Subduction Zone Science

FAQ

What is the "Ring of Fire"?

Most earthquakes and volcanic eruptions do not strike randomly but occur in specific areas, such as along plate boundaries. One such area is the circum-Pacific Ring of Fire , where the Pacific Plate meets many surrounding tectonic plates. The Ring of Fire is the most seismically and volcanically active zone in the world. Learn more: U.S. Volcanoes...

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...

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...

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...

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...

At what depth do earthquakes occur? What is the significance of the depth?

Earthquakes occur in the crust or upper mantle , which ranges from the earth's surface to about 800 kilometers deep (about 500 miles). The strength of shaking from an earthquake diminishes with increasing distance from the earthquake's source, so the strength of shaking at the surface from an earthquake that occurs at 500km deep is considerably...

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...