LTER sites record tsunami event after massive quake off Japan

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Oceanographic instruments deployed by the Moorea Coral Reef (MCR) and Santa Barbara Coastal (SBC) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites were on hand to record the effects of the tsunami wave that swept across the Pacific Ocean following a magnitude 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Japan on Saturday, March 12, 2011. Both sites have deployed a series of oceanographic sensors in the ocean to measure various aspects of ocean condition, including seawater temperature, salinity, and sea-level height. These data are viewable as they are collected in near real-time on the respective websites. The data, displayed as user friendly graphs, show clear evidence of tsunami waves as they pass by the instruments:

  • for the Moorea, French Polynesia data. The center graph displays data for ocean pressure, a measure of sea level height, and the tsunami signal is clearly evident at the far right hand side of the graph at about 10:30 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. These waves correspond to a wave height of approximately 0.50-0.75 meters
  • for the Stearn's Wharf data. The graph shows sea-level height in feet as a gray shaded area. The first tsunami influenced waves appear just after 8:00 a.m. PST and clearly show a series of waves washing under the wharf. The waves are not large and an observer on the wharf might not notice them by simply watching the waves roll in, but the pressure signal of the waves are being picked up by the instruments.

For more information please contact:

  • Dr Andrew Brooks, 1.805.893.7670, Moorea Coral Reef LTER (, for information and data relating to instruments deployed on the island of Moorea, French Polynesia located in the central, South Pacific.
  • Dr Daniel Reed, 1.805.893.8363, Santa Barbara Coastal LTER (, for information and data relating to instruments deployed on Stearn's Wharf in Santa Barbara, California.

by Andrew Brooks, MCR LTER