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The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami

Until the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 2004, tsunami observations by satellite altimeters had been relatively insignificant. Studies carried out in the past [Okal et al.,1999] show that TOPEX was the only altimeter to detect a tsunami caused by an earthquake in Nicaragua in 1992. The signal was not clearly observed because of its weak amplitude, close to 8 cm, and the great ocean variability in this area. The probability of a satellite altimeter observing a tsunami is low because it requires that the satellite overflies the tsunami wave almost immediately after it originates, due to the tsunami's great propagation speed (about 800 km/h in an ocean 5,000m deep). Tsunami signals in the open ocean are also quite weak.

Ground track for Jason-1 (top left) and Envisat (bottom left) overlaid by the CEA wave propagation simulation at the time of the satellite's passage. The area corresponding to the tsunami's front is circled. Sea level anomalies measured by Jason-1 and Envisat compared to the CEA simulation (top and bottom right). (Credits CEA and CLS).

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