This is “an early warning system to detect the earthquakes” and, if they have enough magnitude, “the tsunamis” that can potentially come from them, said Mourad Bezzeghoud, professor of the Department of Physics and researcher at the Institute of Earth Sciences (ICT) of the University of Évora (UÉ) to Lusa news agency.

The project “Earthquake Early Warning System (EEWS)” serves to “complement and strengthen” the national seismic monitoring network of the Portuguese Institute of Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA), said the researcher involved in the initiative.

In a statement, the UÉ stated that they are “empowering the national seismic monitoring network” through the installation of EEWS, which allows for the early warning of earthquakes, “including those generated in the Atlantic region adjacent to Portuguese territory.

“This alert system is essential not only for Portugal, but also for Europe,” stressed the Alentejo academy.

The aim of the system to be implemented, according to Mourad Bezzeghoud, quoted by UÉ, is to “detect earthquakes and determine some of their characteristics”, such as location and magnitude, “before the effects of strong earthquakes reach critical areas”, thus allowing authorities to move forward with “protective measures”.

“Today, seismology is very advanced and with the seismic networks, you can locate the earthquake almost in real time and also calculate its magnitude,” the researcher told Lusa.

When “the magnitude of an earthquake comes close to nine there may be a tsunami of a few metres but with an earthquake above 9 or in the 9.5, the tsunami can be catastrophic and, in Portugal, with cities very close to the sea, that means that we have only seconds or a minute at most to alert the authorities,” he stressed.

“Early warning is needed so that the authorities, emergency and security forces, can quickly prepare the country for this impact and minimise the destruction and consequences” he warned.

Mourad Bezzeghoud explained to Lusa that the national seismic network is made up of “surface seismometers” and that the four that are part of the EEWS, to be installed “in the Sagres area”, in the Western Algarve, “are the first to be installed at depth in Portugal”, buried “at 30 metres”.

“They will be on public land, we already have protocols signed with the town halls of these Algarve municipalities and the month of May will be used to drill all the boreholes”, he indicated, pointing out that the seismic stations “will be installed in June” and that the depth of 30 metres is intended to “avoid interference from all the ambient noise” so that the seismometers “capture pure signal, to catch only the earthquakes”.

This installation “is faster and, as each station is installed, it is immediately operational” and connected to the research unit ICT-UÉ and the national seismic network of IPMA, he said.

To “create redundancy” in the system, and since “seismometers sometimes saturate in the case of strong earthquakes,” the four stations also include accelerometers on the surface, which “effectively characterise the movements” of earthquakes, he stressed.

The EEWS is the UÉ’s contribution to the EMSO-PT - European Multidisciplinary Seafloor and Water Column Observatory project, funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), the European Commission and the Portugal 2020 programme.

In EMSO-PT, researchers aim to create and develop scientific and technological research infrastructures in the area of Marine Sciences and the Marine Environment, aiming to “expand the number of seismic stations on land and improving the national seismic monitoring network,” the UÉ summarised.