Articles | Volume 11, issue 9
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 11, 2391–2406, 2011
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 11, 2391–2406, 2011

Research article 01 Sep 2011

Research article | 01 Sep 2011

Detection of the 2010 Chilean tsunami using satellite altimetry

B. D. Hamlington1,2, R. R. Leben1, O. A. Godin2,3, J. F. Legeais4, E. Gica5,6, and V. V. Titov6 B. D. Hamlington et al.
  • 1Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA
  • 2Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA
  • 3NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, Physical Sciences Division, Boulder, USA
  • 4Collecte Localisation Satellites, Space Oceanography Division, Toulouse, France
  • 5Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
  • 6NOAA Center for Tsunami Research, NOAA/PMEL, Seattle, Washington, USA

Abstract. Tsunamis are difficult to detect and measure in the open ocean because the wave amplitude is much smaller than it is closer to shore. An effective early warning system, however, must be able to observe an impending tsunami threat far away from the shore in order to provide the necessary lead-time for coastal inhabitants to find safety. Given the expansiveness of the ocean, sensors capable of detecting the tsunami must also have very broad areal coverage. The 2004 Sumatra-Andaman tsunami was definitively detected in the open ocean from both sea surface height and sea surface roughness measurements provided by satellite altimeters. This tsunami, however, was exceptionally strong and questions remain about the ability to use such measurements for the detection of weaker tsunamis. Here we study the 2010 Chilean tsunami and demonstrate the ability to detect the tsunami in the open ocean. Specifically, we analyze the utility of filtering in extracting the tsunami signal from sea surface height measurements, and, through the use of statistical analyses of satellite altimeter observations, we demonstrate that the 2010 Chilean tsunami induced distinct and detectable changes in sea surface roughness. While satellite altimeters do not provide the temporal and spatial coverage necessary to form the basis of an effective early warning system, tsunami-induced changes in sea surface roughness can be detected using orbiting microwave radars and radiometers, which have a broad surface coverage across the satellite ground track.