The First Real-Time Tsunami Animation
Abstract:For the first time a U.S. tsunami warning center created and issued a tsunami forecast model animation while the tsunami was still crossing an ocean. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) scientists had predicted they would have this ability (Becker et al., 2012) with their RIFT forecast model (Wang et al., 2009) by using rapidly-determined W-phase centroid-moment tensor earthquake focal mechanisms as tsunami sources in the RIFT model (Wang et al., 2012). PTWC then acquired its own YouTube channel in 2013 for its outreach efforts that showed animations of historic tsunamis (Becker et al., 2013), but could also be a platform for sharing future tsunami animations.
The 8.2 Mw earthquake of 1 April 2014 prompted PTWC to issue official warnings for a dangerous tsunami in Chile, Peru and Ecuador. PTWC ended these warnings five hours later, then issued its new tsunami marine hazard product (i.e., no coastal evacuations) for the State of Hawaii. With the international warning canceled but with a domestic hazard still present PTWC generated a forecast model animation and uploaded it to its YouTube channel six hours before the arrival of the first waves in Hawaii. PTWC also gave copies of this animation to television reporters who in turn passed it on to their national broadcast networks. PTWC then created a version for NOAA’s Science on a Sphere system so it could be shown on these exhibits as the tsunami was still crossing the Pacific Ocean.
While it is difficult to determine how many people saw this animation since local, national, and international news networks showed it in their broadcasts, PTWC’s YouTube channel provides some statistics. As of 1 August 2014 this animation has garnered more than 650,000 views. Previous animations, typically released during significant anniversaries, rarely get more than 10,000 views, and even then only when external websites share them. Clearly there is a high demand for a tsunami graphic that shows both the speed and the severity of a tsunami before it reaches impacted coastlines, similar to how radar and satellite images show the advancement of storms. Though this animation showed that most of the tsunami waves would not be dangerous, future publication of these animations will require additional outreach and education to avoid any unnecessary alarm.