After France, Turkey, Italy and Greece, Portugal is the latest country in the North-Eastern Atlantic, Mediterranean and Connected Seas (NEAM) region to be equipped with a new National Tsunami Warning Provider that will issue alert messages in case of a tsunami on or nearby Portuguese shores. This new Portuguese provider will considerably increase Europe’s capacity to issue tsunami alerts to its citizens.
Tsunamis are rare events that happen mostly in Asia and Americas, but not only. Portugal was hit by a devastating earthquake measuring 8.5 to 9 on the Richter scale back in 1755, which killed more than 70,000 people and triggered tsunami waves up to 5-6 meters high in Lisbon.
Experts predict that another earthquake may occur again and could destroy part of Southwest Portugal and Spain, affecting hundreds of thousands of people who live in the increasingly urbanized shores of the Iberian Peninsula.
The new Portuguese service provider housed at the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA), will be able to detect any earthquake striking the region and send the relevant information to Portuguese authorities, who will then be able to alert people at risk within 8 minutes before any tsunami happens, to allow thousands of people to evacuate to safer areas.
“The system provider relies on hundreds of sensors installed along the Portuguese shores that will be able to detect any ground shaking movement or water displacement,” said Fernando Carrilho, Director of the IPMA. “These sensors will send the information to the Portuguese authorities who will issue a tsunami message to communities and people at risk via messages and sirens.”
The Portuguese coast is extensive, with more than 943 km of coastlines in continental Portugal and some other 667 km of coasts in the archipelagos of the Azores and 250 km in Madeira. Not all are at earthquake risk but many are located along the Africa-Eurasia plate boundary, which makes them very vulnerable to seismic activities. The country suffered two recent major earthquakes and tsunamis, the first in February 1969 in continental Portugal and the second in January 1980 in the Azores, killing some eighty people altogether.
Currently, there are four operational Tsunami Early Warning Service Providers in the NEAM region under the coordination of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. However, only 16 countries out of the 39 NEAM countries at risk of tsunami have subscribed to at least one of these providers.
“It is up to each country to subscribe to an early warning provider. As an example, the new service provider in Portugal will allow countries in the North-Eastern Atlantic region such as Mauritania, Morocco, Ireland, the United Kingdom and France to benefit from our service if they subscribe,” continued Fernando Carrilho.
The NEAM Early Warning System is one of the four main early warning systems existing in the world, with the Indian Ocean Early Warning System built just after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which killed more than 230,000 people, the Pacific Early Warning System and the Caribbean Early Warning System.
It is estimated that more than 130 million people live around the Mediterranean and more than 230 million tourists visit the region every year, people who could be potentially at risk if a tsunami were to happen today.
The increase of availability of and access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information is one of the 7 targets of the Sendai Framework (target G) adopted in Japan in 2015 that world leaders have agreed to achieve by 2030.
Since the year 2000, more than 11 million people have been affected by tsunamis and these have resulted in some 250,000 deaths with the highest death tolls in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Japan, India, and Thailand.
For more information, please contact:
Denis Chang Seng (d.chang-seng(at)unesco.org)