Tsunami warnings for Hawaii: How science really works

February 27, 2010

As I write this it’s more than five hours away.

Earthquake map from USGS, showing location of the Chile quake 2-27-2010

Earthquake map from USGS, showing location of the Chile quake 2-27-2010 - click on map to go to interactive version at USGS site

A horrible, devastating earthquake hit Chile last night, on the west coast of South America.  Scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center fear it may have triggered a tsunami that will hit Hawaii today (an AP story says at 5:19 p.m. Eastern; that’s 4:19 p.m. Central, and just after 11:00 a.m. in Honolulu, Hawaii, Hawaiian-Aleutian Standard Time (HAST).

HONOLULU (Reuters) – Hawaii prepared to start evacuations ahead of a tsunami generated by a massive earthquake in Chile, a civil defense official on the U.S. island said on Saturday.

It planned to sound civil defense sirens across the island state at 6 a.m. local time (11 a.m. EST) after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a tsunami was generated that could cause damage along the coasts of all the Hawaiian islands,

“Get off the shore line. We are closing all the beaches and telling people to drive out of the area,” said John Cummings, Oahu Civil Defense spokesman.

Buses will patrol beaches and take people to parks in a voluntary process expected to last five hours.

More than an hour before sirens were due to sound lines of cars snaked for blocks from gas stations in Honolulu.

“Urgent action should be taken to protect lives and property,” the Warning Center said in a bulletin. “All shores are at risk no matter which direction they face.”

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The warning follows a huge earthquake in Chile that killed at least 82 people and triggered tsunamis up and down the coast of the earthquake-prone country.

The center estimates the first tsunami, which is a series of several waves in succession, will hit Hawaii at 11:19 a.m. Hawaii time (4:19 p.m. EST) in the town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, with waves in Honolulu at 11:52 a.m.

Sardina said the Hawaiian islands could expect waves of six feet (two meters) in some places. Other estimates have been higher but he could not confirm those were likely.

Plate tectonics at work — the Pacific plate pushing underneath South America.  The epicenter was 22 miles deep.  We get a glimpse into how geologists and others work with a report from the Times of London:

Several big aftershocks later hit the south-central region, including ones measuring 6.9, 6.2 and 5.6.

The earthquake was caused by the floor of the Pacific being pushed below South American land mass.

This sudden jerking of the sea-floor displaced water and triggered a tsunami, which is now crossing the ocean at a speed of a jet plane.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a warning for Chile and Peru, and a less-urgent tsunami watch for Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Antarctica.

A spokesman said: “Sea level readings indicate a tsunami was generated.

Will a potential disaster in human lives be averted?

Isn’t this exactly how science is supposed to work?  Will the anti-science yahoos ignore the warnings?

Woo notice: Our dogs were restless last night.  I had to get up twice to let them out just to bark with the rest of the dogs in the neighborhood, who all seemed to be going nuts at once.  Looking at the news stories, it was just a bit before the big quake hit Chile.  It doesn’t make sense to me that dogs so far away from the epicenter would be affected that way.

Resources:

Hawaii map and threat map from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center - 2-27-2010

Hawaii map and threat map from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, February 27, 2010. Click on image for current information.


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