NOAA chief calls for global ocean sensing

In the wake of the deadly Indian Ocean tsunamis last week, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Conrad Lautenbacher has renewed his call for a Global Ocean Observing System that could patch together many governments' stovepiped sensors.

"He has been trying to build consensus for that since before he became administrator in 2001," said spokesman Kent Laborde. "It would have multilevel platforms in space and on Earth, as well as decision support tools. Data isn't useful unless it's in a form that local governments can use for decisions."

Laborde said the global observing system would combine new and existing systems, with "intergovernmental agreements to link and to add new layers where we see deficiencies."

After seismometers detected the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that could generate tsunamis, NOAA tried to notify Indian Ocean nations of the possibility, but the agency has no tsunami-sensing buoys there, as it does in the Pacific Ocean.

NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory currently operates six sensor buoys along the Pacific coast that report changes in sea level. And NOAA's Ocean Service has an extensive network of tide gauges used to identify a possible tsunami.

The Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoys consist of an anchored sea floor pressure recorder with a companion surface buoy. An acoustic link transmits data from the sea floor to the surface buoy. The data then travels to ground stations via one of NOAA's Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites. The DART program in October won a Commerce Department gold medal.

NOAA's National Weather Service currently supports tsunami warning centers for the West Coast, Alaska, the Pacific Rim and the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. Its Tsunami Ready Program requires participating coastal communities to fund public awareness programs, recruit local directors, and install sirens and emergency radio and TV systems. Sirens must be tested monthly.

Laborde said it was difficult to estimate the cost of establishing tsunami warning systems in other nations. But he said there are "multiple parallel systems all over the Earth that don't communicate now."

The agency today posted a timeline of its notification efforts to other nations.

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