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.
California's tsunami threat
One type is caused by earthquakes that happen far away. In the last half-century, the West Coast has experienced tsunamis originating in Chile, Alaska and the Kuril Islands in Russia, as well as last week's ocean surge from Japan. These tsunamis generated far away will continue to strike the West Coast, given the multiple sources for earthquakes around the Pacific Rim. But they allow for more warning. In Japan, where the earthquake struck, the tsunami followed quickly. But the surge of ocean water took several hours to arrive here, giving people enough time to move out of harm's way.