New Zealand establishes enhanced tsunami monitoring and detection system

New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters and Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare have announced the deployment of a network of DART (Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami) buoys to safeguard the country’s coast against tsunami risk.

DART (Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami) buoys are deep-ocean instruments that monitor changes in sea level. They are currently the only accurate way to rapidly confirm a tsunami has been generated before it reaches the coast. This is about keeping people safe by giving advance notice that a tsunami is heading our way. This is particularly critical for unfelt earthquakes originating from the Kermadec trench. Early detection of a tsunami using DART buoys allows New Zealand to accurately provide early warnings using a range of communication channels including Emergency Mobile Alerts.

“New Zealand and the Pacific region are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. It is vital we have adequate warning systems in place,” said Mr Peters. New Zealand faces significant life-threatening tsunami risk. New Zealand’s geographical and geological place in the Pacific, puts the country at risk from many different tsunami sources, some may be generated and arrive at the nearest coasts in less than an hour.

“DART buoys are the only tried and repeatedly tested technology that confirms the generation of tsunami waves before they reach the coast. This is particularly critical for unfelt earthquakes originating from the Kermadec trench. We have invested in the best equipment to keep New Zealanders safe. Until now, New Zealand has been reliant on a single, aging DART buoy. This is a shocking inadequacy that we have addressed with urgency.” said Mr Peters.

The National Geohazards Monitoring Centre will support the 24/7 monitoring to receive, process and analyse the data from the buoys, and the National Emergency Management Agency will issue tsunami warnings and advisories to the New Zealand public.

“We are establishing a network of fifteen DART buoys to provide early detection and support warnings for tsunami generated from the Kermadec and Hikurangi trenches right on our doorstep,” further emphasized Mr Henare. “This is about saving lives – people are at the heart of what we do.”

The DART buoy network will also provide tsunami monitoring and detection information for Pacific countries, including Tokelau, Niue, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Samoa. The international sharing of information and the coordination of preparedness materials and exercises is conducted under the aegis of the Pacific Tsunami Warning System, coordinated by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

From seafloor to tsunami warning: Step-by-step process (New Zealand Example)

An event that could trigger a tsunami such as a large undersea earthquake or undersea volcanic eruption occurs.
If a tsunami is generated, there are rapid and unusual changes to the water pressure on the sea floor.
The DART buoy’s sensor on the ocean floor measures water pressure.
The measurements are sent by acoustic signal to a buoy on the surface.
The buoy sends the signal to a satellite.
The signal is sent to the 24/7 National Geohazards Monitoring Centre at GNS Science.
GNS Science Geohazards Analysts analyse the data.
If a tsunami has been detected the Geohazard Analyst will notify the National Emergency Management Agency, the official tsunami warning agency for New Zealand.
The National Emergency Management Agency will issue a tsunami warning to CDEM Groups, emergency services, media and directly to the public via their website and Twitter.