Early warning of earthquakes

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The German Tsunami Early Warning System (GITEWS) in Indonesia has demonstrated new software that speeds up the detection of earthquakes.

The system performed the diagnosis of the M 7.6 West Java earthquake after four minutes and 38 seconds, establishing the location after two minutes and 11 seconds. In comparison, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii took 17 minutes to publish the location and magnitude of the same earthquake.

The GITEWS employs a software system called SeisComP (seismological communication processor), which was developed by GFZ Potsdam and recently installed at the Meteorological and Geophysical Agency of Indonesia (BMG) in Jakarta. The system features standardised acquisition, global exchange, and automatic and interactive analysis of earthquake data.

As part of the GITEWS project, SeisComP was improved to focus on accelerated manual analysis for early detection of potentially tsunamogenic large earthquakes. A new version of the software, SeisComP3, replaced an older package, installed after the Sumatra tsunami in December 2004, that only worked automatically and did not include sufficient visual control and interaction. Furthermore, the old version was slower at detection and determined the location and size of quakes less accurately.

Professor Reinhard Huttl, on the Scientific Executive Board of GFZ Potsdam, said: ‘The new earthquake monitoring system is already running in real-time operation mode, since May 2007, and has successfully detected and located a number of earthquakes.’

BMG Jakarta will host the future Tsunami Early Warning Centre for Indonesia, in which the German government has invested €40m. The German Federal Government is supporting the GITEWS project to re-establish the infrastructure in the disaster areas around the Indian Ocean affected by the Sumatra Tsunami, with a consortium of eight German research institutes involved in the venture.