U.S., Thai Officials Celebrate Tsunami-Detection Device Launch

By Cheryl Pellerin
USINFO Staff Writer

Phuket, Thailand - On this island province of Thailand in the Andaman Sea, where more than 6,000 people - half of them tourists from 38 countries - lost their lives in the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, government officials from the United States and Thailand gathered December 1 to celebrate the upcoming launch of the region’s first tsunami-detection system.

The deep-ocean assessment and reporting of tsunamis (DART) buoy was built by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is part of a two-year, $16.6 million U.S. contribution to the Indian Ocean tsunami warning system. (See related article.)

More than 300 people joined the celebration, among them U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce, Thailand Foreign Minister Nit Phibunsongkram and Richard Whelden, acting director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Regional Development Mission for Asia.

USAID manages the U.S. program that supports regional and national tsunami and multihazard warning systems for the Indian Ocean, and includes contributions of technical expertise from NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forestry Service and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

“Once the buoy is deployed, real-time tsunami detection data will be freely shared on international telecommunications networks for all countries to receive,” Boyce told the audience.

The DART buoy, he added, eventually will be part of an array of 24 deep-ocean buoys planned by the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, which oversees development of regional tsunami warning systems for the Indian Ocean; the northeastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean and connected seas; and the Caribbean and adjacent regions.

The array will be completed over time with contributions of tsunami-detection buoys from Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Germany, Australia and other nations.


The ceremony was held on the Cape Panwa pier, which stretches into blue water on the southeast part of the island near the Phuket Marine Biological Center.

The DART buoy - the focal point of the celebration - was at the end of the pier, secured on the deck of a large, sturdy research and training vessel, MV SEAFDEC, provided by the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center to take the buoy to its resting place on the ocean floor, at 9 degrees north, 89 degrees east, halfway between Thailand and Sri Lanka.

After the celebration, accompanied by music from a Phuket high school marching band, the SEAFDEC and its passengers - including U.S. and Thai scientists and engineers, and experts from NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center in Mississippi - began a two-day journey to the deployment site.

After putting the DART buoy in the water December 3-4, the engineers will test its communications system and continue monitoring its signals to make sure the system is properly transmitting data.

The DART uses sensitive water pressure sensors on the ocean floor to detect tsunami waves that are generated after large undersea earthquakes and send data by satellite to scientists about three minutes after an earthquake occurs.

Such information greatly improves the capacity to forecast tsunamis and save lives in coastal areas.

Once operational, the buoy will provide continuous real-time data for any country to use, including the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, which, along with the Japanese Meteorological Agency, provides tsunami alerts for the Indian Ocean and future regional warning centers in the region.


Twenty DART buoys are deployed and operating across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, but this is the first operational buoy to be launched in the Indian Ocean that will report deep-ocean observational data directly to the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Telecommunications System for early warning.

The DART system, valued at more than $440,000, is being deployed through a partnership between the United States and the Royal Thai government as a contribution to the Indian Ocean tsunami warning system.

“In the last decade,” Thai Foreign Minister Nit said during the ceremony, “the collaboration and cooperation between Thailand and the United States has been immense and has benefited both countries.”

NOAA will provide technical assistance during deployment and initial operation, and the Thai Meteorological Department and the National Disaster Warning Center in Bangkok share responsibility for the deployment and long-term buoy operation and maintenance.

NOAA plans to launch a second DART buoy in 2007 in partnership with the government of Indonesia off the coast of Sumatra.

In Jakarta November 20, President Bush announced that the United States and Indonesia would also seek to deploy another buoy off the Indonesian island of Java, where a 7.7-magnitude earthquake July 17 caused a two meter-high tsunami that killed more than 300 people.

The U.S. Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii and the Japanese Meteorological Agency issued tsunami alerts after the earthquake to parts of Indonesia and Australia, but no warnings reached people in Java coastal areas.

More information about the U.S. contribution to the Indian Ocean tsunami warning system is available on the program's Web site.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Science and Technology.