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Predicting Tsunami Impact

A screen capture from the TsunamiCast system on the recent M8.7 earthquake that triggered a tsunami in northern Sumatra.

When a strong earthquake shook the western coast of Indonesia's Sumatra Island on 11 April 2012, Vasily Titov and his team at the Center for Tsunami Research, a part of the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), used their new tsunami forecasting system that predicted the waves' coastal impact the moment the tsunami began spreading across the Indian Ocean.

NOAA's Tsunami Forecasting and Notification System creates real-time models that forecast the height of the tsunami, the time of arrival of the waves at a coastal location, the associated flow currents near coastlines, in ports and harbors and the flooding that may take place. Issued in time, this information can save thousands of lives.

IAEA in collaboration with NOAA will deploy a customized version of the TsunamiCast system at the IAEA's International Seismic Safety Centre (ISSC).

This will serve as an experimental Tsunami Notification system for use by IAEA staff to assess hazard for NPP coastal installations in case of a tsunami event.

Implementation of the TsunamiCast will strengthen the IAEA/ISSC External Event Notification System that is now capable of covering two of the most destructive external hazards, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Forecasting Accuracy

For specific locations, the system can issue an accurate forecast of the tsunami's probable impact. "You can get information about a potential tsunami impact at any coastline. For some locations you can obtain an extremely accurate forecast," explained Titov. "The system is still in test mode, but it is well advanced and has produced very good results," he added.

While an earthquake's impact is swift, tsunamis propagate for many hours. An accurate forecasting capability is urgently needed to provide the timely tsunami predictions that may save many lives.

With the help of the data and models supplied in real-time by NOAA's system, the IAEA will also have the possibility to alert national nuclear authorities of an imminent tsunami threat.

"The system uses the tsunami measurement information combined with model assessment to produce the tsunami forecast for specific locations," said Titov. NOAA performs the forecast and then shares it with national and international agencies.

"The main benefit of this system is that for first time, we can produce a wave height and flooding forecast for tsunamis. The IAEA is one of the first agencies that will be using this notification system," explained Titov.


NOAA's Center for Tsunami Research develops methods and tools to reduce tsunami hazard and protect life. The Center is located at NOAAs' Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Washington, where research is conducted to improve the speed and accuracy of tsunami forecasts and warnings, predict tsunami impacts on coastal communities, and on tsunami measurement and detection technology.

Founded in 2008, the IAEA's International Seismic Safety Centre (ISSC) serves as a global focal point for safety against external hazards for nuclear installations worldwide. The ISSC assists the IAEA's Member states in assessing external hazards when selecting nuclear power plant sites and during the site evaluation process.

Last update: 27 Jul 2017

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