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Tsunami Forecasts Improved By Ionosphere Signals

New research indicates that it may be possible to improve tsunami forecasting and extent by examining signals from the upper atmosphere.

A new study analyzed the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai eruption in the South Pacific earlier this year. The Jan. 15, 2022, volcanic eruption was the largest to be recorded by modern equipment. Ash blanketed the region. A tsunami wave caused damage and killed at least three people on the island of Tonga. It also had unexpected distant effects.

No volcanic eruption in more than a century has produced a global-scale tsunami. The tsunami wave from the underwater eruption was first predicted as only a regional hazard. Instead, the wave reached as far as Peru, where two people drowned.

Results of the new study, published this fall in Geophysical Research Letters, uses evidence from the ionosphere to help explain why the tsunami wave grew larger and traveled faster than models predicted.

"This was the most powerful volcanic eruption since the 1883 eruption of Krakatau, and a lot of aspects of it were unexpected," said lead author Jessica Ghent, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences. "We used a new monitoring technique to understand what happened here and learn how we could monitor future natural hazards."

(Read more at PhysOrg)

It's not a prediction, but one of my favorite moments in Childhood's End, a 1953 novel by Arthur C. Clarke, a young boy playing on a beach receives a timely warning:

Jeff was exploring the rock pools along the narrow Spartan beach-an occupation he found endlessly absorbing... The day was quiet and peaceful. There was not a breath of wind...

Very firmly, something took hold of the beach and gave it a single, sudden jerk. The tremor passed so swiftly that Jeff wondered if he had imagined it...

And then a very strange thing began to happen. Swifter than any tide could ebb, the water was receding from the shore. Jeff watched, deeply puzzled and not in the least afraid, as the wet sands were uncovered and lay sparkling in the sun. He followed the retreating ocean, determined to make the most of whatever miracle had opened up the underwater world for his inspection...

One of the salvage parties, hours later, found Jeff on a great block of coral that had been hurled twenty metres above the normal water level...

"You're a brave lad, and it's a good thing you were sensible and ran in time. I've heard about these tidal waves before. A lot of people get drowned because they go out on the uncovered beach to see what's happened."

"That's what I did," confessed Jeff. "I wonder who it was helped me? ...I was right down the beach, by that old wreck, when the voice spoke."

"What did it say?"

"I can't quite remember, but it was something like 'Jeffrey, get up the hill as quickly as you can. You'll be drowned if you stay here.' (From Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End)

Modern science may not quite take the place of alien Overlords, but it takes significant time for a tsunami wave to travel, and even a few minutes of warning could mean the difference between life and death.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/5/2022)

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