At around 7:00 am on Sunday morning, a day after Christmas, a tsunami caused by a 9.1-magnitude earthquake slammed into the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, flattening all the buildings in its way. Waves that reached heights of 100 feet lasted for 10 minutes, drowning the cities it hit. The tsunami spread to 14 countries in total, killing more than 1000 people in each one. Sadly, the tsunami was only part of problem, many of the deaths occured in the days after due to the lack of resources for people to survive. Without food and clean water, many young lives were lost. The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, as it has come to be called, was the deadliest tsunami on record. It tore through homes, schools and businesses, killing approximately 230,000 people. Even those who survived, still most likely lost something or someone.
On average, there are two major tsunamis every year, according to the National Weather Service. Though that number is small, tsunamis are extremely disastrous events. Unfortunately the damage that tsunamis cause may start becoming worse, as research done by the scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore showed that even a small increase in ocean level could worsen the outcome of tsunamis. Their test was to use computer modelling to generate a tsunami that would have a small effect but raise the ocean level by 0.5 meters. The results of the experiment showed that the flooding caused by tsunamis could increase by 2-3 times the current amount and even more with a meter increase of sea-level. With the sea levels rising each year due to global warming, this could cause more homes and lives to be ripped apart in the future
Tsunamis are typically caused by underwater earthquakes, underwater landslides and sometimes volcanic eruptions. Those activities are extremely unpredictable, which in-turn allow little time for people to react to an oncoming tsunami. This is why the deep-ocean tsunami buoy was created.
A tsunami buoy is placed on the ocean surface, where the water is deeper than 3,000 m, close to where seismic activity usually occurs yet at a distance where it won’t be compromised by an earthquake, volcanic eruption or underwater landslide. Its purpose is to detect changes in water pressure and seismic energy speed. The buoy has two modes: standard and event. It will be in standard mode most of the time and event mode is only activated when the buoy senses fast-paced seismic energy moving through the water. Then a signal is sent each minute with the information about the waves and energy. These tsunami buoys are used for early detection and can give a little extra time for people to evacuate. The buoys have been placed in the areas that are at high risk for tsunamis, such as the Pacific Ring of Fire and the coast of Asia. Having these buoys can help save hundreds of thousands of lives.
Despite this recent innovation, reaction time is still tight, so it is essential that people who live in tsunami-prone areas make preparations ahead of time. The majority of at-risk coastal cities impacted by tsunamis will have evacuation routes to places of higher ground. If you live in such a city or are just visiting, knowing those routes could be lifesaving. Planning a place to meet up with family on high ground will also help to ensure that you aren’t separated from them. Knowing the signs of an upcoming hit such as a receding tide or loud ocean roar will also give you time to get as far away as possible. If you see these signs, do not wait for an official government warning, by then it could be too late. Immediately follow the evacuation routes to higher ground. If you are on a beach with no quick way to reach higher ground, grab anything that can float such as doors, trees and floaties. If you are in a boat that is in the harbour you should move towards inland along with the waves. However if boats are out at sea, moving further out should ensure safety from the stronger waves.
Tsunamis are one of the most destructive natural disasters in the world and with sea levels rising each year the flooding caused by tsunamis will only become worse. They are frightful and unpredictable. That being said, knowing how to properly protect yourself from harm can save your and other people’s lives.
With the early detection systems in place we have been able to see when and where a tsunami will hit, however without efficient maintenance and funding the buoys can become inoperable. Indonesia recently was struck by a tsunami that killed over a 1000 people. Tsunami buoys were deployed in the area but they malfunctioned because of poor maintenance. If these buoys were operational at the time of the hit there’s a chance that more lives could have been saved.
We need to take time to preserve and protect the warning systems because at the moment they are one of the only devices we have to warn us when a tsunami will attack.