What are Tsunamis?
Tsunamis are ocean waves triggered by large earthquakes that occur near or under the ocean, volcanic eruptions, submarine landslides, and by 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 by wind and storms, and most tsunamis do not "break" like the curling, wind-generated waves popular with surfers. Tsunamis typically consist of multiple waves that rush ashore like a fast-rising tide with powerful currents. Tsunami waves can travel much farther inland than normal waves. When tsunamis approach shore, they behave like a very fast moving tide that extends far inland. If a tsunami-causing disturbance occurs close to the coastline, a resulting tsunami can reach coastal communities within minutes. A rule of thumb is that if you see the tsunami, it is too late to outrun it. Even small tsunamis (for example, 6 feet in height) are associated with extremely strong currents, capable of knocking someone off their feet. Because of complex interactions with the coast, tsunami waves can persist for many hours.
As with many natural phenomena, tsunamis can range in size from micro-tsunamis detectable only by sensitive instruments on the ocean floor to mega-tsunamis that can affect the coastlines of entire oceans, as with the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. If you hear a tsunami warning or if you feel strong shaking at the coast or see very unusual wave activity (e.g., the sea withdrawing far from shore), it is important to move to high ground and stay away from the coast until wave activity has subsided (usually several hours to days).
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.
Are American Cities Prepared For Massive Tsunamis?
Disaster Scenario: SoCal Tsunami Could Hit Quickly
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.
Animation of what a potential tsunami would look like generated from a large and hypothetical magnitude 9 subduction earthquake in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The height of the tsunami waves is exaggerated compared to the land surface. Credit: Eric Geist, USGS
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
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
-- Coastal Community Tsunami Hazards and Risk
By Nathan Wood, Geographer
- The movie "The Impossible", currently showing in theaters, portrays the destruction of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami
- Recent tsunami disasters in the Pacific Ocean testify to their destructive power -- are similar events likely in the
An outcrop composed of six tsunami deposits on the inland side of the lowland backing Stardust Bay over 0.5 miles from the sea. Brown soils developed into the top of each sand sheet and black tephra (air fall volcanic ash) layers between two of the sand deposits aided correlation of the six sand sheets across the study area.
Location: Stardust Bay, Sedanka Island,...
The December 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami was one of the deadliest natural disasters of modern history, killing over 225,000 people. As a result of this catastrophe, the U.S. Geological Survey has partnered with the international community to create an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System (IOTWS). An important aspect of this work is the training of employees of the Indonesian...
The tsunami generated by the M 8.8 earthquake carried many boats onto land - in some cases hundreds of meters inland. The tsunami wave height at this location in Concepcion Harbor (Talcahuano), Chile was about 4-5 meters (12-15 feet).
Extensive damage to buildings and roads, and large boats washed far ashore, provide valuable information to tsunami researchers. Here, in Natori, Japan, south of Sendai, the height of damage indicates that the water flow from the tsunami wave was about 10 meters (33 feet).