Tsunami Up until December of 2004, the phenomena of tsunami was not on the minds of most o
Up until December of 2004, the phenomena of tsunami was not on the minds of most of the world's population. That changed on the morning of December 24, 2004 when an earthquake of moment magnitude 9.1 occurred along the oceanic trench off the coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. This large earthquake resulted in vertical displacement of the sea floor and generated a tsunami that eventually killed 280,000 people and affected the lives of several million people. Although people living on the coastline near the epicenter of the earthquake had little time or warning of the approaching tsunami, those living farther away along the coasts of Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, and East Africa had plenty of time to move to higher ground to escape. But, there was no tsunami warning system in place in the Indian Ocean, and although other tsunami warning centers attempted to provide a warning, there was no effective communication system in place. Unfortunately, it has taken a disaster of great magnitude to point out the failings of the world's scientific community and to educate almost every person on the planet about tsunami.
How Tsunamis Are Generated
There is an average of two destructive tsunamis per year in the Pacific basin. Pacific wide tsunamis are a rare phenomenon, occurring every 10-12 years on the average. Most of these tsunamis are generated by earthquakes that cause displacement of the seafloor.
Earthquakes cause tsunami by causing a disturbance of the seafloor. Thus, earthquakes that occur along coastlines or anywhere beneath the oceans can generate tsunami. The size of the tsunami is usually related to the size of the earthquake, with larger tsunami generated by larger earthquakes. But the sense of displacement is also important. Tsunamis are generally only formed when an earthquake causes vertical displacement of the seafloor. The 1906 earthquake near San Francisco California had a Richter Magnitude of about 7.1, yet no tsunami was generated because the motion on the fault (断层) was strike-slip motion with no vertical displacement. Thus, tsunami only occur if the fault generating the earthquake has normal or reverse displacement. Because of this, most tsunamis are generated by earthquakes that occur along the subduction boundaries of plates, along the oceanic trenches. Since the Pacific Ocean is surrounded by plate boundaries of this type, tsunamis are frequently generated by earthquakes around the margins of the Pacific Ocean.
Examples of Tsunami Generated by Earthquakes
May 22, 1960-A moment magnitude 9.5 earthquake occurred along the subduction zone off South America. Because the population of Chile is familiar with earthquakes and potential tsunami, most people along the coast moved to higher ground. 15 minutes after the earthquake, a tsunami with a run-up of 4.5 m hit the coast. The first wave then retreated, dragging broken houses and boats back into the ocean. Many people saw this smooth retreat of the sea as a sign they could ride their boats out to sea and recover some of the property swept away, by the first wave. But, about 1 hour later, the second wave traveling at a velocity of 166 km/hr crashed in with a run-up of 8 m. This wave crushed boats along the coast and destroyed coastal buildings. This was followed by a third wave traveling at only 83 km/hr that crashed in later with a run-up of 11 m, destroying all that was left of coastal villages. The resulting causalities listed 909 dead with 834 missing. In Hawaii, a tsunami warning system was in place and the tsunami was expected to arrive at 9:57 AM. It hit at 9:58 AM and 61 people died, mostly sightseers that wanted to watch the wave roll in at close range (obviously they were too close). The tsunami continued across the Pacific Ocean, eventually reaching Japan where it killed an additional 185 people.
Prediction and Early Warning
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