Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre

The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre (JATWC) is operated by Geoscience Australia, located in Canberra, and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) External site link, located in Melbourne. The Centre monitors, detects, verifies and warns the Australian community of potential tsunami impacts on Australia's coastline and external territories.

The two agencies possess the scientific expertise and equipment in seismic and sea level monitoring and in tsunami modeling to provide a 24 hour a day, seven days a week tsunami monitoring and analysis capability for Australia.

The principle objective of the JATWC is to provide emergency managers with at least 90 minutes warning of a potential impact on Australia's coastline from tsunami that are generated from earthquakes occurring on plate boundaries in the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans.

The JATWC is the detection and warning component of the Australian Tsunami Warning System (ATWS). The Attorney-General's Department External site link also contributes to the ATWS through its role in coordinating emergency management in Australia External site link through public education and support for state and territory emergency service organisations. The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) External site link also contributes by supporting our neighbouring countries in the Indian Ocean and the South-West Pacific.

Roles in the JATWC

Geoscience Australia's role in the JATWC is two-fold:

  • to detect earthquakes that have the potential to generate tsunami that can impact Australia's coastline and advise the Bureau of Meteorology of this potential within 15 minutes of the earthquake occurring; and
  • to undertake tsunami risk studies to assist local and state organisations in planning for tsunami events.

The Bureau of Meteorology's role is also two-fold:

  • to use its network of sea level monitoring equipment, including coastal tide gauges and tsunameters (deep ocean tsunami sensors), and tsunami propagation models to confirm the existence of a tsunami and estimate its likely impact at the Australian coast; and
  • to issue the relevant tsunami warnings and bulletins for Australia and external territories as required.

What does the JATWC do?

Geoscience Australia receives real-time data from over 60 seismic stations in Australia, and more than 130 international seismic stations. The seismic information is automatically analysed by Geoscience Australia's seismic monitoring and analysis systems that form part of the 24 hours a day, seven days a week operations centre. When an earthquake occurs, this system automatically computes preliminary information on the earthquake's origin time (time at which the earthquake happened), location, depth and magnitude. The Duty Seismologist assesses this information and then calculates a moment magnitude, Mwp, (similar to a Richter magnitude) to assist in determining the potential for the earthquake to cause a tsunami. If in the opinion of the JATWC Duty Seismologist the earthquake has the potential to generate a tsunami that may impact Australia, the seismologist sends the information to the JATWC office in the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne via a dedicated data link. This process is completed within 15 minutes of the earthquake's origin time.

The JATWC also receives data from the Bureau of Meteorology 's sea level observations and other international sea level stations. These instruments provide real-time sea level observations that can verify whether an earthquake has generated a tsunami and if so, monitor its path. The data are provided by coastal sea level stations and deep ocean tsunami detection sensors. Equipped with these sea level data and the Bureau of Meteorology 's tsunami modeling, specially trained JATWC staff then issue a warning that is in keeping with the determined threat level. The Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre provides warnings that identify affected coastal regions, initial tsunami arrival times and whether the tsunami threat is to land or marine areas. Upon receiving the earthquake alert from Geoscience Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology will issue a tsunami bulletin within 15 minutes of receiving the alert. The JATWC is thus able to issue tsunami bulletins within 30 minutes of the origin time of the earthquake.

The Bureau of Meteorology issues advice and warnings on identified tsunami threat to emergency management agencies and the public using procedures similar to those used for warnings of other severe weather or hazardous events. Procedures include:

  • distribution of tsunami bulletins and warnings to the media, key agencies such as the state and territory emergency services, local councils, port authorities, police and the public
  • media organisations across Australia work with the JATWC to inform the public in the case of a tsunami event
  • tsunami bulletin and warning distribution lists are maintained at each of the Bureau of Meteorology 's state and territory Regional Forecasting Centres. These distribution lists are used for both national JATWC bulletins and regional warnings. The bulletin and warning messages are also automatically uploaded to the JATWC website External site link.

The JATWC also joins a network of international tsunami watch centres that cooperate under arrangements coordinated by the UN's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) within UNESCO External site link.

Topic contact: Last updated: July 8, 2013