Europe, Mediterranean to Get Tsunami Warning System

PARIS, France, November 18, 2005 (ENS) - The first steps towards a tsunami warning system for the Northeastern Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean and connected seas, will be taken next week at a meeting to be held in Rome next Monday and Tuesday.

The meeting is being organized by UNESCOís Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), which established the tsunami warning system for the Pacific.

This year, Portugal commemorated the 250th anniversary of the tsunami that on December 1, 1755, destroyed the city of Lisbon and affected many other towns and cities on the Iberian Peninsula, across northern Africa and the rest of the European coastline.

While this was the worst such event on recent record in the region there have been others - in Norway, for example, in 1905, or more recently Algeria in May 2003. Despite this, there is no effective early warning system for the region.


Waves on a stormy Whitley Bay, North Sea (Photo Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
The Rome meeting will be the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group (ICG) established at the IOCís General Assembly last June.

The ICG has the responsibility for managing the system. It is made up of representatives from IOC Member States in the region, whose immediate task will be to assess present tsunami detection facilities and explore ways of coordinating a single, regional system.

The ICG will also begin work on guidelines for coastal planning and management.

ICG members contributing major systems and technology to the project will report on their progress in areas such as plans for observing instrumentation, communications equipment, data systems, and warning centers. Examples are expected from Egypt, France, Italy, Spain and the Euro-Mediterranean Seismological Centre.

Over the past year, the IOC has coordinated the establishment of the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System in response to the disastrous tsunami resulting from a 9.0 earthquake on December 26, 2004 off the coast of Sumatra that claimed more than 250,000 lives due in part to the lack of any tsunami warning system for Indian Ocean countries.

The 2004 tsunami tragedy highlighted the need to develop tsunami warning systems in areas of the world currently without them, such as Europe. The only tsunami warning system in the world today covers the Pacific Ocean from its base in Hawaii.

For the future, the Third Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands will be held January 23-27, 2006 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.