National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Could satellite altimetry have improved early detection and warning of the 2011 Tohoku tsunami?

Hamlington, B.D., R.R. Leben, O.A. Godin, E. Gica, V.V. Titov, B.J. Haines, and S.D. Desai

Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L15605, doi: 10.1029/2012GL052386 (2012)

The 2011 Tohoku tsunami devastated Japan and affected coastal populations all around the Pacific Ocean. Accurate early warning of an impending tsunami requires the detection of the tsunami in the open ocean. While the lead-time was not sufficient for use in warning coastal populations in Japan, satellite altimetry observations of the tsunami could have been used to improve predictions and warnings for other affected areas. By comparing to both model results and historical satellite altimeter data, we use near-real-time satellite altimeter measurements to demonstrate the potential for detecting the 2011 Tohoku tsunami within a few hours of the tsunami being generated. We show how satellite altimeter data could be used to both directly detect tsunamis in the open ocean and also improve predictions made by models.

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