Japanese scientists have learned to predict tsunamis from cosmic particles

(ORDO NEWS) — Changes in the number of muons that hit sensitive detectors make it possible to notice fluctuations in the sea surface in advance and prepare for the arrival of a destructive wave.

For many densely populated coastal regions, tsunamis pose a great danger, especially given the poor predictability of the arrival of waves from the ocean. In order to notice the threat in time and take urgent measures, the appearance of a tsunami is monitored using various tools and methods.

Satellites and buoys floating in the sea, sensors for the height of the tides and fluctuations in the Earth’s magnetic field observe changes in the water level.

A new and, perhaps, the most convenient tool for monitoring tsunamis can be… muon detectors. The first such work is described in an article by Hiroyuki Tanaka and colleagues published in the journal Scientific Reports .

Muons are mobile and unstable elementary particles. They are created when high-energy cosmic rays slam into the Earth’s upper atmosphere, creating showers of secondary particles.

Muons do not exist for a long time, but they have a high penetrating power, managing to pass through impressive thicknesses of matter before disintegrating. Hundreds of thousands of muons fly through our body every second.

Therefore, to register these particles, detectors located under the surface of the Earth are used. For example, TS-HKMSDD, which Japanese scientists worked with, is located in the tunnels of the underwater transport tunnel Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line passing under the bottom of Tokyo Bay.

A sensitive instrument is able to detect small fluctuations in the number of incoming muons associated with changes in the volumes of water through which some of them pass on their way to the detectors.

No matter how high the penetrating power of muons is, the greater the thickness of the liquid through which they have to move, the greater the fraction of particles will have time to scatter along the way. It was these fluctuations that allowed Japanese scientists to notice the approaching tsunami.

The authors reviewed TS-HKMSDD readings taken in September 2021, when a moderate tsunami passed 400 kilometers south of Tokyo Bay. Indeed, during this period, the detectors registered muon oscillations, making it possible to predict the arrival of the wave in real time and with high reliability.

According to scientists, this method is faster and cheaper than conventional ones, and the necessary equipment is relatively easy to maintain.

Muon detectors are precision instruments only a few meters in size. Only in Tokyo Bay, about 20 of them have been installed, and more than 500 are planned in total.

Therefore, such installations can be placed in many regions that are threatened by the unexpected arrival of a tsunami. Hiroyuki Tanaka adds that scientists in Finland and the UK are already testing the new approach.

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