Australia Launches First U.S.-Built Tsunami Detection Station

By Cheryl Pellerin
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Using technology developed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Australian Bureau of Meteorology launched its first deep-ocean assessment and reporting of tsunami (DART) buoy station April 12 at a celebration in Hobart, Australia, that included Australian and U.S. officials.

After the ceremony, the 66.1-meter research vessel Southern Surveyor, owned and managed by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, began the 1,200-kilometer voyage to deliver the DART station to the southeast Tasman Sea - at 48 degrees and 3 minutes south, 161 degrees and 13 minutes east - on April 17.

The placement will allow the DART to capture critical tsunami data from the oceanic Puysegur strike-slip fault - where the ground rupture is nearly vertical and one side slides past the other during an earthquake - near New Zealand.

The launch comes less than two weeks after a 8.1-magnitude earthquake and tsunami claimed at least 40 lives and left thousands homeless in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, about 3,200 kilometers from Australia.

“The success of any tsunami warning and mitigation system is measured by the strength of partnerships among nations and our mutual commitments in such areas as supporting new and expanded observational networks and sharing information in real time, freely and openly,” NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher wrote in a letter to Geoff Love, director of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, that was read at the ceremony.

“We are pleased to partner with Australia,” the letter continued, “which has not only committed to establish a strong national tsunami warning system but to be a regional leader in the Indian Ocean and strong partner in the Pacific Ocean.”


The introduction of DART technology in Australia stems from a Tsunami Science Implementing Agreement signed February 23 between NOAA and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (See related article.)

DART stations near potential source zones will provide real-time data that help Bureau of Meteorology scientists determine whether an earthquake or undersea event has generated a potentially destructive tsunami.

Australia is the fourth nation to adopt the NOAA-developed technology, said Shannon McArthur, DART program manager at the NOAA National Data Buoy Center in Mississippi, in an April 10 USINFO interview.

The U.S. network consists of 28 DART stations, and the array is expected to include 39 stations by spring 2008. The government of Chile bought and deployed a DART from NOAA in November 2003. NOAA contributed one DART and technical expertise to the Indian Ocean tsunami warning program in December 2006 and will contribute one more DART station sometime in 2007. (See related article.)

Japan operates a few cabled deep-ocean sensors off its Pacific coasts, Lautenbacher said in testimony before Congress in 2005, but the NOAA DARTs are the only deep-ocean capability available to NOAA’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii and its West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Alaska. (See related article.)

Until there is a more global capacity for tsunami warning, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, in cooperation with the Japan Meteorological Agency, serves as an interim warning center for the Indian Ocean region, including Australia, and the Caribbean.


“The deployment of the DART buoy is a significant milestone in building a robust tsunami warning system for Australia,” Love said at the launch ceremony. “We are planning a further four DART buoy deployments to complement our tsunami detection and verification network - one to the northeast of Australia and two to Australia’s northwest.”

Developed by and produced by NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center, the DART system provides real-time tsunami detection as waves travel across open waters.

The stations consist of a bottom pressure sensor that is anchored to the seafloor and a companion moored surface buoy. An acoustic link transmits data from the bottom pressure sensor to the surface buoy, and then satellite links relay the data to warning centers, including NOAA’s centers in Hawaii and Alaska.

Australia has paid $758,000 for a DART station and training on DART deployment and maintenance and will pay the same amount for another DART that will be delivered in September and to participate in research and development on next-generation easy-to-deploy DARTs now under development at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

“The Australians are patterning their warning system after the U.S. system,” said Curt Barrett, director of the Indian Ocean Project at NOAA, meaning that each DART station is part of a larger end-to-end warning system that includes tide gauges, communications upgrades, inundation (flooding) modeling and warning dissemination systems.

At a March 1 meeting of the UNESCO International Oceanographic Commission’s (IOC's) Intergovernmental Coordination Group of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System in Mombasa, Kenya, Barrett said, Australian officials announced that a warning center for issuing tsunami watches and warnings would be operational within six months.

The DART deployment is also a contribution to the network of instruments that will enhance the tsunami warning capabilities for the Pacific Basin, an effort facilitated by the UNESCO IOC and the World Meteorological Organization.

More information about DART stations is available on the NOAA Web site.