Two years ago, a tsunami struck Southeast Asia, leaving up to 230,000 dead in its wake. A similar scenario could happen on Europe's coasts, with the eastern Mediterranean being particularly vulnerable.
European scientists are studying the question and hope to develop a warning system for coastal populations.
The Mediterranean region has already been a victim of tsunamis in the past and there is every reason to believe that others will occur in the future. The TRANSFER and SAFER projects, supported by the European Commission under the Sixth Framework Programme for Research & Development, aim to contribute to understanding of tsunami processes in the Mediterranean and to develop an early warning system similar to the one used for the Pacific.
TRANSFER simulates tsunamis and develops programmes to analyse the risks to vulnerable coastal areas. The simulations give insight into the strength of waves and consequently allow predictions as to which coastal buildings and infrastructures might be able to stand up to them.
The SAFER project aims to develop an early warning system to guarantee the protection of civil populations. Indeed, timely warnings enable people to take shelter and might even help prevent a devastating death toll.
Research on tsunamis is still in its infancy. Although seismic activity has been taking place for thousands of years, observation of these phenomena has only been in place for around a century.