The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre (JATWC) is operated by the Bureau of Meteorology (Bureau) and Geoscience Australia (GA). Based in Melbourne and Canberra, it has been established so that Australia has an independent capability to detect, monitor, verify and warn the community of the existence of tsunamis in our region and possible threats to Australian coastal locations and offshore territories.
The Bureau and GA use their combined expertise in the relevant science and technology areas including seismic and sea level monitoring and warning systems to provide a 24/7 tsunami monitoring and analysis capacity for Australia. Previously, Australia relied on the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) for more limited tsunami information to interpret for Australia and feed into the former Australian Tsunami Alert System (ATAS).
The centre boasts world class scientific technology with the expressed aim of providing the longest lead time of any potential tsunami threat. The major objective of the JATWC is to provide emergency managers with a minimum of 90 minutes warning of a likely tsunami impact on mainland Australia. The centre is a long term investment in Australia's security and has the real potential to save lives and infrastructure.
The JATWC was officially launched in 2008 as part of the Australian Tsunami Warning System (ATWS) which replaces the ATAS. The ATWS also has contributions from the Attorney-General's Department through its role in public education, national crisis coordination, and support for State/Territory emergency agencies.
Roles in the JATWC
GA's role in the JATWC is to detect potentially tsunamigenic earthquakes in the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean and Southern Ocean, and advise the Bureau of this potential within 15 minutes after the earthquake occurring.
The Bureau's role is two-fold: Firstly, to use its network of sea-level monitoring equipment including coastal sea-level gauges and deep-ocean tsunami detection buoys, and tsunami computer models to confirm the existence of a tsunami and estimate its likely intensity at the Australian coast. The second part of the Bureau's role is to issue the relevant tsunami warnings and bulletins for Australia (including islands and territories) as required.
The two organisations work hand-in-hand during events to share scientific knowledge and examine the likelihood and strength of the tsunami before threats and warnings are issued.
What does the JATWC do?
GA receives real-time data from over 50 seismic stations in Australia, and more than 120 international seismic stations. The seismic data are analysed by specifically designed automated systems to alert for potentially dangerous earthquakes. Expert seismologists then use the results of the automated process to quickly make a final analysis of the potential for the detected earthquakes to cause a tsunami. The analysis is immediately transmitted to the Bureau.
Equipped with the seismic information from GA and the Bureau's scientific tsunami modelling, specially trained staff at the Bureau then issue a warning that is in keeping with the threat level. JATWC continuously monitors all the relevant real-time sea-level observations to verify whether a tsunami has been generated and whether it is moving along the predicted path, and to provide timely updates of warnings. The JATWC is leading the world by providing warnings for Australia that identify not only affected coastal regions, but also whether the tsunami has the potential to cause inundation to low-lying coastal areas with need for major evacuation (land threat), or whether it is confined to dangerous rips and currents and some localized overflow onto the immediate foreshore with no need for major evacuation (marine threat).
The Bureau issues advice and warnings on any identified tsunami threat to emergency agencies, relevant authorities, media and the general community using the the same systems and infrastructure as used for warnings of other hazardous events such as severe weather.
Distribution of Tsunami Information to the Media and Public
Media organisations across Australia work with the Bureau to inform the public in the case of a tsunami event. Tsunami bulletin and warning distribution lists are maintained at each of the Bureau's State and Territory Regional Forecasting Centres. These distribution lists are used for National and State/Territory based Bulletins. In addition to the media, key agencies such as the State and Territory emergency services, local councils, port authorities, and police are included on these dissemination lists. The bulletin and warning l messages are also placed on the Bureau of Meteorology's website.
The Australian Tsunami Warning System and International Cooperation
Australia joined international efforts to establish an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWS) under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group (ICG) of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC). Since 12 October 2011, JATWC is one of three Regional Tsunami Service Providers (RTSPs) for the Indian Ocean, providing threat information to National Tsunami Warning Centres (NTWCs) of other Indian Ocean countries to help them determine the level of threat and warnings they will issue for their communities. JATWC also actively participates in international communication tests and tsunami exercises. The ATWS contributes to the facilitation of tsunami warnings for the South West Pacific through the provision of sea level and seismic information to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre.