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Germany Calls for Tsunami Early Warning System

One year after deadly tidal waves decimated parts of Asia, Germany is seeking to establish an early flood-warning system for Europe's coastline.

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Buouys like this one would be key to a European warning system

"Europe must be better prepared for natural catastrophes," Minister for Education and Research Annette Schavan told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper on Tuesday.

"We cannot exclude the possibility of tidal waves here. It is a question of geology, but also of climate change," she said.

Annette Schavan

Research Minister Annette Schavan supports the European warning system

According to researchers, a tidal wave in Europe as the result of an underwater earthquake or other seismic activity is becoming increasingly plausible. Throughout history, Europe has been hit by several tsunamis, both in the Mediterranean and on the Atlantic coast.

Historic evidence

The biggest such catastrophe was the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, which triggered waves of up to 15-meters in height and wrecked a path of destruction from England to North Africa. Some 60,000 people died in the gushing waters. Today the region is more densely populated; and an earthquake of similar magnitude would result in considerably more damage and lost lives.

The eastern Mediterranean, where the Eurasian and African tectonic plates meet, is especially prone to earthquakes, including underwater ones. Between 1801 and 1956, Greek geologists counted 40 tsunamis in the Mediterranean and Aegean. Because these are closed bodies of waters, the waves were relatively small and the extent of damage minimal. A high-magnitude earthquake, however, such as the one which hit Istanbul in 1999, is not entirely unlikely if it struck would result in severe damage and loss of lives.

Europe needs early warning system

Given the historic evidence and the geologic make-up of the continent, seismologists have argued that Europe too needs to establish a tsunami early warning system for its coastline, especially considering that so much of the high-risk areas are densely populated.

"I will campaign for the EU to make funds available," Schavan told the newspaper. The project is expected to be discussed at an international conference on early warning systems that will take place in March, in Bonn.

Ten minutes' warning

Following Asia's flooding catastrophe a year ago, Germany helped put in place an early warning system for tsunamis off the coast of Sumatra. Schavan told the paper the first results from the measuring system were being recorded and evaluated.

Starting in 2008, the system in the Indian Ocean is expected to work in real time. That would give people on land around ten minutes' warning time.

The German government has spent 45 million euros (53 million) on the system.

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