The images on television were unimaginable. The number of deaths, staggering. The stories of survival were both heroic and miraculous. Even today, some months later, the news is still filled with reports concerning the December 26, 2004 tsunami that literally devastated many areas of Indonesia. Relief efforts have been under way since the first few days of the disaster and have come from virtually every area of the world, however, what took nature only minutes to destroy will likely take man some years to rebuild.
A tsunami is a natural phenomenon consisting of a series of waves generated when water in a lake or sea is rapidly displaced on a massive scale, due to an earthquake, landslide, volcanic eruption, or large meteorite impact, with effects that can range from unnoticeable to devastation (Tsunami pp). The term tsunami comes from the Japanese language meaning harbor
"tsu," and wave, "nami," and was created by fisherman who returned to port to find the area surrounding the harbor devastated, although they had been unaware of any wave in the open water (Tsunami pp). A tsunami is not a sub-surface event in the deep ocean, it simply has a much smaller amplitude or wave heights offshore, and a very long wavelength, often hundreds of kilometers long, which is why they can pass unnoticed at sea, forming only a passing "hump" in the ocean (Tsunami pp).
Historically, tsunamis were "referred to as tidal waves because as they approach land they take on the characteristics of a violent onrushing tide rather than the sort of cresting waves that are formed by wind action upon the ocean," however, they are not actually related to tides and the term is considered misleading and its usage discouraged by oceanographers (Tsunami pp). A tsunami is better understood as a new and suddenly higher sea level which manifests as a shelf or shelves of water (Tsunami pp). "The leading edge of a tsunami superficially resembles a breaking wave but behaves differently: the rapid rise in sea level, combined with the weight and pressure of the ocean behind it, has far greater force' (Tsunami pp). Moreover, tsunamis act very differently from typical surf swells, as they are phenomena that move the entire depth of the ocean rather than just the surface, thus, "they contain immense energy, propagate at high speeds and can travel great transoceanic distances with little overall energy loss" (Tsunami pp).
A tsunami warning system is a system to detect tsunamis and issue warnings to prevent loss of life, and consists of two equally important components: a network of sensors to detect tsunamis and a communications infrastructure to issue timely alarms" to allow evacuation of coastal areas (Tsunami pp). Many areas of the Pacific, such as Japan, Hawaii, French Polynesia, Alaska, and the Pacific coasts of South America, have tsunami warning systems and evacuation procedures in place, however, other oceans do not, and this contributed to the major loss of life after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (Tsunami pp). In the wake of this disaster, it is very likely that warning systems will be put in place in the Indian, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean, moreover, plans have already begun for an International Early Warning Program (Tsunami pp). There are two distinct types of warning systems, international and regional, and both depend on the fact that earthquakes can be detected almost immediately, thus, allowing time for a tsunami forecast to be made and warnings to be issued to threatened areas (Tsunami pp). The first rudimentary system to alert communities of a tsunami was attempted in Hawaii in the 1920's, then more advanced systems were developed in the wake of the April 1, 1946 and May 23, 1960 tsunamis which caused massive devastation in Hilo, Hawaii (Tsunami pp).
"Early Detection and Forecast of Tsunamis" is a research project of the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (Early pp). The project is a pilot study designed to demonstrate the technology-science required to quickly detect a tsunami near its Alaskan source and forecast the tsunami impact on Hawaiian shores, and consists of three parts, instrumentation, data analysis, and numerical modeling (Early pp).
The instrumentation will be the operational testing of a real time, deep ocean tsunami detection system that has been developed and tested in a prototype mode.
The data analysis component involves compiling data from a Pacific-wide tsunami generated in the Alaska-Aleutian Seismic Zone (AASZ) by the 10 June 1996 Andreanov Island earthquake. When properly processed, the combined Andreanov tsunami data set will provide field measurements critical to numerical model verification, and the eventual development of guidance for Hawaii regarding future tsunamis that are expected to be generated in the AASZ (Early pp).
Once successfully tested, a set of numerical experiments can be conducted using various tsunami amplitudes, frequencies, and durations to examine their impact on Oahu shorelines (Early pp). "These scenario studies can produce a range of run-up results that can be provided to Hawaii State Civil Defense for emergency planning purposes" (Early pp).
On December 26, 2004, a magnitude 9.3 earthquake ripped the seafloor off the coast of northwest Sumatra, releasing over a hundred years of accumulated stress in the second biggest earthquake in recorded history, resulting in the unleashing of a devastating tsunami that traveled thousands of miles across the Indian Ocean, claiming nearly 300,000 lives in countries as far apart as Indonesia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Somalia (Lambourne pp).
One hundred and fifty miles off the coast of Sumatra, "deep under the ocean floor, at the boundary between two of the world's tectonic plates, lies a 745 miles trench called the Andaman-Sumatran subduction zone (Lambourne pp). "At about the same speed as your fingernails grow, the lower plate, carrying India, is being forced or subducted beneath the upper plate, carrying most of South-East Asia, dragging it down, causing huge stresses to build up" (Lambourne pp). On December 26, 2004, these stresses were released with shaking that lasted for eight minutes (Lambourne pp). No one knows exactly how many people died in the quake itself, but scientists who have since visited the nearby island of Simueleu and found that the whole island has been tilted by the force of the quake, causing coral that had been submerged beneath the ocean for thousands of years to be thrust out of the water on the east side, while the bays in the west have been drained (Lambourne pp). On the shores facing the epicenter, the waves reached heights of 65 feet, stripping vegetation from mountain sides a half mile inland (Lambourne pp). The city of Banda Aceh was almost completely destroyed, losing 200,000 people in just fifteen minutes (Lambourne pp). At Khao Lak, the wave reached thirty feet, claiming 5,000 lives with some 3,000 still missing (Lambourne pp). Cities such as Galle were destroyed, leaving over 4,000 people dead in this region alone (Lambourne pp). Then north to India, the waves claimed at least 10,000 people (Lambourne pp).
Death toll estimates are believed to be more than 300,000, however, the true toll may never be known, do to bodies having been swept out to sea (Tsunami pp).
Approximately 500 bodies a day were still being found as of February 2005 and the count was expected to continue past June (Tsunami pp). Moreover, relief agencies warn of the possibility of more deaths due to epidemics caused by poor sanitation (Tsunami pp).
Some economies appear to have escaped unscathed, while others, have been crippled (At pp). Indonesia, although hardest hit in terms of loss of life, seems to have escaped the worst of the tsunami's economic disruption since the main affected area, Aceh, is rich in resources, official forecasts for growth in gross domestic product remain unchanged for 2005 (At pp). However, the immediate cost of reconstruction is high, and is estimated that Aceh will need some $4 billion over the next five years (At pp). The International Labor Organization has estimated that over one million jobs have been lost in Indonesia and Sri Lanka (At pp). The Asian Development Bank estimates that Sri Lanka faces $1.5 billion in reconstruction costs (At pp). On the Indian mainland, damage has been assessed from $1.2 billion to $6.5 billion (At pp). Damage in the Andman and Nicobar Islands could be as high as $600 million (At pp).
Among critical coastal habitats in Aceh and north Sumatra, "25,000 hectares (ha) of mangroves, 30 per cent of 97,250 ha of previously existing coral reefs, and 20 per cent of 600 ha of seagrass beds have been damaged," with economic loss valued at $118.2 million, $332.4 million and $2.3 million, respectively, according to a United Nations report (Asian pp).
As a result of infiltration of saline water, sediment and sludge, it is estimated that 7.5 kilometres of river mouth is in need of rehabilitation, and hundreds of wells in the rural area need to be cleaned up. Along the coastal strip, it is estimated that 48,925 ha of forest area was affected, with the assumption…