November meeting

Our November meeting was held in conjunction with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI).  A big thanks to the CRCSI for this initiative, a great example of collaborating across discipline boundaries.

Steven-TingaySKA – and a link to accurate positioning

Prof Steven Tingay, Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy, gave an excellent overview of the SKA project and its forerunner project, the Murchison Widefield Array. As Steven pointed out radio astronomy indeed generates huge volumes of data. When the 2 million antennae that form the WA component of the SKA become operational, they’ll generate data at the rate of around 1.5 Tbps (Tera bits per second). This huge data flow must be processed, turned into images that can be interpreted, and then stored.

The SKA will help solve some big questions, such as: What happened at the big bang: how did galaxies form, and how did they evolve? What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? Was Einstein right about gravity? What generates giant magnetic fields in space? And it will allow astronomers to search for galaxies and planets like ours.

Steven observed that radio astronomy needed highly accurate spatial positioning, and had its own techniques that may be relevant to the spatial community: a great opportunity to work more collaboratively across disciplines. The challenge was welcomed by Dr Peter Woodgate, CRCSI CEO.

Lunch and poster display

Attendees then joined the CRCSI delegates for lunch, and were able to browse the posters and displays from the Conference. Feedback indicates many found this a very welcome activity.

Tsunami Warning System

Then Tony Elliott, from UNESCO’s Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System (IOTWS) gave an interesting overview of tsunamis, and the system developed after the devastating tsunamis of December 2004.

We learned that Tsunami means “harbour wave”, a term coined by fishermen after returning to port to find the harbour area devastated, although they had not been aware of any wave in the open water. Tsunamis travel in deep water at speeds of up to 900 km per hour, but with very low vertical displacement and very long wavelength. When the wave hits shallower water it slows and the wavelength decreases, causing a series of waves to mount and form a wall of water.

The IOTWS collects seismic and sea level information from many monitoring points, which are fed into central stations. When an earthquake happens, the aim is to model the wave directions and potential impact, and get tsunami advice to countries within 10 minutes (or 5 minutes for Indonesia).

Tony emphasized the importance of educating and training the public: there’s no point in issuing a tsunami warning if people don’t know how to recognize it, how to respond to it, and where to go.


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