Is there a system to warn populations of an imminent occurrence of a tsunami?

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) maintains the U.S. Tsunami Warning Centers, which work in conjunction with USGS seismic networks to help determine when and where to issue tsunami warnings. If an earthquake meets certain criteria for potentially generating a tsunami, the pop-up window and the event page for that earthquake on the USGS Latest Earthquakes Map will include a visible link to the Tsunami Warning Center.

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How do landslides cause tsunamis?

Tsunamis are large, potentially deadly and destructive sea waves, most of which are formed as a result of submarine earthquakes. They can also result from the eruption or collapse of island or coastal volcanoes and from giant landslides on marine margins. These landslides, in turn, are often triggered by earthquakes. Tsunamis can be generated on...

What is it about an earthquake that causes a tsunami?

Although earthquake magnitude is one factor that affects tsunami generation, there are other important factors to consider. The earthquake must be a shallow marine event that displaces the seafloor. Thrust earthquakes (as opposed to strike slip) are far more likely to generate tsunamis, but small tsunamis have occurred in a few cases from large (i...

What is the difference between a tsunami and a tidal wave?

Although both are sea waves, a tsunami and a tidal wave are two different and unrelated phenomena. A tidal wave is a shallow water wave caused by the gravitational interactions between the Sun, Moon, and Earth ("tidal wave" was used in earlier times to describe what we now call a tsunami.) A tsunami is an ocean wave triggered by large earthquakes...

What are tsunamis?

Tsunamis are ocean waves triggered by: Large earthquakes that occur near or under the ocean Volcanic eruptions Submarine landslides Onshore landslides in which large volumes of debris fall into the water Scientists do not use the term "tidal wave" because these waves are not caused by tides. Tsunami waves are unlike typical ocean waves generated...

Could a large tsunami happen in the United States?

Large tsunamis have occurred in the United States and will undoubtedly occur again. Significant earthquakes around the Pacific rim have generated tsunamis that struck Hawaii, Alaska, and the U.S. west coast. One of the largest and most devastating tsunamis that Hawaii has experienced was in 1946 from an earthquake along the Aleutian subduction...
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Date published: May 31, 2019

New Tsunami Evidence Along One of Earth’s Largest Faults, the Alaska-Aleutian Megathrust

Recent geological studies of a key section of the Aleutian Island chain of Alaska suggest Aleutian tsunamis may occur more frequently than previously understood.

Date published: February 1, 2016

50-Year-Old Mystery Solved: Seafloor Mapping Reveals Cause of 1964 Tsunami that Destroyed Alaskan Village

Minutes after the 1964 magnitude-9.2 Great Alaska Earthquake began shaking, a series of tsunami waves swept through the village of Chenega in Prince William Sound, destroying all but two of the buildings and killing 23 of the 75 inhabitants. 

Date published: September 18, 2015

Are American Cities Prepared For Massive Tsunamis?

Are American Cities Prepared For Massive Tsunamis?

Date published: September 17, 2015

California Prepares for Someday's Bigger Tsunami

California Prepares for Someday's Bigger Tsunami

Date published: August 20, 2015

Disaster Scenario: SoCal Tsunami Could Hit Quickly

Disaster Scenario: SoCal Tsunami Could Hit Quickly

Date published: September 5, 2013

California Tsunami Would Have Costly Aftermath

The fearsome aftermath of a tsunami striking California might cost at least $3.4 billion to repair, but neither of the state's nuclear power plants would be damaged, suggests a new analysis that could help officials and the public prepare for a tsunami and reduce risks before any such disasters happen.

Date published: March 17, 2011

California's tsunami threat

The images of destruction coming from Japan have caused those who dwell on America's West Coast to wonder: Could a devastating tsunami hit here? The answer is a resounding yes. Our coast is under threat from two types of tsunamis.

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Tsunami-evacuation sign in the city of Nehalem, Oregon
April 10, 2017

Tsunami-evacuation sign in the city of Nehalem, Oregon

Tsunami-evacuation sign in the city of Nehalem, Oregon

map of coastal Washington and Oregon indicating tsunami zones and locations of small towns
March 6, 2017

Washington coastal communities in a tsunami hazard zone

Map of coastal communities in a tsunami-hazard zone in the state of Washington.

multicolored map of Ocean Shores, Washington
March 6, 2017

Tsunami Evacuation Travel Times

Map of Ocean Shores, Washington, including modeled pedestrian travel times to safety and vertical-evacuation sites proposed during community meetings.

bue and white street sign, circle with wave -shaped drawing indicating a tsunami evacuation route
March 6, 2017

Tsunami Evacuation Route

Tsunami Evacuation Route street sign

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Tsunami Evacuation Route Sign
February 1, 2017

Tsunami Evacuation Route Sign

Tsunami evacuation route sign at an intersection in Nehalem, Oregon. Photograph credit: Nathan Wood, USGS

Tsunami Evacuation Route
February 1, 2017

Tsunami Evacuation Route

"Tsunami Evacuation Route" is a standard highway sign approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The same signs are used in many west-coast states.

January 26, 2017

PubTalk 1/2017 — Unusual sources of tsunamis

A presentation on "Unusual Sources of Tsunamis From Krakatoa to Monterey Bay" by Eric Geist, USGS Research Geophysicist

- Not all tsunamis are generated by earthquakes.
- Tsunamis can be caused by volcanoes, landslides, and even atmospheric disturbances
- Data from tide gauges can help unravel the complex physics of these sources


Attribution: Natural Hazards
map of Alameda, Calif. with various shades of red indicating tsunami evacuation zones
September 8, 2016

Tsunami Evacuation Zones in Alameda, California

Map of the city of Alameda, California indicating tsunami evacuation zones. Light pink zones are the first to be evacuated for small events. Dark red areas would be evacuated only for an expected large tsunami.

Image: Tsunami Evacuation Sign
December 31, 2015

Tsunami Evacuation Sign

Tsunami evacuation route sign at an intersection in Nehalem, Oregon.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
December 18, 2014

PubTalk 12/2014 — Ten Years After the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

How geology is reducing tsunami risk

by Bruce Jaffe, USGS Research Oceanographer


  • Improvements in tsunamis warnings since the 2004 Indian Ocean devastation.
  • Is California vulnerable to tsunamis?
  • What is the geologic calling card of a tsunami?
  • How does the geologic record foretell of future
April 22, 2008

What are tsunamis?

Listen to hear the answer.