Although only centimeters in amplitude over the open ocean, tsunamis can generate appreciable wave amplitudes in the upper atmosphere, including the naturally occurring chemiluminescent airglow layers, due to the exponential decrease in density with altitude. Here, we present the first observation of the airglow tsunami signature, resulting from the 11 March 2011 Tohoku earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan. These images are taken using a wide-angle camera system located at the top of the Haleakala Volcano on Maui, Hawaii. They are correlated with GPS measurements of the total electron content from Hawaii GPS stations and the Jason-1 satellite. We find waves propagating in the airglow layer from the direction of the earthquake epicenter with a velocity that matches that of the ocean tsunami. The first ionospheric signature precedes the modeled ocean tsunami generated by the main shock by approximately one hour. These results demonstrate the utility of monitoring the Earth's airglow layers for tsunami detection and early warning.
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