German scientists readying Indian Ocean tsunami warning system


Hamburg : Scientists in Germany are putting the finishing touches on an Indian Ocean tsunami early-warning system.

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The German-Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System for the Indian Ocean (GITEWS) is on schedule, according to project coordinator Joern Lauterjung of the GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam (GFZ), Germany’s National Lab for Geosciences.

Major components such as the development of the automatic data processing software SeisComP3 as well as the underwater communication for the transmission of the pressure data from the ocean floor to a warning centre are already complete.

“The technical system will be established by the end of 2008,” Lauterjung says.

“At the beginning of 2009 we will operate the system together with our Indonesian colleagues. In 2010 the system will be handed over completely to the Indonesian partners,” he explained.

The core of the early warning system is the warning centre, the first prototype of which is currently being installed in Indonesia. All sensor data converge here, from here all the instruments are controlled, and here the synthesis of all data and the pre-calculated simulations is done and the alarm given.

These different activities are integrated in a decision support centre, which provides the responsible official with an overview of the available data, an assessment of the situation and proposals for decision.

This system, seen from the viewpoint of conceptual design and complexity, is unique worldwide. It has been developed by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and is in good progress.

Vulnerability analyses, carried out in Indonesia within the GITEWS project, indicate that it is possible to be prepared for a tsunami.

However, complete protection will never be possible, even with a technically perfect warning system.

“Our aim is to minimise the number of victims,” says Lauterjung and explains: “Even more than eight hours after the severe earthquake in 2004 and more than 6,000 km away from the epicentre over 300 of people were killed.

“Natural catastrophes of such a size will always claim many lives. But this huge number of victims could have been reduced very much with an early warning system,” he says.

In coordination with the technical side of the early warning system, the Gesellschaft fuer Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) in three pilot regions is working to enhance civil defence activities in nations bordering the Indian Ocean.

Members of the German Federal Agency for Geosciences and Resources continue with this consulting on the national level.

Also, a doctoral and post-doctoral programme has been established by the United Nations University (UNU) to guarantee the operation and future upgrading of the GITEWS from the scientific point of view.

“Offering this variety of education possibilities makes an important contribution to the early warning system for Indonesia and other bordering states of the Indian Ocean,” says Torsten Schlurmann, director of the Franzius Institute for Hydraulic and Civil Engineering at Leibniz University in Hanover.

Schlurmann leads the capacity building programme on behalf of the UNU together with colleagues from the GTZ.

The goal of these programmes is to educate people about evacuation plans and how to behave in case of emergency. Japan carries out this kind of training in schools, plants and companies on a regular basis.

The establishment of such an education programme in the areas bordering the Indian Ocean has only just started.