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NCKU develops tsunami warning system

TAIPEI -- A research team at Taiwan's National Cheng Kung University said Thursday it is developing a warning system that it believes can provide much needed warning time in the event of a tsunami by monitoring ionospheric disturbances.

The system is being developed by a team led by Charles Lin, an associate professor at the university's Department of Earth Sciences.

Using a network of GPS receivers, the system can monitor changes in the ionosphere caused by corresponding disturbances on the surface of the Earth such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

Early warning is possible because disturbances in the iononsphere travel much faster than tsunamis.

Ionosphere is a layer of electrons and ion particles that surrounds the Earth, stretching from an altitude of about 100 kilometers to 800 km, the team said.

The warning system can allow up to 25 minutes warning time in cases where a tsunami is 370.15 kilometers offshore, said Chen Chia-hung, a post-doctoral fellow on the research team who studied ionospheric disturbances.

If the tsunami is 200 km offshore, the warning time will be 15 minutes, which means people will have 15 minutes to evacuate to safety, he added.

The next step of the research involves using the existing GPS receivers owned by the Central Weather Bureau to obtain real-time data on ionospheric disturbances and tsunamis.

Although it is still in the experimental stages, it could be Taiwan's first tsunami warning system, Chen said.

GPS receivers can be installed along the east coast of Taiwan at intervals of 10-20 kilometers as part of the tsunami warning system when the experiment is completed, he said. Each receiver comes at a relatively low price of NT$300,000 (US$10,000).

There is no need to place GPS receivers on the west coast because a tsunami in the Taiwan Strait is not very likely, Chen said.

He said he became interested in the research project because he was in Japan in March 2011 when the country was struck by a powerful earthquake that triggered a massive tsunami along the northeastern coast.

Since then, Chen said, he has been eager to examine the relationship between tsunamis and ionospheric disturbances.

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Charles Lin, an associate professor at the Department of Earth Sciences of National Cheng Kung University, left, and Chen Chia-hung, a post-doctoral fellow on Lin's research team, illustrate a warning system that they believe can provide much needed preparation time in the event of a tsunami by monitoring ionospheric disturbances. (CNA)

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