Tsunami

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The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami at Ao Nang, Krabi Province, Thailand 2004-tsunami.jpg
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami at Ao Nang, Krabi Province, Thailand
3D tsunami animation

A tsunami ( /(t)sˈnɑːmi,(t)sʊˈ-/ (t)soo-NAH-mee, (t)suu-; [1] [2] [3] [4] from Japanese : 津波, lit. 'harbour wave', [5] pronounced [tsɯnami] ) is a series of waves in a water body caused by the displacement of a large volume of water, generally in an ocean or a large lake. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions (including detonations, landslides, glacier calvings, meteorite impacts and other disturbances) above or below water all have the potential to generate a tsunami. [6] Unlike normal ocean waves, which are generated by wind, or tides, which are in turn generated by the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun, a tsunami is generated by the displacement of water from a large event.

Contents

Tsunami waves do not resemble normal undersea currents or sea waves because their wavelength is far longer. [7] Rather than appearing as a breaking wave, a tsunami may instead initially resemble a rapidly rising tide. [8] For this reason, it is often referred to as a tidal wave, [9] although this usage is not favoured by the scientific community because it might give the false impression of a causal relationship between tides and tsunamis. [10] Tsunamis generally consist of a series of waves, with periods ranging from minutes to hours, arriving in a so-called "wave train". [11] Wave heights of tens of metres can be generated by large events. Although the impact of tsunamis is limited to coastal areas, their destructive power can be enormous, and they can affect entire ocean basins. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was among the deadliest natural disasters in human history, with at least 230,000 people killed or missing in 14 countries bordering the Indian Ocean.

The Ancient Greek historian Thucydides suggested in his 5th century BC History of the Peloponnesian War that tsunamis were related to submarine earthquakes, [12] [13] but the understanding of tsunamis remained slim until the 20th century, and much remains unknown. Major areas of current research include determining why some large earthquakes do not generate tsunamis while other smaller ones do. This ongoing research is designed to help accurately forecast the passage of tsunamis across oceans as well as how tsunami waves interact with shorelines.

Terminology

Tsunami

Tsunami
Tsunami (Chinese characters).svg
"Tsunami" in kanji
Calculated travel time map for the 1964 Alaska tsunami (in hours) Calculated Travel Time Map for 1964 Alaska Tsunami.jpg
Calculated travel time map for the 1964 Alaska tsunami (in hours)

Drawbacks can serve as a brief warning. People who observe drawback (many survivors report an accompanying sucking sound) can survive only if they immediately run for high ground or seek the upper floors of nearby buildings.

In 2004, ten-year-old Tilly Smith of Surrey, England, was on Maikhao beach in Phuket, Thailand with her parents and sister, and having learned about tsunamis recently in school, told her family that a tsunami might be imminent. Her parents warned others minutes before the wave arrived, saving dozens of lives. She credited her geography teacher, Andrew Kearney.

In the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami drawback was not reported on the African coast or any other east-facing coasts that it reached. This was because the initial wave moved downwards on the eastern side of the megathrust and upwards on the western side. The western pulse hit coastal Africa and other western areas.

A tsunami cannot be precisely predicted, even if the magnitude and location of an earthquake is known. Geologists, oceanographers, and seismologists analyse each earthquake and based on many factors may or may not issue a tsunami warning. However, there are some warning signs of an impending tsunami, and automated systems can provide warnings immediately after an earthquake in time to save lives. One of the most successful systems uses bottom pressure sensors, attached to buoys, which constantly monitor the pressure of the overlying water column.

Regions with a high tsunami risk typically use tsunami warning systems to warn the population before the wave reaches land. On the west coast of the United States, which is prone to tsunamis from the Pacific Ocean, warning signs indicate evacuation routes. In Japan, the populace is well-educated about earthquakes and tsunamis, and along Japanese shorelines, tsunami warning signs remind people of the natural hazards along with a network of warning sirens, typically at the top of the cliffs of surrounding hills. [73]

The Pacific Tsunami Warning System is based in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. It monitors Pacific Ocean seismic activity. A sufficiently large earthquake magnitude and other information triggers a tsunami warning. While the subduction zones around the Pacific are seismically active, not all earthquakes generate a tsunami. Computers assist in analysing the tsunami risk of 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 for all coastal areas is being undertaken by national governments and the United Nations Disaster Mitigation Committee. A tsunami warning system is being installed in the Indian Ocean.

One of the deep water buoys used in the DART tsunami warning system Dart tsunamicover.jpg
One of the deep water buoys used in the DART tsunami warning system

Computer models can predict tsunami arrival, usually within minutes of the arrival time. Bottom pressure sensors can relay information in real time. Based on these pressure readings and other seismic information and the seafloor's shape (bathymetry) and coastal topography, the models estimate the amplitude and surge height of the approaching tsunami. All Pacific Rim countries collaborate in the Tsunami Warning System and most regularly practise evacuation and other procedures. In Japan, such preparation is mandatory for government, local authorities, emergency services and the population.

Along the United States west coast, in addition to sirens, warnings are sent on television and radio via the National Weather Service, using the Emergency Alert System.

Possible animal reaction

Some zoologists hypothesise that some animal species have an ability to sense subsonic Rayleigh waves from an earthquake or a tsunami. If correct, monitoring their behaviour could provide advance warning of earthquakes and tsunamis. However, the evidence is controversial and is not widely accepted. There are unsubstantiated claims about the Lisbon quake that some animals escaped to higher ground, while 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. [74] [75] 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. By contrast, some humans went to the shore to investigate and many drowned as a result.

Mitigation

A seawall at Tsu, Mie Prefecture in Japan Tsunami wall.jpg
A seawall at Tsu, Mie Prefecture in Japan

In some tsunami-prone countries, earthquake engineering measures have been taken to reduce the damage caused onshore.

Japan, where tsunami science and response measures first began following a disaster in 1896, has produced ever-more elaborate countermeasures and response plans. [76] The country has built many tsunami walls of up to 12 metres (39 ft) high to protect populated coastal areas. Other localities have built floodgates of up to 15.5 metres (51 ft) high and channels to redirect the water from an incoming tsunami. However, their effectiveness has been questioned, as tsunamis often overtop the barriers.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was directly triggered by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, when waves exceeded the height of the plant's sea wall. [77] Iwate Prefecture, which is an area at high risk from tsunami, had tsunami barriers walls (Taro sea wall) totalling 25 kilometres (16 mi) long at coastal towns. The 2011 tsunami toppled more than 50% of the walls and caused catastrophic damage. [78]

The Okushiri, Hokkaidō tsunami, which struck within two to five minutes of the earthquake on July 12, 1993, created waves 30 metres (100 ft) tall—as high as a 10-storey 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. [79]

See also

Footnotes

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The island of La Palma in the Canary Islands is at risk of undergoing a large landslide, which could cause a tsunami in the Atlantic Ocean. Volcanic islands and volcanoes on land frequently undergo large landslides/collapses, which have been documented in Hawaii for example. A recent example is Anak Krakatau, which collapsed to cause the 2018 Sunda Strait tsunami.

On the morning of March 13, 1888, an explosion took place on Ritter Island, a small volcanic island in the Bismarck and Solomon Seas, between New Britain and Umboi Island. The explosion resulted in the collapse of most of the island and generated a tsunami with runups of up to 15 meters (49 ft) that caused damage more than 700 kilometers (430 mi) away and killed anywhere between 500 and 3,000 on neighbouring islands, including scientists and explorers. This event is the largest volcanic island sector collapse in recent history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1741 eruption of Oshima–Ōshima and the Kampo tsunami</span> Volcanic eruption and tsunami disaster off the coast of Hokkaido.

The devastating eruption of Oshima–Ōshima began on 18 August 1741 and ended on 1 May the next year. Eleven days into the eruption, the Kampo tsunami with estimated maximum heights of over 90 meters swept across neighboring islands in Japan and the Korean Peninsula.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Volcanic tsunami</span> Natural hazard

A volcanic tsunami, also called a volcanogenic tsunami, is a tsunami produced by volcanic phenomena. About 20–25% of all fatalities at volcanoes during the past 250 years have been caused by volcanic tsunamis. The most devastating volcanic tsunami in recorded history was that produced by the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. The waves reached heights of 40 m (130 ft) and killed 36,000 people.

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