A high-frequency radar station at Bodega Bay is part of a California coastal network that was able to detect the tsunami in March as it approached from Japan, the first such use of radar technology.
Scientists said the radar network is not yet part of the West Coast tsunami warning system, but has the capability to provide more precise predictions in the future.
"There is no plan to implement it as warning system now, but I think we will be talking soon if we could use the data to improve the model," said John Largier, a professor of oceanography at UC Davis' Bodega Marine Lab. "It is something that should happen."
Tsunami warnings now are issued by the West Coast and Alaska Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, which has a mathematical model to assess whether quakes will create tsunamis and then deep-ocean and coastal buoys to track the tsunami progress.
It can predict tsunamis within a 30 percent plus or minus range.
In the March event, when Japan was hit by a devastating quake and tsunami, the Alaska-based center accurately predicted what occurred in Crescent City, which had a surge of 8 feet, 2 inches, and Bodega Bay, where the surge was measured at 3 feet, 2 inches, said Paul Whitmore, the center's director.
Largier said the California coastal radar network can be used to supplement and refine the information that the Alaska center develops.
The network, called CODAR, was developed over the past decade at a cost of $21 million as part of a salmon recovery program, tracking where juvenile salmon would be swept after leaving the Russian River or San Francisco Bay in the critical first two weeks the fish are in the ocean.
Using 50 high-frequency radar stations stretched along the California coast, CODAR is able to detect ocean currents as far as 20 miles out to sea.
Scientists have found over the past decade that it has uses beyond just the salmon recovery program.