Government of Canada

Government of Canada

January 23, 2007 08:23 ET

Canada's New Government Activates the Atlantic Tsunami Warning System

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA--(CCNMatthews - Jan. 23, 2007) - The Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety, today announced on behalf of the Honourable Loyola Hearn, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, an Atlantic tsunami warning system.

"The security of Canadians is a priority of Canada's new government. The devastating tsunami in southeast Asia heightened concerns about tsunami warnings in coastal areas around the world," said Minister Day. "Today, I'm pleased to announce that we are taking action to strengthen our security by activating a warning system for tsunamis along Canada's East Coast."

The new Atlantic tsunami warning system uses the same equipment and procedures already in place to issue storm surge warnings to government agencies, the media and the public. In fact, the enhancements made to the existing system to allow tsunami warnings will also improve the capacity to predict storm surges, which are much more frequent events on the East Coast.

"This system is bringing together Canada's state-of-the-art earthquake monitoring networks with the best alert technologies available in Atlantic Canada," said the Honourable Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources. "Earthquakes, whether centered under land or sea, could have a dramatic impact on coastal communities, and systems such as this allow us to quickly alert eastern Canadians to potential hazards."

The tsunami warning system is led by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), and the result of collaboration between the federal departments of Natural Resources, Environment Canada, and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, with provincial emergency management agencies in the 5 easternmost provinces and the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It anticipates the development of an international system for issuing tsunami warnings for the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, similar to the one existing for the Pacific Ocean.

"By linking with the existing weather warning system through Environment Canada's Atlantic Storm Prediction Centre, the new tsunami warning capability ensures Canadians will have access to timely early warnings which may someday save many lives," said the Honourable John Baird, Minister of the Environment.

"We can never be too vigilant in ensuring the safety of our citizens," emphasized Gerald Keddy, MP, South Shore - St. Margaret's. "While we can't stop tsunamis from happening, we can work to avoid the tragic loss of life such as that which resulted from the 1929 Grand Banks tsunami."

The new system will continue to be refined and enhanced as technology improves.

A backgrounder on how the Atlantic tsunami warning system works is attached to this release.


Atlantic Tsunami Warning System

Why develop a system?

On December 26, 2004, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the coast of Indonesia. This triggered destructive tsunami waves that impacted the coasts of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, as well as other countries in the Indian Ocean region. There was both an international and Canadian response to this tragedy.

Here in Canada, it was recognized the East Coast lacked a tsunami warning system. While the West Coast receives tsunami warnings via the internationally-coordinated Pacific Tsunami Warning System, there was no equivalent system for the Atlantic Coast. Even though over 70 per cent of tsunami events occur in the Pacific Ocean, due diligence demands that some detection and warning capability also be available on Canada's Atlantic Coast and Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is important to remember the most devastating Canadian tsunami originated on the Grand Banks in 1929 - leaving 29 people dead, many people homeless, and 50 communities affected in Newfoundland and Labrador and Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

Who has been involved in the development of the Canadian Atlantic Tsunami Warning System?

The development of this system has involved both the Canadian and United States governments and has been done in consultation with provincial emergency management organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) led the initiative, along with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), Environment Canada (EC), Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada (PSEPC), and the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The system will continue to be refined as further infrastructure is developed and international initiatives progress.

The existing procedure used by the EC Atlantic Storm Prediction Centre (ASPC) to issue surge and other weather-related warnings has been significantly enhanced to now include tsunami warnings. The cost of this upgrade is approximately $250,000 and ongoing additional costs are projected to be about $125,000 per year. The improved system will also augment the capacity to predict storm surges, which are a frequent event on the East Coast.

How does the system work?

NRCan, through its Geological Survey of Canada, has enhanced the real-time sharing of seismic data from Atlantic Canada with earthquake/tsunami experts at the U.S. NOAA. Whenever warranted, these experts will relay to the ASPC, the information needed to immediately distribute Atlantic tsunami alerts (warnings, watches and information bulletins) to provincial and federal emergency management authorities, the media and the public in the five easternmost provinces. As well, the Canadian Coast Guard's Marine Communications Traffic Services (CCG-MCTS) will broadcast tsunami alerts to mariners.

DFO has upgraded several Atlantic sea level gauges to collect tsunami-quality data, which the ASPC can monitor for indications of a tsunami and, in consultation with DFO and NRCan, determine the extent of the danger. Once a warning is issued, PSEPC will coordinate any response effort among federal departments and provincial and territorial emergency management organizations.

The ASPC will typically start the warning dissemination process 10-20 minutes after the earthquake event. This is comparable with warning times on the Pacific coast.

Next steps

There are plans in place to test the Atlantic tsunami warning system regularly and refine it.

Contact Information

  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa
    Phil Jenkins
    Media Relations
    Office of the Honourable Stockwell Day
    Minister of Public Safety
    Melissa Leclerc
    Director of Communications