Indonesia Imports German Tsunami Warning Model | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 02.02.2005
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Indonesia Imports German Tsunami Warning Model

Indonesia has decided to install a tsunami early warning system developed by German researchers in Potsdam who claim the technology is superior to the existing US model in the Pacific.

Both the German and US models rely on buoys and sensors

Both the German and US models rely on buoys and sensors

Earlier this week news emerged that Indonesia, the country worst-affected by the tsunami last December, had decided to go in for an early warning system developed by the Geo Research Center in Potsdam, Germany.

According to the concept drawn up by the Potsdam researchers, the early warning system would first be set up in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Later, the network could be expanded to cover the entire Indian Ocean region.

See-Beben - GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam

An employee of the Potsdam Geo-research center points to a map showing the location of the tsunami

Rolf Emmerman, head of the Potsdam-based research institute said the first stage of building the system is likely to cost around €25 million, the total costs are pegged at €45 million.

The first ocean buoys along the Indian Ocean coast will be laid as early as October this year, Emmerman said. He added that the system would then be up and running in another one and a half years and would be able to relay warnings via the Internet, E-mail as well as via mobile text messages.

"I'm surprised myself that things are proceeding so swiftly since we're not having a conference until mid-March," Emmerman said.

The German Research Ministry is said to be poised to sign an agreement on the early warning system with Jakarta during the March conference. "And then we can go ahead."

Faster and more efficient

According to German Research Minister Edelgard Bulmahn, one clear advantage of the German early warning system lies in the fact that it can be linked with other existing systems. Until now, there has only been one other tsunami early warning system in the Pacific Ocean operated by the US and Japan.

Tsunami Frühwarnsystem Pazifischer Ozean Boje

A Tsunami buoy on the NOAA ship "Ronald H. Brown" in the Pacfic Ocean.

Both the German and the US systems basically work on the same principle: pressure sensors embedded in the ocean bed record every giant wave and every shudder of a seaquake via buoys and satellites to tsunami alarm centers on the coast. There the data is processed and the population alarmed if there is a grave risk.

But, the crucial difference according to the Potsdam researchers is that their model is faster and more efficient, thereby reducing the number of false alarms.

"In the American and Japanese system in the Pacific the process is simulated by a computer and thus the measurement of the quake usually takes much longer," said Emmerman. "We think that what we're offering is technologically better."

Peter Herzig, director of the Kiel-based Leibnitz Institute for Oceanography which is also involved in the development of the tsunami early warning system, echoed that view.

"Our pressure sensors work more reliably and can -- in contrast to the Pacific system -- differentiate background noises of tsunami waves," Herzig said. "With a combination of buoys and satellites equipped with GPS (global positioning system) we can also observe the sea surface in real time and with exact precision," he said. The system thus enables experts to differentiate between fatal tsunami waves and other high waves.

Unique software

Researchers also point out that a quick processing of data relayed by the underwater sensors is of paramount importance when it comes to warning threatened residents before tsunami waves that travel at a speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour hit land.

Riesenwelle über Tanker

A rogue wave aboard the supertanker Esso Languedoc, during a storm off Durban in South Africa in 1980.

To counter the problem, Emmerman said the Potsdam institute had developed a unique software which would be installed in data stations in the affected countries.

The Potsdam researchers already have a worldwide network with 50 measuring stations. "We know in one or two minutes after an earthquake about its exact location and its force," Emmerman said. This experience is expected to come in handy while setting up the early warning system.

However, experts remain clear that setting up a tsunami early warning system won't be enough. In the long-term, disaster management capabilities of countries need to be improved.

Friedrich-Wilhelm Wellmer, director of the Federal Agency for Geosciences and Raw Materials in Hanover, said an important step would be to set up functioning information networks in the countries so that warnings could reach all threatened people, even fishermen in remote villages without access to radio, television or Internet.

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