The aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami in Sri Lanka.
The aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami in Sri Lanka. Kevin Farmer

Sensors work to ensure tsunami tragedy never repeated

AS SOMBRE memorials are held around Asia today, 10 years after the Boxing Day tsunami killed more than 230,000 people, Australian sensors are helping to ensure the tragedy is never repeated.

On December 26, 2004 an earthquake off the Sumatran coast caused a massive wave that hit coasts from Sri Lanka to Thailand.

Today the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre, which the Bureau of Meteorology and Geoscience Australia run, can provide tsunami warnings just 15 minutes after an earthquake.

JATWC co-director Daniel Jaksa said the new system could warn people of potential disaster in minutes.

"Now in 2014 we are able to tell people who are leisurely having a good time on the beach a tsunami is coming," he said.

"So on average, a tsunami warning coming out of the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre takes about 15 minutes.

He said in 2004 Australia had limited tsunami monitoring capabilities - especially in the Indian Ocean where tsunamis are uncommon.

"He said while the Bureau of Meteorology had ocean monitors in 2004 they were not designed for tsunami monitoring," he said.

"They encompassed more work for looking at sea level rises and for looking at climate change and as a consequence were not really tuned to monitor a tsunami.

"The work the bureau had to do subsequent to 2004 was to turn those tide gauges to something that could be used for tsunami forecasting, monitoring and warning purposes.

Bureau of Meteorology head of tsunami warning and ocean forecasting Rick Bailey said significant upgrades had been made to better identify tsunamis.

"In 2004 the bureau had a very basic tsunami alert system. We didn't have detailed information on the 26 of December, we got word from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre that a major earthquake happened," he said.

"Since then … the Bureau has enhanced its existing 24-7 capabilities for severe weather warning to now include a much more comprehensive tsunami monitoring, forecasting and warning capability."