Japan tsunami footage to help predict future waves
But as well as providing an idea of how it felt to experience the tragedy first-hand, experts say the images can now be used to better understand the characteristics of tsunamis and help save lives in the future.
"Without exaggeration, it will lead to a quantum leap in the way that we calculate and we estimate how fast the tsunami propagates on land," says Dr Costas Synolakis from the University of California and the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research in Greece.
He has studied more than 20 tsunamis over the past two decades.
He says that while there are multiple methods for predicting the path of a tsunami across the ocean, much less is known about what happens when the giant wave reaches land.
End Quote Dr Costas Synolakis University of CaliforniaIn the business we call them the fingers of God, it's almost like the tsunami energy is channelled in certain specific directions.”
"All of this is going to be incredibly useful data to develop even better models to forecast inundation. It'll be wonderful if we were able to do that five, 10, 15 minutes before it actually happens."
As an earthquake strikes, early models of tsunamis are produced by millions of calculations and vast amounts of data-gathering which attempt to accurately predict the size and path of the wave.
Much of this data is collected by tsunamographs, instruments that lie up to 5,000 metres below the water's surface, measuring changes in water pressure and transmitting information to nearby buoys.
The buoys then send this data, via satellite, back to warning centres.
"As the wave keeps on propagating across the Pacific, more and more tsunamograph recordings become available, so the forecast improves," said Dr Synolakis.
Often, due to inconsistencies in the sea bed and other natural variations, a tsunami can take a dramatically different course.
"In the business we call them the fingers of God, it's almost like the tsunami energy is channelled in certain specific directions," he said.
Another limitation of this system, known as the Method of Splitting Tsunami (MOST), is that it deals almost exclusively with what tsunamis do in the ocean and to the immediate coastline, whereas the Japan disaster has shown the need for a better understanding of what occurs when a wave heads far inland.
"The application of MOST has been primarily to try to predict inundation and save people along open beaches," said Dr Synolakis. "It hasn't really been used to predict tsunami water heights and depths on powerplants and structures because that had been considered a secondary priority by civil defence.
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"Back 40 years ago, when [the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant] was designed, we didn't understand tsunamis at all. We were basically in the very early stages of estimating tsunami floods."
Yet, even with better equipped building defences, some natural disasters will always cause devastation.
"I've been in the field in over 20 tsunamis since 1992. This was the worst that I've ever seen - it was unimaginable, even though I consider myself a fairly seasoned tsunamista."