Research Highlights | Published:


Ship GPS could flag tsunamis

Nature volume 486, page 161 (14 June 2012) | Download Citation


Commercial ships on Earth's oceans could provide a cheap and easy way to track propagating tsunamis.


Current warning systems rely on sparse, expensive buoys and underwater sensors that track a wave once it has been triggered by an earthquake. James Foster at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu and his team examined Global Positioning System (GPS) data from a research vessel (pictured) that was heading from Hawaii to Guam in February 2010 when an underwater earthquake occurred off the coast of Chile. Filtering the data on the basis of tsunami models allowed the researchers to differentiate between choppy seas and changes in ocean surface height due to a tsunami. The team detected a roughly 10-centimetre rise as the tsunami passed, and estimated wave speed and arrival time.

Although data from a single ship could be prone to false positives, recruiting thousands of ships could overcome this problem, the authors suggest.

Geophys. Res. Lett. (2012)

About this article

Publication history





    By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

    Newsletter Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing