WOC and Maersk Line partner with University of Hawaii to advance tsunami detection

Maersk Line vessels operating across the North Pacific are hosting instruments that create a network of low-cost tsunami sensors to augment existing detection systems.

Maersk’s involvement in the project was organized by the World Ocean Council (WOC) “Smart Ocean-Smart Industries” Program, which works as a broker between the science community and the ocean business community in order to advance the use of ocean industry vessels and platforms for data collection.

Accurate and rapid detection and assessment of tsunamis in the open ocean is critical for predicting how they will impact distant coastlines, enabling appropriate mitigation efforts. Scientists from the University of Hawai‘i – Mānoa (UHM) School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), with funding from US NOAA, are partnering with Maersk Line and Matson Navigation to equip 10 ships with real-time geodetic GPS systems and satellite communications.

The pilot network of GPS-equipped ships enables each vessel to act as an open-ocean tide gauge. Data from these new tsunami sensors are streamed, via satellite, to a land-based data center where they are processed and analyzed for tsunami signals.

“The 2011 Japan earthquake highlighted weaknesses in our understanding of earthquake and tsunami hazards, and emphasized the need for more densely-spaced observing capabilities,” said James Foster, SOEST associate researcher and lead investigator for the project.

“Commercial vessels are the only realistic option for providing observation platforms at the scale necessary. The WOC Smart Ocean-Smart Industries program was exactly the mechanism we needed toidentify and engage a shipping company that might respond to our needs for instrument hosting and ocean data collection,” he added.

During the Illapel tsunami in 2015, several of the pilot project ships were in open ocean, enabling actual testing of the sensors. First results were positive, confirming predicted performance of the sensors. With the network installed, the scientists are at the beginning of further testing system performance and refining methods for filtering time series to improve resolution of tsunami events.

Signe Bruun Jensen, Head of Sustainability at Maersk Line, highlighted that “The Smart Ocean-Smart Industries program was one of the main reasons we joined the World Ocean Council. The WOC enables new models for cooperation between the scientific/ocean observing community and ocean industries to address our shared challenges. The tsunami detection project is a perfect example of the potential of these collaborations. Through our fleet of more than 600 vessels, deeper knowledge of the oceans can be gained, resulting ultimately in higher safety of exposed coastal areas.”

Paul Holthus, WOC’s CEO, added, “The WOC Smart Ocean-Smart Industries program is expanding the use of commercial vessels and platforms for data collection by fostering and coordinating interaction between ocean industries and the science and technology communities. We are working to increase ocean information through pilot efforts that would address: Priority data needs, such as ocean acidification, bathymetry; Data deficient areas, such as the Arctic, waters around Africa, the Southern Ocean; and Partnering with existing programs and technology, such as the Global Drifter Program and the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO).”

The WOC is catalyzing ocean industry leadership and collaboration to improve ocean understanding in support of sustainable development. The Smart Ocean-Smart Industries program is developing a structure and process to support ongoing interaction between industries and the science/technology communities to identify needs, priorities and opportunities for partnerships in data collection. Scaling up data collection efforts can also spur innovation, stimulate business and create investment opportunities, e.g. by growing the market for the ocean observation technology and services.

For more information on the WOC Smart Ocean-Smart Industries program, contact: paul.holthus@oceancouncil.org

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