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Insight Into: Effects of Tsunamis on the Atmosphere

This short video describes the effects of tsunamis on Earth's atmosphere, and the ways that satellites can be used to detect and monitor these effects.


Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory.

·       Photo of researchers testing GPS receivers in California: M. Tule, NASA/JPL-Caltech
·       Animation of the formation of atmospheric gravity waves: STScI
·       GPS satellite animation: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab
·       Tsunami and gravity wave model: NASA/JPL-Caltech
·       Visualization of the Japanese tsunami of March 11, 2011: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research
The VARION system is being developed by the Geodesy and Geomatics Division (DICEA), University of Rome La Sapienza 
in collaboration with the Ionospheric and Atmospheric Remote Sensing Group, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Special thanks to members of the VARION development team Giorgio Savastano, NASA/JPL-Caltech; 
Mattia Crespi, University of Rome La Sapienza; and Attila Komjathy, NASA/JPL-Caltech for their reviews.
Written by Leah Ramsay
Designed by Dani Player and Leah Hustak
Editorial and design input from Margaret W. Carruthers, Timothy Rhue II, John Godfrey, and Claire Blome
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music


Text, scientists are developing a new approach to tsunami detection and warning systems
Variometric Approach for Real-Time Ionosphere Observation, or VARION.
The high and low points of tsunami waves compress and extend the air above them, creating corresponding gravity waves in the atmosphere.
These waves travel upward through the air, where they affect the density of the electrons in the upper atmosphere layer called the ionosphere.
VARION uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) to measure these changes.
During the March 2011 tsunami, GPS showed that the gravity waves reach the ionosphere in 30 to 40 minutes.
The atmospheric gravity waves also kept pace with the tsunami's horizontal movement, moving around the globe at roughly 700 kilometers (450 miles) per hour.
Scientists hope that VARION and other ionosphere-monitoring missions can be used collaboratively with existing tsunami detection systems to provide early warnings to communities and save lives.