New Tsunami Prediction Method Could Save Thousands of Lives

By: | December 26th, 2021

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Tsunamis are ocean monsters that can wreak havoc on coastal populations and landscapes. Every minute matters in predicting these giant waves ahead of time.  

Over the years, scientists have discovered many ways to predict them. These include examining underwater sound waves activated by earthquakes and using submarine cables as giant seismic networks. 

But now scientists have discovered a new way of detecting tsunamis using magnetic fields generated by these ocean monsters

Tsunamis are known to generate magnetic fields when moving through the ocean’s conductive water. Moreover, these magnetic fields can be detected ahead of changes in sea levels. As a result, these could grant a few potentially life-saving extra moments of response time.

Although researchers had previously discovered this, they lacked the data to prove the hypothesis. But now, researchers from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) have come up with a distinct relationship between the two.

For the study, researchers used data from a 2009 tsunami in Samoa and a 2010 tsunami in Chile. This study provides evidence for predicting the height of tsunami waves using magnetic field detection. But the results were found to vary with water depth. 

The study confirms the magnetic field generated by a tsunami arrives ahead of sea-level change and that its magnitude can be used to estimate the tsunami’s wave height. How much earlier the magnetic field arrives depends on water depth. But in their results, they found that with a depth of roughly 4,800 meters, a magnetic field could be detected about one minute before the sea-level change.

“It is very exciting because in previous studies we didn’t have the observation [of] sea-level change,” said Zhiheng Lin, one of the study authors, from Kyoto University. “[Now] we have observations [of] sea-level change, and we find that the observation agrees with our magnetic data as well as theoretical simulation.”

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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