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What Causes a Tsunami?

Updated on June 13, 2016

Joined: 7 years agoFollowers: 179Articles: 167

Important Tsunami Facts

  • Tsunami is a Japanese word which means 'harbour wave'
  • Earthquakes under the sea are the main causes of Tsunamis
  • The biggest tsunami ever was at Lituya Bay, Alaska on July 9, 1958
  • Earliest tsunamis was in Sicily 8,000 years ago
  • Landslides and volcanoes can also cause tsunamis

Introduction

A tsunami is a powerful series of waves caused by a disturbance under water. This is usually an earthquake under the sea.

The waves travel through the ocean and cause devastation when they reach land. Humans are often killed and buildings destroyed when the water hits the coast.

To fully understand how tsunamis are caused we must have an understanding of tectonic plates, earth quakes, and finally, water.

Panic: People flee as a Tsunami wave crashes into trees in Indonesia on Boxing Day, December 26, 2004
Panic: People flee as a Tsunami wave crashes into trees in Indonesia on Boxing Day, December 26, 2004
Wave: Japan has frequent Tsunamis
Wave: Japan has frequent Tsunamis

What Is It?

Tsunami is a Japanese word meaning 'harbour wave' that refers to a series of large ocean waves that hit a shoreline. The word originates from Japan because this is the country where tsunamis are most common.

These tsunami waves may be as long as 100km and travel across the ocean at speeds of up to 800kmh. There may be a constant stream of waves that that batter the shore for between 10 and 60 minutes.

Tsunamis are also known as tidal waves, due to their large and powerful nature. They have been depicted throughout history, art, television and film as something terrifying, cataclysmic and almost Armageddon-like.

Causes

Tsunamis are caused by sudden movements of the earth that happens under the sea. Often the most destructive Tsunamis are caused by earthquakes but causes can also include volcanic eruptions, landslides or even a comet hitting the sea.

Landslides cause tsunamis when the debris falls into the water. This has the same effect of dropping a large stone into a pool - big ripples are created. But when this happens in the sea and it is thousands of tonnes of rock and earth falling into the sea a very large ripple, more like a tidal wave is created. This travels across the sea until it comes into contact with land and a tsunami is formed.

Volcanoes cause tsunamis when there is an eruption. The volcano can either be on land or under the sea, in which case it is known as a submarine volcano. If the volcanic eruption happens on land, the tsunami is caused by debris and lava from the volcano flowing into the sea, which once again causes a bug ripple.

If the eruption happens under water, the enormous power of the eruption sends shudders through the earth and disrupts the water. The water in the sea then breaks into waves which travel across the ocean until they come into contact with a coast. Here, a tsunami is formed.

Friction: Tectonic plates rub against each other
Friction: Tectonic plates rub against each other

How Do Undersea Earthquakes Start?

The most common cause of a tsunami is fro earthquakes. This is what caused the Boxing Day tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and it is also the reason behind the 2011 Japan tsunami.

To understand how earthquakes cause tsunamis we must first fully understand what causes earthquakes. Remember, tsunamis are an after-effect of an earthquake.

The earth sits on about a dozen tectonic plates. These are large floating pieces of hard rock that are constantly moving and fit together around the world like a jigsaw.

Undersea earthquakes happen when one of these plates is rubbing against another at a plate boundary. The two plates may become stuck as the heavier plate tries to slide under the lighter other. This causes a build up of pressure in a process knows as subduction.

As the heavier plate continues to slide beneath the lighter plate, it causes the lighter plate to bend downwards with the pressure. A point comes when the lighter plate can no longer take the intense pressure and suddenly snaps back up to the surface where it had been before.

The incredible force of the earth's plate shooting upwards in the water causes a huge rise in sea level. A vast body of water moves upward - like a huge mountain of water in the sea.

How Does the Tsunami Develop?

Everybody knows that what goes up must come down. This is particularly true for water which always likes to form a nice flat surface. So once the mountain of water has risen up the next step is for the sea to level itself out.

The mountain of water comes back down. This pushes the water that was underneath it outwards. The force of the water moves through the ocean causing an underwater force that travels for hundreds of Kilometres. The force of the water can reach speeds of up to 800kmh as it surges through the ocean. The energy is underwater and is not noticeable on the surface.

As this force travels through the ocean it may eventually reach the shore. At this point, the sea becomes shallower. However, the energy in the water is still the same. The enegery is compressed and the water is pushed upwards. This is how the energy is transferred from being underater into waves on the surface.

Can Anything Be Done?

Unfortunately nothing can be done to prevent Tsunamis. However, there are several organisations that use complex technology to monitor movement of the earths plates and sudden changes in water movement. There are also warning and evacuation procedures in place around countries like Japan and Hawaii where Tsunamis are frequent.

Any sudden earthquake that happens underwater will be detected in the same manner of on on-shore earthquake. These are measured in the Richter scale. If this is recorded then warning systems can sometimes be activated to evacuate people.

Wreckage from Aleutian Islands
Wreckage from Aleutian Islands

Major Tsunamis

  • Japan - March 11, 2011
  • Indian Ocean - 26 December 2004.
  • Papua New Guinea - 17 July 1998
  • Sea of Japan - 26 May 1983
  • Alaska Britis Columbia - 27 March 1964
  • Chili - 22 May 1960
  • Aleutian Islands - 1 April 1946

Read more about the biggest tsunamis in history.

Tsunami videos

Tsunami videos

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    • Holly 6 years ago

      Thanks this helped a lot!

    • Rickrideshorses profile image
      Author

      Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

      Thanks Holly, Tsunamis are hard to fully understand but glad this page helped you.

    • shekhar verma 6 years ago

      this info. is very short and not sufficient to make a project report. bloody idiot

    • Rickrideshorses profile image
      Author

      Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

      Get off your backside and look at other pages then you lazy fool.

    • l!lly 6 years ago

      thanks a lot this helped me with my project =)

    • Rickrideshorses profile image
      Author

      Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

      Your welcome, l!lly. Glad the information helped you.

    • Aarushi 6 years ago

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    • jennifer 6 years ago

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    • suhani 6 years ago

      i m really thankful for it helped me a lot in doing my hw as well it provided me a lot of infotmetion.

    • divya 6 years ago

      tsunami is very hard disaster and millions of people die by it

    • nonymous 6 years ago

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    • stela 6 years ago

      thanx 4 d info.its really helpful.

    • munirahmadmughal profile image

      munirahmadmughal 6 years ago from Lahore, Pakistan.

      What causes a Tsunami? Explanations have been submitted by the men of knowledge and scientists accordin to their kowledge and expertise and much awareness has come. The Creator of universe is the Creator of human beings. We all must pray Him to be kind and merciful to all and forgive our mistakes, whether known to us or not known to us. He is Omnipotent, All Powerful. The other aspect is to consider it our test. WE must help the victim to our maximum capacity extending all our abilities in any form. Cooperation and coordination, of course, will be to our human extent. But it will be there. May Allah Almighty, the Creator of all things save all of us from all disasters.

    • chelsea 6 years ago

      whatis a atsunami

    • shubh 6 years ago

      thanks for this

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      thanx tis info relly helped me in my project

    • Aish rocks 6 years ago

      Thanxxxxxxxxxxx a lott. . . . I have been Realyyyyyyy Helped By d pics.....

    • Rickrideshorses profile image
      Author

      Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

      Aish rocks, gald the page helped you. Keep checking back for more. Rick

    • yusuf 6 years ago

      thanxxxx fr this

    • usu 6 years ago

      thank you...

    • Marc Mathew 6 years ago

      Good Information

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      need little more information

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      Tanx! It has given of more insight about tsunami.

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      Hi again.... Thnx 4 d rply, Rick... :-}

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      thanks yar this helps me for doing my project and take out more information

    • heet shah 6 years ago

      this page helped 2 get d whole info. abt tsunami!!!

      thanksss

    • Rickrideshorses profile image
      Author

      Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

      Hello!

      For all of you that asked...you can now read about the EFFECTS of a TSUNAMI here...

      https://owlcation.com/stem/Tsunami-effects-What-ar...

      Thanks! Rick

    • khushboo 6 years ago

      thanxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx a lot 4 d info it helped me do my project:)

    • Rickrideshorses profile image
      Author

      Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

      Your welcome, glad it helped ;)

    • DHARINI 6 years ago

      This helped a lot in my project..I got A1 in my project..

    • Rickrideshorses profile image
      Author

      Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

      Good, well done!

    • xx 6 years ago

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    • srilekha 6 years ago

      many innocent people were met to their death by this massive destruction.as the saying goes sinners are to be sinned god showed his divine vengence

    • Rickrideshorses profile image
      Author

      Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

      srilekha, why don't you try pitching that idea to the grieving families who have lost a child/mother/father in tsunamis?

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    • VKB 6 years ago

      thanks a lot. this page helped me do my assignment

    • Rickrideshorses profile image
      Author

      Rickrideshorses 6 years ago from England

      Thanks for all the complimentary comments. Keep checking back for more!

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    • asha 6 years ago

      He is Omnipotent, All Powerful. The other aspect is to consider it our test. WE must help the victim to our maximum capacity extending all our abilities in any form. Cooperation and coordination, of course, will be to our human extent. But it will be there. May Allah Almighty, the Creator of all

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    • anonymus 5 years ago

      extremely good information.it really helped me.thank you and god bless

    • divya 5 years ago

      tsunami is the great disaster

    • lobonorth profile image

      lobonorth 5 years ago

      Great Hub, I voted up and useful and confirmed my confidence by linking the article to The Homer Simpson Effect and Nuclear Disasters. Thanks

    • credo 5 years ago

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    • Hux 5 years ago

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    • sanya 5 years ago

      Can some one please tell me how tsunami is responsible for failure of cooling system in nuclear power plant in Japan?

    • Polycarp Uchenna Okere 5 years ago

      Now that we have a better knowledge of cause and effect of Tsunami, i have a strong feeling of Advising on implementing ways to mitigate – ‘a real danger’. Reclaiming of lands, technological advancement in civil engineering construction especially in ocean bays or overloading of foreseeable substratum, should be strongly checked in recent time. Pretty sure, the effect of 9/11 must have put a check in construction of high rise structures prone to attack in the US and other western world. such ideology ( with the Japanese experience)is a basic necessity especially in developing countries like Nigeria, where I come from.

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    • SUSIE42 profile image

      SUSIE42 5 years ago

      Thanks for another good hub.

    • anu 5 years ago

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    • RalphGreene profile image

      RalphGreene 5 years ago

      I thought Japan was hit by tsunami only once. It also happened in 1983. Great hub! I got a lot of info here.

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      Good job

    • whitton profile image

      whitton 5 years ago

      That video that you posted on here was very scary. It is so crazy that those waves become these huge walls of water that just take out homes and buildings and even a whole city.

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    • summer 5 years ago

      if you could put up something on how volcanoes can cause tsunamis that would be great ;)

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      thank you

      '

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    • Feba 4 years ago

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    • geetu 4 years ago

      thanxxxxx for informing me

    • Anish 4 years ago

      it really helped.!!!

      thank you a lot

    • rubina 4 years ago

      it is very useful to everybody and sweet

    • rubina 4 years ago

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    • meghana 4 years ago

      wow this is awsome

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    • Sammy 4 years ago

      My mom and dad and my brothers and sisters all 10 of them died by the 2004 Tsunami when i was 11 years old and now i am 18 years old

    • Sonia khan 4 years ago

      this is a very good page. hub pages help me in almost all my project. This is a awesome page

    • priyansh jain 4 years ago

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    • cool kid 4 years ago

      hi that is helpful.

    • radha 4 years ago

      this information is really compact&informative this helped me for my ss project

    • aditya 4 years ago

      no of use

    • priya 3 years ago

      This Helped Me To Do My Science Project........ thanks!

    • niveditha 3 years ago

      Thankyou very much, providing this information about tsunami. It helped me to do my english project.................. thanks.........

    • Somesh 3 years ago

      Thankyou very much

    • Sahithi 3 years ago

      Thankyou so much.

      This information helped me to make my Social PPT.

      Thanks a lot.

    • isabella 3 years ago

      this is so hard to watch R.I.P thanks xxx

    • Roshan Abalkar 3 years ago

      this information helped me a lot to know about tsunami

    • Karan Mall profile image

      Karan Mall 3 years ago

      MAN i love it i got A+ on my home work!!!

    • sozean 3 years ago

      thanks it will really help in my seminar

    • hajar 3 years ago

      it really helped u are a boss

    • hajar 3 years ago

      It did help but I was joking I AM BBBBBOOOOSSSSEEEERRRR THAN YOU!!!!

    • ashwin shalin 2 years ago

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    • Kate 2 years ago

      I. Had. A. Tsunami. Dream about. Chicago. Last. Night

    • pearl 2 years ago

      Thanxx very much 4 dis info. It helped me a lot

    • ashish 2 years ago

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    • priyanka 2 years ago

      thanks it helps lot in my presentation

    • Jake 2 years ago

      This website is really gooooooood!!!!!!!!

    • Shyam 23 months ago

      Thanks alot.......

    • ranil vikas johar 14 months ago

      thanks alot for this information

      i want to made my ppt by this information

    • Abc 7 months ago

      thanks it help me in completing my project...................................................

    • Jjjj 7 months ago

      Thanks

    • Rishee Perera 7 months ago

      Thanks for this info. It really helped me

    • meee 7 weeks ago

      it helped some

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