Taiwan to deploy first seabed quake sensor

The NT$420 million system would pick up changes in water movement and send warnings to land

Taiwan will soon install its first system to sense undersea seismic movements that may herald earthquakes or tsunamis, it said Monday. The island is vulnerable to the type of offshore earthquake that ravaged Japan on Friday.

The system consists of a seabed sensor linked via a 45-kilometer cable to computers on land that process and relay the signal, a technician with Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau said.

The sensor will be placed on the ocean floor about 300 meters deep to pick up irregular water movements or changes in water temperature indicating a quake or massive wave.

It will send that information back to servers at the weather bureau's data center, adding to any other early detection signals the bureau has already received. Software will process the signals and, if an earthquake is detected, mobile phone operators will be advised to send emergency warnings by text message.

Weather officials expect the sea warning system to give an average of 10 seconds extra warning by putting sensory equipment closer to would-be seismic activity. That gives people more time to evacuate buildings and shut down transportation systems. The system would offer several minutes' warning of tsunamis.

NEC Corp. won a bid to design the system, which will cost NT$420 million (US$14.23 million).

Although Taiwan's announcement comes just days after the magnitude 9.0 quake in Japan, one of the strongest in history, the island government had been planning it for years because 70 percent of the quakes felt on land are centered offshore. The last major quake in Taiwan, in 1999, killed 2,400 people and injured about 11,300.

Taiwan may install more undersea detection systems in years ahead, budget permitting, a weather bureau official said.

Island officials say they are also ready to test land-based quake detection equipment following more advanced systems in Japan and the U.S.

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