tsunami: Wikis


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that struck Thailand on December 26, 2004]]

A tsunami (津波?) (pronounced /(t)suːˈnɑːmi/) is a series of water waves (called a tsunami wave train[1]) that is caused when a large volume of a body of water, such as an ocean, is rapidly displaced. The Japanese term is literally translated into "harbor wave."

Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions (detonations of nuclear devices at sea), landslides and other mass movements, bolide impacts, and other disturbances above or below water all have the potential to generate a tsunami. Due to the immense volumes of water and energy involved, the effects of tsunamis can be devastating.

The Greek historian Thucydides was the first to relate tsunami to submarine quakes,[2][3] but understanding of the nature of tsunami remained slim until the 20th century and is the subject of ongoing research.

Many early geological, geographical, and oceanographic texts refer to tsunamis as "seismic sea waves."

Some meteorological conditions, such as deep depressions that cause tropical cyclones, can generate a storm surge, called a meteotsunami, which can be several metres above normal tide levels. This is due to the low atmospheric pressure within the centre of the depression. As these storm surges come ashore, they may resemble (though are not) tsunamis, inundating vast areas of land. Such a storm surge inundated Burma (Myanmar) in May 2008.



The term tsunami comes from the Japanese, meaning "harbor" (tsu, ) and "wave" (nami, ). (For the plural, one can either follow ordinary English practice and add an s, or use an invariable plural as in the Japanese.[4]) Tsunami are common throughout Japanese history; approximately 195 events in Japan have been recorded.[5]

Tsunami are sometimes referred to as tidal waves. In recent years, this term has fallen out of favor, especially in the scientific community, because tsunami actually have nothing to do with tides. The once-popular term derives from their most common appearance, which is that of an extraordinarily high tidal bore. Tsunami and tides both produce waves of water that move inland, but in the case of tsunami the inland movement of water is much greater and lasts for a longer period, giving the impression of an incredibly high tide. Although the meanings of "tidal" include "resembling"[6] or "having the form or character of"[7] the tides, and the term tsunami is no more accurate because tsunami are not limited to harbours, use of the term tidal wave is discouraged by geologists and oceanographers.

There are only a few other languages that have a native word for this disastrous wave. In the Tamil language, the word is aazhi peralai. The South Eastern coasts of India had experienced these kind of waves some 700 years before, and they were a regular event by that time, as the stone carvings (scriptures in stone) show. In the Acehnese language, it is ië beuna or alôn buluëk [8] (Depending on the dialect. Note that in the fellow Austronesian language of Tagalog, a major language in the Philippines, alon means "wave".) On Simeulue island, off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, in the Defayan language the word is semong, while in the Sigulai language it is emong.[9]


A tsunami can be generated when convergent or destructive plate boundaries abruptly move and vertically displace the overlying water. It is very unlikely that they can form at divergent (constructive) or conservative plate boundaries. This is because constructive or conservative boundaries do not generally disturb the vertical displacement of the water column. Subduction zone related earthquakes generate the majority of all tsunamis.

Tsunamis have a small amplitude (wave height) offshore, and a very long wavelength (often hundreds of kilometers long), which is why they generally pass unnoticed at sea, forming only a slight swell usually about 300 mm above the normal sea surface. They grow in height when they reach shallower water, in a wave shoaling process described below. A tsunami can occur at any state of the tide and even at low tide will still inundate coastal areas if the incoming waves surge high enough.

On April 1, 1946, a magnitude-7.8 (Richter Scale) earthquake occurred near the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. It generated a tsunami which inundated Hilo on the island of Hawai'i with a 14 m high surge. The area where the earthquake occurred is where the Pacific Ocean floor is subducting (or being pushed downwards) under Alaska.

Examples of tsunami being generated at locations away from convergent boundaries include Storegga during the Neolithic era, Grand Banks 1929, Papua New Guinea 1998 (Tappin, 2001). In the case of the Grand Banks and Papua New Guinea tsunamis an earthquake caused sediments to become unstable and subsequently fail. These slumped and as they flowed down slope a tsunami was generated. These tsunami did not travel transoceanic distances.

It is not known what caused the Storegga sediments to fail. It may have been an overloading of the sediments resulting in failure or an earthquake may have destabilized them. Still another theory is that a release of gas hydrates (methane etc.,) caused the slump.

The 1960 Valdivia earthquake (Mw 9.5) (19:11 hrs UTC), 1964 Alaska earthquake (Mw 9.2), and 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake (Mw 9.2) (00:58:53 UTC) are recent examples of powerful megathrust earthquakes that generated tsunamis (known as teletsunamis) that can cross entire oceans. Smaller (Mw 4.2) earthquakes in Japan can trigger tsunamis (called local and regional tsunamis) that can devastate nearby coasts within 15 minutes or less.

In the 1950s, it was hypothesised[who?] that larger tsunamis than had previously been believed possible may be caused by landslides, explosive volcanic eruptions (e.g., Santorini and Krakatau), and impact events when they contact water. These phenomena rapidly displace large volumes of water, as energy from falling debris or expansion is transferred to the water into which the debris falls at a rate faster than the ocean water can absorb it. They have been named by the media as megatsunami.

Tsunami caused by these mechanisms, unlike the trans-oceanic tsunami caused by some earthquakes, may dissipate quickly and rarely affect coastlines distant from the source due to the small area of sea affected. These events can give rise to much larger local shock waves (solitons), such as the landslide at the head of Lituya Bay 1958, which produced a wave with an initial surge estimated at 524 m. However, an extremely large gravitational landslide might generate a so-called megatsunami that may have the ability to travel trans-oceanic distances. This though is strongly debated and there is no actual geological evidence to support this hypothesis.


in Chennai after the Indian Ocean Tsunami]]

While everyday wind waves have a wavelength (from crest to crest) of about 100 metres (330 ft) and a height of roughly 2 metres (6.6 ft), a tsunami in the deep ocean has a wavelength of about 200 kilometres (120 mi). This wave travels at well over 800 kilometres per hour (500 mph), but due to the enormous wavelength the wave oscillation at any given point takes 20 or 30 minutes to complete a cycle and has an amplitude of only about 1 metre (3.3 ft).[10] This makes tsunamis difficult to detect over deep water. Their passage usually goes unnoticed by ships.

As the tsunami approaches the coast and the waters become shallow, the wave is compressed due to wave shoaling and its forward travel slows below 80 kilometres per hour (50 mph). Its wavelength diminishes to less than 20 kilometres (12 mi) and its amplitude grows enormously, producing a distinctly visible wave. Since the wave still has a wavelength on the order of several km (a few miles), the tsunami may take minutes to ramp up to full height, with victims seeing a massive deluge of rising ocean rather than a cataclysmic wall of water. Open bays and coastlines adjacent to very deep water may shape the tsunami further into a step-like wave with a steep breaking front.

Signs of an approaching tsunami

]] There is often no advance warning of an approaching tsunami. However, since earthquakes are often causes of tsunami, any earthquake occurring near a body of water may generate a tsunami if it occurs at shallow depth, is of moderate or high magnitude, and the water volume and depth is sufficient.

If the first part of a tsunami to reach land is a trough (draw back) rather than a crest of the wave, the water along the shoreline may recede dramatically, exposing areas that are normally always submerged. This can serve as an advance warning of the approaching tsunami which will rush in faster than it is possible to run. If people are in a coastal area where the sea suddenly draws back (many survivors report an accompanying sucking sound), their only real chance of survival is to run for high ground or seek the high floors of high rise buildings. This occurred in Phuket Thailand, at Maikhao beach. Ten-year old Tilly Smith of Surrey, England, was on the beach with her parents and sister, and having learned about tsunamis recently in school, was able to warn her family that a tsunami might be imminent. Her parents warned others on the beach and the hotel staff minutes before the tsunami hit. Ms. Smith is credited with saving dozens of lives as a result of her recent geography lesson. She gave credit to her geography teacher, Mr. Andrew Kearney.

In the 2004 tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean drawback was not reported on the African coast or any other eastern coasts it inundated, when the tsunami approached from the east. This was because of the nature of the wave—it moved downwards on the eastern side of the fault line and upwards on the western side. It was the western pulse that inundated coastal areas of Africa and other western areas.

About 80% of all tsunamis occur in the Pacific Ocean, but are possible wherever large bodies of water are found, including inland lakes.[citation needed] They may be caused by landslides, volcanic explosions, bolides and seismic activity.

According to an article in "Geographical" magazine (April 2008), the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26, 2004 was not the worst that the region could expect. Professor Costas Synolakis of the Tsunami Research Center at the University of Southern California co-authored a paper in "Geophysical Journal International" which suggests that a future tsunami in the Indian Ocean basin could affect locations such as Madagascar, Singapore, Somalia, Western Australia and many others. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed over 300,000 people with many bodies either being lost to the sea or unidentified. Some unofficial estimates have claimed that approximately 1 million people may have died directly or indirectly solely as a result of the tsunami.[citation needed]

Warnings and prevention

, British Columbia]]

at Tsu, Japan]]

A tsunami cannot be prevented or precisely predicted—even if the right magnitude of an earthquake occurs in the right location. Geologists, oceanographers, and seismologists analyse each earthquake and based upon many factors may or may not issue a tsunami warning. However, there are some warning signs of an impending tsunami, and there are many systems being developed and in use to reduce the damage from tsunami. One of the most important systems that is used and constantly monitored are bottom pressure sensors. These are anchored and attached to buoys. Sensors on the equipment constantly monitor the pressure of the overlying water column. This is deduced through the calculation:

\,\! P = \rho gh

P = the overlying pressure in Newtons per metre square,
\rho = the density of the seawater= 1.1 x 103 kg/m3,
g = the acceleration due to gravity= 9.8 m/s2 and
h = the height of the water column in metres.

Hence for a water column of 5,000 m depth the overlying pressure is equal to

\,\! P = \rho gh=(1.1 * 10^3 \frac{kg}{m^3})(9.8 \frac{m}{s^2})(5.0 * 10^3 m)=5.4*10^7 \frac{N}{m^2}=54 MPa

or about 5500 tonnes per metre square.[citation needed]

In instances where the leading edge of the tsunami wave is the trough, the sea will recede from the coast half of the wave's period before the wave's arrival. If the slope of the coastal seabed is shallow, this recession can exceed many hundreds of meters. People unaware of the danger may remain at or near the shore out of curiosity, or for collecting fish from the exposed seabed. During the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26, 2004, the sea withdrew and many people then went onto the exposed sea bed to investigate. Pictures taken show people on the normally submerged areas with the advancing wave in the background. Most people who were on the beach were unable to escape to high ground and died.

in Kamakura, Japan, 2004. In the Muromachi period, a tsunami struck Kamakura, destroying the wooden building that housed the colossal statue of Amida Buddha at Kotokuin. Since that time, the statue has been outdoors.]]

Regions with a high risk of tsunami may use tsunami warning systems to detect tsunami and warn the general population before the wave reaches land. On the west coast of the United States, which is prone to Pacific Ocean tsunami, warning signs advise people of evacuation routes.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning System is based in Honolulu. It monitors all sesimic activity that occurs anywhere within the Pacific. Based up the magnitude and other information a tsunami warning may be issued. It is important to note that the subduction zones around the Pacific are seismically active, but not all earthquakes generate tsunami and for this reason computers are used as a tool to assist in analysing the risk of tsunami generation of each and every earthquake that occurs in the Pacific Ocean and the adjoining land masses.

As a direct result of the Indian Ocean tsunami, a re-appraisal of the tsunami threat of all coastal areas is being undertaken by national governments and the United Nations Disaster Mitigation Committee. A tsunami warning system is currently being installed in the Indian Ocean.

Computer models can predict tsunami arrival—observations have shown that predicted arrival times are usually within minutes of the actual time. Bottom pressure sensors are able to relay information in real time and based upon the readings and other information about the seismic event that triggered it and the shape of the seafloor (bathymetry) and coastal land (topography), it is possible to estimate the amplitude and therefore the surge height, of the approaching tsunami. All the countries that border the Pacific Ocean collaborate in the Tsunami Warning System and most regularly practice evacuation and other procedures to prepare people for the inevitable tsunami. In Japan such preparation is a mandatory requirement of government, local authorities, emergency services and the population.

, in Washington]] Some zoologists hypothesise that animals may have an ability to sense subsonic Rayleigh waves from an earthquake or a tsunami. Some animals seem to have the ability to detect natural phenomena and if correct, careful observation and monitoring could possibly provide advance warning of earthquakes, tsunami etc. However, the evidence is controversial and has not been proven scientifically. There are some unsubstantiated claims that animals before the Lisbon quake were restless and moved away from low lying areas to higher ground. Yet many other animals in the same areas drowned. The phenomenon was also noted by media sources in Sri Lanka in the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.[11][12] It is possible that certain animals (e.g., elephants) may have heard the sounds of the tsunami as it approached the coast. The elephants reaction was to move away from the approaching noise—inland. Some humans, on the other hand, went to the shore to investigate and many drowned as a result.

It is not possible to prevent a tsunami. However, in some tsunami-prone countries some earthquake engineering measures have been taken to reduce the damage caused on shore. Japan has implemented an extensive programme of building tsunami walls of up to 4.5 m (13.5 ft) high in front of populated coastal areas. Other localities have built floodgates and channels to redirect the water from incoming tsunami. However, their effectiveness has been questioned, as tsunami often surge higher than the barriers. For instance, the Okushiri, Hokkaidō tsunami which struck Okushiri Island of Hokkaidō within two to five minutes of the earthquake on July 12, 1993 created waves as much as 30 m (100 ft) tall—as high as a 10-story building. The port town of Aonae was completely surrounded by a tsunami wall, but the waves washed right over the wall and destroyed all the wood-framed structures in the area. The wall may have succeeded in slowing down and moderating the height of the tsunami, but it did not prevent major destruction and loss of life.[13]

The effects of a tsunami may be mitigated by natural factors such as tree cover on the shoreline. Some locations in the path of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami escaped almost unscathed as a result of the tsunami's energy being absorbed by trees such as coconut palms and mangroves. In one striking example, the village of Naluvedapathy in India's Tamil Nadu region suffered minimal damage and few deaths as the wave broke up on a forest of 80,244 trees planted along the shoreline in 2002 in a bid to enter the Guinness Book of Records.[14] Environmentalists have suggested tree planting along stretches of seacoast which are prone to tsunami risks. It would take some years for the trees to grow to a useful size, but such plantations could offer a much cheaper and longer-lasting means of tsunami mitigation than the construction of artificial barriers.

Tsunami in history

Tsunami are not rare, with at least 25 tsunami occurring in the last century. Of these, many were recorded in the Asia–Pacific region—particularly Japan. The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami caused approximately 350,000 deaths and many more injuries.

As early as 426 B.C. the Greek historian Thucydides inquired in his book History of the Peloponnesian War about the causes of tsunami, and argued correctly that it could only be explained as a consequence of ocean earthquakes.[2] He was thus the first in the history of natural science to correlate quakes and waves in terms of cause and effect:[3]

The cause, in my opinion, of this phenomenon must be sought in the earthquake. At the point where its shock has been the most violent the sea is driven back, and suddenly recoiling with redoubled force, causes the inundation. Without an earthquake I do not see how such an accident could happen.[15]

The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (Res Gestae 26.10.15-19) described the typical sequence of a tsunami, including an incipient earthquake, the sudden retreat of the sea and a following gigantic wave, after the 365 A.D. tsunami devastated Alexandria.[16][17]

See also


  1. ^ Fradin, Judith Bloom and Dennis Brindell Fradin. Witness to Disaster: Tsunamis. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Thucydides: “A History of the Peloponnesian War”, 3.89.1–4
  3. ^ a b Smid, T. C.: "'Tsunamis' in Greek Literature", Greece & Rome, 2nd Ser., Vol. 17, No. 1 (Apr., 1970), pp. 100–104 (103f.)
  4. ^ [a. Jap. tsunami, tunami, f. tsu harbour + nami waves.—Oxford English Dictionary]
  5. ^ http://www.answers.com/topic/tsunami tsunami
  6. ^ "tidal." The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Company. 11 Nov. 2008. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/tidal>.
  7. ^ -al. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved November 11, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/-al
  8. ^ http://www.acehrecoveryforum.org/en/index.php?action=ARFNews&no=73
  9. ^ http://www.jtic.org/en/jtic/images/dlPDF/Lipi_CBDP/reports/SMGChapter3.pdf
  10. ^ http://earthsci.org/education/teacher/basicgeol/tsumami/tsunami.html Tsunamis
  11. ^ Lambourne, Helen (2005-03-27). "Tsunami: Anatomy of a disaster". BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/4269847.stm. 
  12. ^ Kenneally, Christine (2004-12-30). "Surviving the Tsunami: What Sri Lanka's animals knew that humans didn't". Slate Magazine. http://www.slate.com/id/2111608. 
  13. ^ "1993年7月12日 北海道南西沖地震" (in Japanese). http://library.skr.jp/19930712_nanseioki.htm. 
  14. ^ Raman, Sunil (2005-03-27). "Tsunami villagers give thanks to trees". BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4381395.stm. 
  15. ^ Thucydides: “A History of the Peloponnesian War”, 3.89.5
  16. ^ Kelly, Gavin (2004), “Ammianus and the Great Tsunami”, The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 94, pp. 141–167 (141)
  17. ^ Stanley, Jean-Daniel & Jorstad, Thomas F. (2005), "The 365 A.D. Tsunami Destruction of Alexandria, Egypt: Erosion, Deformation of Strata and Introduction of Allochthonous Material"


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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:



Japanese 津波 / 津浪 (つなみ (tsunami), seismic sea wave)), literally "harbour wave".


  • enPR: tso͞o-nä'mi, so͞o-nä'mi, IPA: /tsuːˈnɑːmi/, /suːˈnɑːmi/, SAMPA: /tsu:nA:mi/, /su:nA:mi/
    Rhymes: -ɑːmi



tsunamis or tsunami

tsunami (plural tsunamis or tsunami)

  1. A very large and destructive wave, generally caused by a tremendous disturbance in the ocean, such as an undersea earthquake or volcanic eruption.



Derived terms


See also



tsunami n.

  1. tsunami



From Japanese 津波/津浪 (つなみ, tsunami), “harbour wave”.



tsunami m. (plural tsunami's, diminutive tsunamietje, diminutive plural tsunamietjes)

  1. tsunami




  1. tsunami




From Japanese 津波/津浪 (つなみ, tsunami), “harbour wave”.



tsunami m. (plural tsunamis or tsunami)

  1. tsunami





tsunami f. inv.

  1. tsunami



tsunami (hiragana つなみ)

  1. 津波: tsunami, tidal wave

Simple English

A tsunami is a wave in the ocean caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. A tsunami is a very long, big wave. It can be hundreds of kilometers long. It is a chain of fast moving waves. It is made because of fast changes in the ocean. Usually, a tsunami starts suddenly. It will begin as normal waves and change to a very big wave very quickly. The waves travel at a great speed across an ocean with little energy loss. They can remove sand from beaches, destroy trees, damage houses and even destroy whole towns.

The water will draw back from the coast half of the period of the wave before it gets to the coast. If the slope of the coast is not deep, the water may pull back for hundreds of metres. People who do not know of the danger will often remain at the shore. Tsunamis can not be prevented. However, there are ways to help stop people from dying from a tsunami. Some regions where there are lots of tsunamis may use warning systems. Through them, they may warn the population before the big waves reach the land. Because an earthquake that caused the tsunami can be felt before the wave gets to the shore, people can be warned to go somewhere safe.

The deadliest tsunami recorded was on December 26, 2004. It was caused by an earthquake. The earthquake was said to have a magnitude of 9.3 on the Richter scale. It was centered in the ocean near the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Over 215,000 people died from this disaster. The giant wave moved very quickly. Hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, Somalia, and other nations, were killed or injured by it.

Tsunamis are often called tidal waves. This is misleading, because tsunamis are not related to tides.

Some tsunamis can be caused by the overlapping of tectonic plates.

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