Critical New Tsunami Reporting System Has Gaping Holes

For Immediate Release

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Dianna Muth (202) 265-7337

Critical New Tsunami Reporting System Has Gaping Holes

Nearly One-Third of Deep Ocean Stations Are "Dead" Including Tsunami Hot Spots

WASHINGTON -  A highly-touted new ocean-based tsunami warning system has large
dead zones that undercut its effectiveness, according to documents
posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
scientists also complain that several other stations are reporting
sporadic data that is not useable.

NOAA completed its Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of
Tsunamis (DART) network of 39 stations covering the Pacific, Atlantic,
Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico in March 2008. NOAA claims that the
“DART network serves as the cornerstone of the U.S. tsunami warning
system” yet a significant portion of the stations are not functioning.

NOAA records indicate that more than one in four (10 out of 39) of
its DART stations are failing. When the seven DART buoys operated by
other countries are added in the failure rate rises to above 30%. A
review by PEER indicates the average dead period for non-reporting DART
stations exceeds 6 months.

Significantly, one area left completely uncovered is the Kuril
Trench, off the Pacific coast of Russia, that is part of the “Ring of
Fire”, named due to its tectonic instability resulting in frequent
seismic activity that has historically produced large tsunamogenic
earthquakes. All four of the DART buoys closest to the Kuril Trench are
non-responsive.

“NOAA scientists rely on the DART network to help provide timely
tsunami warnings so as to prevent a repeat of the human catastrophe
seen in south Asia from the 2004 Indonesian tsunami,” stated PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Our scientists worry that this system is
like a fire alarm that cannot ring.”

A DART works by sending acoustic signals between a transmitter
anchored on the sea floor and a surface buoy. As a tsunami moves across
the ocean, the DART reports bottom pressure changes due to the entire
column of water above. With these measurements taken in the open ocean,
NOAA’s Tsunami Warning Centers are better able to predict the size of
any tsunami. This improves forecasts, thus allowing earlier, more
accurate watches, warnings and, if needed, evacuations.

In 2008, NOAA actually requested a more than million dollar decrease
in its appropriation “to reflect the completion of the…DART buoys”,
leaving no funds or personnel dedicated to the DART network.

“We hope that by publicly bringing this problem to NOAA’s attention
that they will fix it,” added Ruch, pointing to NOAA attempts to fix
problems in its Hawaiian seismic network earlier this year after PEER
went public with internal memos outlining delays and dysfunctions. “If,
as claimed, DART is the cornerstone of our tsunami warning system, then
NOAA should make darn sure this cornerstone is not crumbling.”

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See the sites of the non-responsive buoys

See the interactive DART map and non-responsive buoys

Look at spreadsheet showing an average of more than 6 months down time

Read NOAA claims on importance of DART network

Learn more about how DART is supposed to work

View NOAA budget cut for DART network

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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