March 25, 2008 / 6:29 AM / 10 years ago

Australia boosts tsunami detection in Coral Sea

SYDNEY, March 26 (Reuters) - Australia said on Tuesday it had installed a deep ocean tsunami buoy in the Coral Sea off its northeastern coast, boosting tsunami detection in a region which has seen two tsunamis kill more than 2,000 people since 1998.

"The new buoy was deployed in the Coral Sea last week and is now operational," Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett said in a statement.

"It is monitoring changes in sea levels for signs of potential threat from the South Solomon and New Hebrides trenches to the east coast of Australia," Garrett said.

In April 2007, the Solomon Islands were hit by a tsunami that killed at least 34 people and destroyed up to 2,500 homes. In July 1998, two undersea quakes of magnitude 7.0 created three tsunamis that killed at least 2,100 people near the town of Aitape on Papua New Guinea’s north coast.

Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which killed 230,000 people, Asian nations installed a series of satellite-linked tsunami detection buoys in the Indian Ocean.

Papua New Guinea and the neighbouring Solomon Islands lie on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire", where volcanic activity and earthquakes are common. Both are developing nations which rely heavily on Australian aid.

Australia’s two Deep ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami (DART) buoys are part of the A$68.9 million ($63 million) Australian Tsunami Warning System progressively being installed around the island continent.

The Coral Sea buoy is the second installed. The first was positioned off Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania.

The buoys consist of a bottom pressure sensor anchored to the sea floor and a surface buoy. An acoustic link transmits data from the bottom sensor to the surface buoy and then satellite links relay the data to warning centres for analysis.

"The massive devastation caused by the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 is a stark reminder of the potential for destruction that can be caused by the sudden movement of the sea floor," said Garrett.

"The sooner that people can be alerted to the chance of a tsunami the greater the likelihood that they can take action and survive," he said. ($1=A$1.10) (Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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