Tsunami produces minimal waves in Hawaii

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Oct 28 2012 06:00:00 PM HST

Despite estimates of up to seven foot waves, actual activity fell far short of what the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center expected to see.

HONOLULU -

"This is exactly the kind of earthquake that generates a big tsunami," said Geophysicist Gerard Fryer, who was one of several scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center deciphering and determining what would happen next after that 7.7 earthquake in Canada.

Since it happened mostly on land, in shallow water, and in a lightly populated area, with few coastal gauges, they weren't sure where a tsunami might go, but when they did:

"It was making a direct path to Hawaii," said Fryer.

The green slash on a computer model given that Fryer said scientist were monitoring, showed what's called the beam of the tsunami, or it's intended path and it was making a B-line for the islands.

The problem was that most of their gauges to keep track of the tsunami were along the west coast, far outside its projected path.

"In the end, forecasts for how big the wave would be, were too large by about a factor of two and were going to look at and see why that is, said Fryer.

Fryer says a phenomenon called dispersion also happened, where the wave ripples out, disperses, and gets smaller, which then led to smaller than predicted waves.

"We had to make do with the data that was available. OK, so we over warned, but there was no question that had to be an at least an advisory," he said.

Scientists said they're just starting to use an algorithm called the W Phase, which will help them pinpoint earthquakes and tsunamis faster, and better.

It is a bit more progress in a science they all know is less than perfect.

"We're getting better. Every one of these events teaches us something," said Fryer.

Fryer said they will spend the next few days, or longer, analyzing their data to see how they can make a more accurate prediction the next time around.

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