TSUNAMI are terrible things. And part of their terror lies in their unpredictability. Even when a submarine earthquake that may cause one is detected, the information that is needed to determine whether a giant wave has actually been created takes time to gather. That is time unavailable for the evacuation of coastlines at risk. Contrariwise, issuing a warning when no subsequent wave arrives provokes cynicism and a tendency to ignore future evacuation calls.
Such tsunami-warning systems as do exist rely on seismometers to detect earthquakes, and tide gauges and special buoys to track a wave’s passage. That is reliable, but can often be too late to get people away from threatened coastlines. What these warning systems cannot do reliably is predict immediately whether a given earthquake will cause a tsunami. And that, in the view of some seismologists, is a scandal. For, as the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science learned from Gerald Bawden of…Continue reading