John Chamberlain
Developer Diary
 Developer Diary · You Heard It Here First · 22 January 2005
Tsunami Alerts Congress to Importance of Science
As a software developer who works building applications for scientists and government I know one of the toughest psychological problems is getting research work funded. Members of congress often see oceanography and other earth sciences as ivory tower exercises with no direct benefits. The ocean is not a registered voter. An event like the Bay of Bengal tsunami in December changes this perception.

When hundreds of thousands die it is a reminder that oceanography and atmospheric research has a real impact on mankind. By detecting and predicting climatic disasters scientists can potentially save millions of lives and mitigate property destruction. They do this using models which capture and analyze data streams from satellites and other instruments positioned around the earth. When such models become operational they are the basis for creating early warning systems that can alert the public to danger.

An example of this is the Pacific Tsunami warning system which is maintained by NOAA and coordinated by the ITSU. This system uses sensory buoys to detect sudden changes in wave velocity. The buoys in this system are of the DART type. Currently the DART network is being transitioned to NOAA's National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) from PMEL, another NOAA operational group. Both NDBC and PMEL are big users of our OPeNDAP software and specifications for transmitting data.

It's important to realize that detecting a tsunami involves a lot more than making an isolated data observations. The data from the buoys must be gathered into a model which includes many different inputs to hopefully predict coastal impacts. Figuring out just which coastal areas may be affected is a complex problem. Once a tsunami is detected there is then the equally difficult problem of communicating a warning to huge numbers of people who may be in distant countries in a short window of time that may only be an hour or two. In some areas public address systems (loud speakers) are being designed for use directly on beaches.

The international cooperation and determination to solve this problem using science and computer technology is an example of how a relatively small amount of tax dollars can be converted into a huge long-term benefit for civilization.

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