Turning The Tide With AI And HPC

By harnessing both artificial intelligence and high performance computing in one powerful model, scientists from Japan are making real-time tsunami prediction more accessible.

AsianScientist (Mar. 14, 2022) – Despite covering only 0.25 percent of the Earth’s land area, 10 percent of the world’s active volcanic eruptions and nearly 20 percent of all earthquakes globally occur in Japan. With the country’s unique position within the Ring of Fire, such natural hazards have become part and parcel of everyday life in Japan.

Accordingly, the nation is considered a model for disaster preparedness: each resident is advised to carry fireproof evacuation bags with first aid, sanitation products as well as food and water. Meanwhile, buildings constructed after 1981 are required to have earthquake-resistant structures, meaning thicker beams, pillars and walls as well as shock-absorbers to reduce shaking in taller buildings.

And yet, the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake came as a huge shock—literally. On March 11, 2011, the Tohoku region along Japan’s eastern coast was rocked by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake for six minutes; the strongest in the country’s records so far. The massive upthrust in the seabed unleashed a tsunami that reached three stories high, sweeping away cars and bridges, flooding buildings and even toppling tsunami seawalls.

Notably, the tsunami also led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, with three nuclear reactors melting down and causing the discharge of dangerously radioactive water in Fukushima. Combined, the earthquake and tsunami led to nearly 20,000 deaths and an estimated US$235 billion in damages—the costliest natural disaster in history.

While earthquakes and tsunamis are bound to happen again, accurate forecasts could spell the difference between life and death. Consider the case of Costa Rica: in September 2012, the country’s Nicoya Peninsula was struck by a magnitude 7.6 earthquake. Despite the quake’s size, there was limited damage and no deaths as geoscientists had predicted the occurrence of such a hazard years prior, giving the government ample time to increase earthquake awareness and enforce building codes.

Technological advances in the decade since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake could ensure more accurate predictions and more resilient populations. With Japan home to the world’s fastest supercomputer, Fugaku, the nation’s best minds are leveraging its powerful resources to better prepare for when disaster strikes.

A molecular biologist by training, Kami Navarro left the sterile walls of the laboratory to pursue a Master of Science Communication from the Australian National University. Kami is the former science editor at Asian Scientist Magazine.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist