and projected what the tsunami would look like when it made landfall.

The researchers checked the results against what actually happened in 2011 to hone the algorithm. They want to test the method on other recorded earthquakes and tsunamis to fine-tune the technology until it is ready for implementation, which could take up to five years.

"This research can be part of the next generation of tsunami-warning systems that are based on real-time information," says ANU researcher Jan Dettmer.

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