High-frequency (HF) surface wave radars provide the unique capability to continuously monitor the coastal environment far beyond the range of conventional microwave radars. Bragg-resonant backscattering by ocean waves with half the electromagnetic radar wavelength allows ocean surface currents to be measured at distances up to 200 km. When a tsunami propagates from the deep ocean to shallow water, a specific ocean current signature is generated throughout the water column. Due to the long range of an HF radar, it is possible to detect this current signature at the shelf edge. When the shelf edge is about 100 km in front of the coastline, the radar can detect the tsunami about 45 min before it hits the coast, leaving enough time to issue an early warning. As up to now no HF radar measurements of an approaching tsunami exist, a simulation study has been done to fix parameters like the required spatial resolution or the maximum coherent integration time allowed. The simulation involves several steps, starting with the Hamburg Shelf Ocean Model (HAMSOM) which is used to estimate the tsunami-induced current velocity at 1 km spatial resolution and 1 s time step. This ocean current signal is then superimposed to modelled and measured HF radar backscatter signals using a new modulation technique. After applying conventional HF radar signal processing techniques, the surface current maps contain the rapidly changing tsunami-induced current features, which can be compared to the HAMSOM data. The specific radial tsunami current signatures can clearly be observed in these maps, if appropriate spatial and temporal resolution is used. Based on the entropy of the ocean current maps, a tsunami detection algorithm is described which can be used to issue an automated tsunami warning message.