A NASA-led research team recently demonstrated elements of a prototype tsunami prediction system that rapidly assesses large earthquakes and estimates the size of resulting tsunamis.

Y. Tony Song of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., led a team that used real-time data from the agency’s Global Differential GPS network to successfully predict the size of the tsunami that resulted from an 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile in late February. Song’s team correctly predicted the Chilean earthquake, the fifth-largest ever recorded, would produce a moderate tsunami unlikely to cause significant destruction in the Pacific. Song’s GPS-based prediction was confirmed using sea-surface height measurements from the French-U.S. Jason-1 and Jason-2 ocean altimetry satellites.

“This successful test demonstrates that coast GPS systems can effectively be used to predict the size of tsunamis,” Song said in a NASA news release issued June 14. “This could allow responsible agencies to issue better warnings that can save lives and reduce false alarms that can unnecessarily disturb the lives of coastal residents.”

The network, managed by JPL, combines global and regional real-time data from hundreds of GPS sites and estimates their positions every second.