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Friday, December 31, 2004

Building A Global Internet Tsunami Warning System In A Month

Robert X. Cringely writes, Global Internet Tsunami Warning System can be built in a month. Excerpts with edits and my comments:

With the recent Tsunami that hit Asia,considering the magnitude of the damage,there is lots of talk about tsunami warning systems and global cooperation.We don't need governments and huge sensor arrays to warn people on the beach about the next huge wave approaching at 400 miles-per-hour. Thanks to the Internet, we can probably do it by ourselves.

What we need is a tsunami warning system not just for parts of Asia, but for anywhere in the world that might be subject to such conditions. And that decision about what beaches to protect ought to come not from Washington, D.C., or Jakarta, or any other capital city, but from the beach people, themselves. If you are concerned about a giant tidal wave taking out your village, it might be a good idea to build your own warning system.It can be done.The Tsunami Warning System (TWS) in the Pacific Ocean shows us how such a warning system can be run with the cooperation of 26 countries. TWS is based on crunching two kinds of data -- seismic activity and changes in sea level measured by tide gauges. Most tsunamis begin with an earthquake, the severity and epicenter of which can tell a lot about whether a tsunami is likely, how strong it will be, and in what direction it is likely to go. From the TWS, the first warning is based purely on such seismic data. But once the big wave starts rolling it will have an effect on the level of the sea, itself, which is routinely monitored by weather stations of many types. This additional data gives a better idea of how bad the wave is really going to be, so in the TWS system, it is used to justify expanding the warning to other communities beyond those warned purely on the basis of seismic data.

Depending on where the originating earthquake is, the tsunami can be minutes or hours from crashing into a beach. This week's wave took about 90 minutes to reach Sri Lanka, just over 600 miles from the epicenter. That not only means the wave was traveling at over 400 miles-per-hour, it also means that had a warning system been in place, there would easily have been time to get the people who were affected in Sri Lanka to higher ground. So to start, we need raw seismic data. Thanks to the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network, here is one place where you can find real time data from 199 seismographs around the world. There are also links to a dozen regional operations that consolidate such data. The data is available. Tide gauge data is available, too, though there is less of it, and aggregation will require more effort, so let's just stick to seismic data for our warning system.
Here's where we need the help of a tsunami expert, someone who can help us calculate the size and direction of a likely tsunami based on the available seismic data
. Fortunately, there has been quite a bit of work done in this area of study and appropriate computer codes that can be run on a personal computer either exist or can be derived, perhaps by reflexively evaluating seismic data from known tsunami events. But remember that what we care about here is not global tsunami warning but LOCAL tsunami warning , so the required seismic data sources can pretty easily be limited to those with an uninterrupted aspect of the target beach, which means half a dozen seismographs, not 199.
The seismographs are online, we gather the data using XML, continuously crunch it using the codes that already exist, then we need the warning, which could be flashed on the screen of the PC. Looking just like a TV weather map, the PC widget like Konfabulator would flash a warning and even include a countdown timer just like in the movies.
No international consortium, No broadband is needed to build such a local tsunami warning system. The data is available, processing power is abundant and cheap. With local effort, there is no reason why every populated beach on earth can't have a practical tsunami warning system up and running a month from now. That's Internet time for you, but in this case, its application can protect friends everywhere from senseless and easily avoidable death.

Amazing man - should be tried out immediately- Essentially decentrailised processing using powerful personal computers and ability to process significant amount of data locally coupled with availability of huge mass of data being collected currently,is the basis on which this framework would work.Let some of the fund getting raised for Tsunami relief be routed for piloting this Tsunami warning system framework. Scobeleizer wrote earlier today,Bill and Melinda Gates start writing checks for three million dollars for Tsunami relief - may be they can take the lead in driving this pilot or the indian service providers like TCS,INFY,Wipro etc.. or the Japanese,Korean majorsetc.. ( may be there is a commercialisation opportunity down the line- specialised turnkey offering for most of the beaches in the world!!)who have by the way benefitted significantly by the advancements in the technology world.This idea really requires serious consideration.

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