Lessons from Japan

The sheer volume of video footage of Japan's tsunami has provided enough data to help to limit the damage of the next disaster.

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The March 11 tsunami in Japan has left most people at a loss for words. Houses, factories, cars, trucks, airplanes and ships were ripped apart and swept away by monster waves. "In the business, we call them the fingers of God," Dr Costas Synolakis, an expert who has studied more than 20 tsunamis over the past two decades, told the BBC. "It's almost like the tsunami energy is channelled in certain specific directions."

Japanese cameramen, amateurs and professionals, compiled a trove of footage to document the cascade of disasters. But as well as showing how it felt to experience the catastrophe first-hand, the images can now be used to understand how tsunamis behave. According to Dr Synolakis, these images "will lead to a quantum leap in the way we calculate and we estimate how fast the tsunami propagates on land".

Sensors on the seabed can predict the path of a tsunami across the ocean, but much less is known about what happens when it reaches land: the size, speed and direction of the raging wall of seawater.

"All of this is going to be incredibly useful data to develop even better models to forecast inundation," Dr Costas said. "It'll be wonderful if we were able to do that five, 10, 15 minutes before it actually happens."

Finally, lessons learnt from Japan will lead to safer, more flood resilient buildings - particularly power plants.