Cybermed Update December 2004/January 2005

Tsunami Disaster- The Great Wave from the Indian Ocean

Earthquake - North Sumatra


Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.

Helen Keller US blind & deaf educator (1880 - 1968)


The 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake was an undersea megathrust earthquake of moment magnitude 9.0 that struck the Indian Ocean off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia on December 26, 2004 at 00:58:49 UTC (07:58:49 local time in Jakarta and Bangkok; 08:58:49 local time Malaysia). A couple of hours later a tsunami, a great wave or more appropriately a "wall of death" slammed across the shores of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Maldives, Somalia, South Africa and was felt even as far away as Mexico. The death toll may raise past 150,000. 80,000 deaths from Indonesia alone. More than 510,000 injured and 3-5 million people have been displaced.

The earthquake that unleashed deadly tidal waves on Asia was so powerful it made the Earth wobble on its axis and permanently altered the regional map. “Based on seismic modelling, some of the smaller islands off the south-west coast of Sumatra may have moved to the south-west by about 20 metres. That is a lot of slip.” The north-western tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra may also have shifted to the south-west by around 36 metres". (The Australian)

Earthquakes cannot be stopped and so there was no way to stop the deadly tsunami either that killed more than 14000 people. But if only we had better communication systems maybe few lives would have had survived the disaster. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center at Los Angeles, had detected the undersea tremor at least an hour ago before its killer tidal waves reached to the west coast of Thailand and Malaysia. But officials at the center could not send a tsunami warning even with best of their efforts. “There was no official alert system in the region” said Charles McCreery, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's center in Honolulu. "We tried to do what we could. We don't have contacts in our address book for anybody in that part of the world," he said. (Earthtimes.org) The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did issue the warning ..see below.. also see http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2004/s2357.htm

TSUNAMI BULLETIN NUMBER 001 PACIFIC TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER/NOAA/NWS ISSUED AT 0114Z 26 DEC 2004 THIS BULLETIN IS FOR ALL AREAS OF THE PACIFIC BASIN EXCEPT ALASKA - BRITISH COLUMBIA - WASHINGTON - OREGON - CALIFORNIA. .................. TSUNAMI INFORMATION BULLETIN .................. THIS MESSAGE IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. THERE IS NO TSUNAMI WARNING OR WATCH IN EFFECT. AN EARTHQUAKE HAS OCCURRED WITH THESE PRELIMINARY PARAMETERS ORIGIN TIME - 0059Z 26 DEC 2004 COORDINATES - 3.4 NORTH 95.7 EAST LOCATION - OFF W COAST OF NORTHERN SUMATERA MAGNITUDE - 8.0 EVALUATION THIS EARTHQUAKE IS LOCATED OUTSIDE THE PACIFIC. NO DESTRUCTIVE TSUNAMI THREAT EXISTS BASED ON HISTORICAL EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI DATA. THIS WILL BE THE ONLY BULLETIN ISSUED FOR THIS EVENT UNLESS ADDITIONAL INFORMATION BECOMES AVAILABLE. THE WEST COAST/ALASKA TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER WILL ISSUE BULLETINS FOR ALASKA - BRITISH COLUMBIA - WASHINGTON - OREGON - CALIFORNIA.

TSUNAMI BULLETIN NUMBER 002 PACIFIC TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER/NOAA/NWS ISSUED AT 0204Z 26 DEC 2004 THIS BULLETIN IS FOR ALL AREAS OF THE PACIFIC BASIN EXCEPT ALASKA - BRITISH COLUMBIA - WASHINGTON - OREGON - CALIFORNIA. .................. TSUNAMI INFORMATION BULLETIN .................. ATTENTION: NOTE REVISED MAGNITUDE. THIS MESSAGE IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. THERE IS NO TSUNAMI WARNING OR WATCH IN EFFECT. AN EARTHQUAKE HAS OCCURRED WITH THESE PRELIMINARY PARAMETERS ORIGIN TIME - 0059Z 26 DEC 2004 COORDINATES - 3.4 NORTH 95.7 EAST LOCATION - OFF W COAST OF NORTHERN SUMATERA MAGNITUDE - 8.5 EVALUATION REVISED MAGNITUDE BASED ON ANALYSIS OF MANTLE WAVES. THIS EARTHQUAKE IS LOCATED OUTSIDE THE PACIFIC. NO DESTRUCTIVE TSUNAMI THREAT EXISTS FOR THE PACIFIC BASIN BASED ON HISTORICAL EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI DATA. THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF A TSUNAMI NEAR THE EPICENTER. THIS WILL BE THE ONLY BULLETIN ISSUED FOR THIS EVENT UNLESS ADDITIONAL INFORMATION BECOMES AVAILABLE. THE WEST COAST/ALASKA TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER WILL ISSUE BULLETINS FOR ALASKA - BRITISH COLUMBIA - WASHINGTON - OREGON - CALIFORNIA.

TSUNAMI BULLETIN NUMBER 003 PACIFIC TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER/NOAA/NWS ISSUED AT 1535Z 27 DEC 2004 THIS BULLETIN IS FOR ALL AREAS OF THE PACIFIC BASIN EXCEPT ALASKA - BRITISH COLUMBIA - WASHINGTON - OREGON - CALIFORNIA. .................. TSUNAMI INFORMATION BULLETIN .................. THIS MESSAGE IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY. THERE IS NO TSUNAMI WARNING OR WATCH IN EFFECT. AN EARTHQUAKE HAS OCCURRED WITH THESE PRELIMINARY PARAMETERS ORIGIN TIME - 0059Z 26 DEC 2004 COORDINATES - 3.4 NORTH 95.7 EAST LOCATION - OFF W COAST OF NORTHERN SUMATERA MAGNITUDE - 9.0 EVALUATION SOME ENERGY FROM YESTERDAYS TSUNAMI IN THE INDIAN OCEAN HAS LEAKED INTO THE PACIFIC BASIN... PROBABLY FROM SOUTH OF THE AUSTRALIAN CONTINENT. THIS ENERGY HAS PRODUCED MINOR SEA LEVEL FLUCTUATIONS AT MANY PLACES IN THE PACIFIC. FOR EXAMPLE... 50 CM CREST-TO-TROUGH AT CALLAO CHILE 19 CM CREST-TO-TROUGH AT IQUIQUE CHILE 13 CM CREST-TO-TROUGH AT PAGO PAGO AMERICAN SAMOA 11 CM CREST-TO-TROUGH AT SUVA FIJI 50 CM CREST-TO-TROUGH AT WAITANGI CHATHAM IS NEW ZEALAND 65 CM CREST-TO-TROUGH AT JACKSON BAY NEW ZEALAND 18 CM CREST-TO-TROUGH AT PORT VILA VANUATU 06 CM CREST-TO-TROUGH AT HILO HAWAII USA 22 CM CREST-TO-TROUGH AT SAN DIEGO CALIFORNIA USA HOWEVER... AT MANZANILLO MEXICO SEA LEVEL FLUCTUATIONS WERE AS MUCH AS 2.6 METERS CREST-TO-TROUGH PROBABLY DUE TO FOCUSING OF ENERGY BY THE EAST PACIFIC RISE AS WELL AS LOCAL RESONANCES. THIS IS TO ADVISE THAT SMALL SEA LEVEL CHANGES COULD CONTINUE TO BE OBSERVED ACROSS THE PACIFIC OVER THE NEXT DAY OR TWO UNTIL ALL ENERGY FROM THIS EVENT IS EVENTUALLY DISSIPATED. THIS WILL BE THE FINAL BULLETIN ISSUED FOR THIS EVENT UNLESS ADDITIONAL INFORMATION BECOMES AVAILABLE. THE WEST COAST/ALASKA TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER WILL ISSUE BULLETINS FOR ALASKA - BRITISH COLUMBIA - WASHINGTON - OREGON - CALIFORNIA. **************************************************************

I wonder why, those in the pacific rim that were informed did not have the presence of mind to inform through their diplomatic channels nor the PTW center consider informing CNN or BBC who could have informed everyone within minutes and got the relevant authorities to call back for confirmation. It is easier to retrospectively say this could have been done but one thing is clear....we need an Indian or Asian Tsunami Warning Center. I did some check on the internet and was surprised that we have an ASEAN Earthquake Information Center. One of the reasons for setting this up as mentioned was the possibility of Tsunami's! This web page was setup in 2003. What it means is that we knew of the danger but we did not invest enough time nor money to see this through. We have only ourselves to blame. The internet offers sites that one can monitor the seismic activities as it occurs in this region. The site is from the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program (EHP) of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is part of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).Source: NOAA

All recent earthquake worldwide can be viewed from this site at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/recenteqsww/ and it has a hyperlink map. To view recent earthquake of greater than 2.5 magnitudes see http://earthquake.usgs.gov/recenteqsww/Quakes/quakes_all.html . For information on the earthquake that resulted in this huge calamity see http://earthquake.usgs.gov/recenteqsww/Quakes/usslav.htm . A preliminary report issued by USGS on this quake is below...

 

Magnitude 9.0 OFF THE WEST COAST OF NORTHERN SUMATRA
Sunday, December 26, 2004 at 00:58:53 UTC

Preliminary Earthquake Report
U.S. Geological Survey, National Earthquake Information Center
World Data Center for Seismology, Denver

The devastating megathrust earthquake of December 26, 2004, occurred on the interface of the India and Burma plates and was caused by the release of stresses that develop as the India plate subducts beneath the overriding Burma plate. The India plate begins its descent into the mantle at the Sunda trench, which lies to the west of the earthquake's epicenter. The trench is the surface expression of the plate interface between the Australia and India plates, situated to the southwest of the trench, and the Burma and Sunda plates, situated to the northeast.

In the region of the earthquake, the India plate moves toward the northeast at a rate of about 6 cm/year relative to the Burma plate. This results in oblique convergence at the Sunda trench. The oblique motion is partitioned into thrust-faulting, which occurs on the plate-interface and which involves slip directed perpendicular to the trench, and strike-slip faulting, which occurs several hundred kilometers to the east of the trench and involves slip directed parallel to the trench. The December 26 earthquake occurred as the result of thrust-faulting.

Preliminary locations of larger aftershocks following the megathrust earthquake show that approximately 1200 km of the plate boundary slipped as a result of the earthquake. By comparison with other large megathrust earthquakes, the width of the causative fault-rupture was likely over one-hundred km. From the size of the earthquake, it is likely that the average displacement on the fault plane was about fifteen meters. The sea floor overlying the thrust fault would have been uplifted by several meters as a result of the earthquake. The above estimates of fault-dimensions and displacement will be refined in the near future as the result of detailed analyses of the earthquake waves.

The world's largest recorded earthquakes have all been megathrust events, occurring where one tectonic plate subducts beneath another. These include:

the magnitude 9.5 1960 Chile earthquake, the magnitude 9.2 1964 Prince William Sound, Alaska, earthquake, the magnitude 9.1 1957 Andreanof Islands, Alaska, earthquake, and the magnitude 9.0 1952 Kamchatka earthquake. As with the recent event, megathrust earthquakes often generate large tsunamis that cause damage over a much wider area than is directly affected by ground shaking near the earthquake's rupture.

What is interesting is this site offers an email notification system that will be issued if a major earthquake of greater than 5.5 magnitude anywhere in the world or a greater than 4.5 magnitude in USA occurs. Expect a notification within a few hours of its occurence if a magnitude of greater than 6.5 occurs anywhere in the world. Subscribe at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/products/neic_data_services.html . An alternative pager/cell phone facility is also available. I wonder if any relevant authorities from Asean subscribed to this service?

The USGS site also provides a lot of information on earthquakes etc.

I have appended few additional sites below that provides fairly comprehensive information, with some of my comments...

Most information from above came from this site. Current and Historical information on earthquakes and various definitions used.

A very comprehensive site with numerous links to tons of information on tsunami and worldwide programs. Among them..

A program designed to reduce the impact of tsunamis through Warning Guidance, Hazard Assessment and Mitigation. A comprehensive site with pdf downloadable files and hyperlinks to information. See also http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tsunami/ (research program)

Established in 1949, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawai`i, provides warnings for teletsunamis to most countries in the Pacific Basin as well as to Hawai`i and all other US interests in the Pacific outside of Alaska and the US West Coast. Those areas are served by the West Coast / Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (WC/ATWC) in Palmer, Alaska.

The International Tsunami Information Center was established in 1965 by the IOC (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission) of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).  ITIC maintains and develops relationships with scientific research and academic organizations, civil defense agencies, and the general public in order to carry out its mission to mitigate the hazards associated with tsunamis by improving tsunami preparedness for all Pacific Ocean nations. We need something similar here is Asia. ITIC: Monitors international tsunami warning activities in the Pacific; Assists Member States in establishing national warning systems, and makes information available on current technologies for tsunami warning systems; Maintains a library of materials to promulgate knowledge about tsunamis in general and for use by the scientific community; Disseminates information including educational materials and research reports; Publishes a newsletter for all parties interested in the activities of ITIC and other organizations involved in tsunami warning or tsunami hazard reduction.

The objectives of TsunamiReady is to promote tsunami hazard readiness as an active collaboration among Federal, state and local emergency management agencies, the public, and the NWS tsunami warning system. This collaboration supports better and more consistent tsunami awareness and mitigation efforts among communities at risk. The main goal is improvement of public safety during tsunami emergencies. To meet this goal, the following objectives need to be met:

  • Create minimum standard guidelines for a community to follow for adequate tsunami readiness
  • Encourage consistency in educational materials and response among communities and states
  • Recognize communities that have adopted TsunamiReady guidelines
  • Increase public awareness and understanding of the tsunami hazard
  • Improve community pre-planning for tsunami disasters

A comprehensive guideline for readiness is available at http://wcatwc.arh.noaa.gov/tsunamiready/criteria.htm . Enough information here for any nation to setup their programs.

A coordination center with various information from ITIC .

They have a posting on the current tsunami at http://www.nio.org/jsp/tsunami.jsp . Some excerpts below..

Tsunami is a very large ocean wave triggered by underwater earthquake, volcanic activities or landslides. These waves have unusually long-wavelength in excess of 100 kms, generated in the open ocean and transformed into a train of catastrophic oscillations on the sea surface close to coastal zones. These normally occur in Pacific Ocean and are highly unexpected surrounding the Indian subcontinent.

In the open ocean, the tsunamis are harmless because of their small height (typically 30-60 cms.). However, as they race onto shallow water regions and pass into continental coasts their speed diminishes which results in increase in the wave height in order to conserve the total energy. Typical speeds in the open ocean are of the order of 600 to 800 km/hr. The tsunami's energy flux, which is dependent on both its wave speed and wave height, remains nearly constant. When it finally reaches the coast, a tsunami may appear as a series of breaking waves.

Seismic Monitor allows you to monitor global earthquakes in near real-time, visit seismic stations around the world, and search the web for earthquake or region-related information. You can also view seismograms and make dataset requests via its WILBER interface.

IRIS Seismic monitor

Stay current with information on relief efforts, official statements and newsfeeds.

This site, launched on Tuesday 10 February 2005, is intended to keep you informed about the progress in developing a Regional Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System for the Indian Ocean. Through the time line, displayed above, you will be able to obtain information on the many international events, organized by individual countries as well as by UN agencies, related to follow-up actions to the 26 December 2004 tsunami.

 

Current newsfeed on the tsunami disaster from google and Yahoo. Yahoo has a comprehensive set of hyperlinks as well. They also have a link to missing people and survivor list.

Lastly, I would like to take solace in Hellen Keller's words.."Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it". We cannot avoid natural disasters but we can try to limit destruction.

Dr Muruga Vadivale a.k.a "Cyberdoc"

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The links to URL mentioned above are valid at the time of writing (31st December 2004). Updated 15th May 2005.

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