Commercial ship GPS could help track tsunamis

UH researchers develop technique for tsunami detection

 UPDATED 9:29 AM HST May 06, 2012
Tsunami technology
HONOLULU -

It's quite possible that in the near future a warning of a deadly tsunami could come from a commercial ship.
The findings and technology of this is being done at by scientists at UH Manoa.

The discovery of sea surface height changes during a tsunami accurately being detected by GPS on a ship came as a surprise.

The UH research vessel, Kilo Moana, was on its way to Hawaii from Guam when a tsunami was generated by the 8.8 earthquake in Chile back in February 2010.
The Kilo Moana is equipped with an advanced GPS system and the data it recorded mirrored the tsunami predictions from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Dr. James Foster and his colleagues are now working on developing a network of commercial ships equipped with the geodetic GPS system that could become the next phase in real-time tsunami warning in the Pacific.

"there are so many ships out there that if you've got enough of them instrumented with the GPS systems there is always going to be some ships in the neighborhood of the region that produces the tsunami," said Foster.

Much more advanced than a handheld GPS, the unit on a ship would include a round antenna to help measure and transmit even the slightest wave height changes from a tsunami that would likely go unnoticed in the open ocean. The difference being measured in length of time.

"an open ocean swell has a period of maybe 15 seconds, 20 seconds. A tsunami takes maybe 20 minutes, half an hour to pass," said Foster.

At $15,000 to $20,000 per unit, the GPS is cheaper than the current deep ocean buoys that provide tsunami data.

The challenge will be getting the commercial shipping lines to jump on board to create a mobile tsunami detection system.

The study of these findings were published May 5 in the journal "Geophyiscal Research Letters."
UH researchers hope to launch a demo system with at least two ships by the end of the year.

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