Researchers in Australia have developed a new algorithm that can help determine if a potential tsunami is going to hit any of the coastal cities in the world.
Known as the Time Reverse Imaging Method, this program was created by scientists at the Australian National University (ANU) after studying the activity of tectonic plates in the Japan Trench. It makes use of real-time information collected by various sensors and analyzes them to determine the possible movement of a tsunami.
Most present-day warning systems for tsunamis depend on scenarios that are specific to each region. Their predictions are based on patterns that have previously been seen in an area.
Scientists typically use sensors to find out any abnormal movements in the ocean. However, this method is severely limited, as it cannot determine the amount of water that could hit a coastline and the strength of its impact. If a current tsunami fails to match of the scenarios the system has in its database, then it could result in significant damage and loss of human life.
ANU researcher Jan Dettmer and his colleagues developed the algorithm based on data collected by sensors located in the Pacific.
One of the events they focused on was the Tohoku-Oki earthquake as well as its resulting tsunami in March 2011. The researchers analyzed the information from the quake and went "back in time" through mathematical calculations to find out what the massive wave was like when it was formed. They also looked at the initial displacement of the ocean surface during the event.
By combining the information of the tsunami's early formation with those gathered by the ocean sensors, the researchers were able to determine what the massive wave would look like by the time it hits land. They then fine-tuned their data to develop the algorithm.
Dettmer and his team are planning to test out their new method on other earthquakes that have been recorded in order to make it more accurate, which they expect to be completed within five years.
"[The Time Reverse Imaging Method] is not based on some guess, it's based on real-time information," Dettmer said.
"[This method] would improve accuracy without sacrificing speed. Once the earthquake happens, then we have minutes."
The findings of the Australian National University study are being presented at the conference of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) in Utah.