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European scientists join forces to predict tsunamis

The tsunami which swept across the Indian Ocean in December 2004 demonstrated all too clearly the destructive power of immense waves.

In the aftermath of the disaster, there were calls for the rapid establishment of an early warning system in the region, to help prevent such ...

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The tsunami which swept across the Indian Ocean in December 2004 demonstrated all too clearly the destructive power of immense waves.

In the aftermath of the disaster, there were calls for the rapid establishment of an early warning system in the region, to help prevent such a huge loss of life in the event of future tsunamis.

At a recent EUROMARGINS meeting in Italy, European ocean margin experts came together to discuss the art of predicting tsunamis, which can be triggered by earthquakes, underwater landslides, continental landslides or rock falls.

The EUROMARGINS project, which is partly funded by the EU's Sixth Framework Programme, is assessing the physical, chemical, and biological processes taking place at the transition zones between the continents and the deep oceans.

At the meeting, Stefano Tinti of the recently launched TRANSFER initiative outlined his group's plans to develop an early warning system for Europe's very own tsunami hotspot: the Mediterranean. As recently as 2003, the Balearic islands were hit by a three metre high tsunami which sunk 20 boats. In this case the trigger was an earthquake along the northern coast of Algeria.

'Our goal is to develop an integrated system using earthquakes as a source of tsunami detection with a 20 minute maximum time frame for the alarm to sound,' he explained.

Carl Bonnevie Harbitz of the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute is working on models which can predict tsunamis caused by rock falls, landslides, earthquakes and even asteroid impacts. The models are tested by assessing whether they can successfully predict the outcome of previous tsunami triggers. This has helped Dr Harbitz to considerably improve the reliability of the models.

'Our model has also been used for prediction and hazard and risk assessment for tsunamis generated by rock slides, submarine slides and earthquakes in several places internationally,' commented Dr Harbitz.