Pilbara to House World-First Tsunami Warning System

10 August 2011 FDI Team


Geoscience Australia, in early August 2011, broke ground in the east Pilbara on the construction of a sophisticated seismic system that will provide highly-accurate tsunami warnings.


The world-first early warning detection system, located about an hour from the town of Marble Bar will, when operational later this year, track earthquakes in the Indian Ocean in real time. The devices will subsequently make predictions on the location and timing of potential tsunamis.

Spread over a 26-kilometre area in a geometric pattern, to optimise sensitivity to seismic events, the network of seismometers and supporting equipment will measure the force and duration of off-shore earthquakes. The devices, positioned in thirteen 30-metre boreholes, will monitor seismic activity across the Indian Ocean, with a particular focus on the Indonesian archipelago. The solar-powered system will analyse seismic readings and transmit the data in real time to the tsunami warning centre in Melbourne and Geoscience Australia in Canberra. 

The east Pilbara system will complement the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System, established in the wake of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, in which over 230,000 died in 14 countries. The Indian Ocean system hopes to replicate the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii that has provided information to Pacific Ocean littoral states since the 1960s.

Professor Phil Cummins, from Geoscience Australia, praised the innovation of the Pilbara project, stating that the system was the first in the world to track not only the direction of the wave, but also the direction of the incoming energy. Professor Cummins stated ‘What this will tell us is how wide, how far does the rupture spread and in which direction, and that can be very important in trying to project what its impact will be on Australia.’

Australia sits astride the Indo-Australian tectonic plate and experiences, on average, one earthquake per day. They are, however, rarely damaging and generally too small to be noticed without seismic instrumentation.

Liam McHugh

Strategic Analyst

Northern Australia and Energy Security Research Programmes

[email protected]


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