Breakdown: What is a tsunami & how does it form

Published: Aug. 29, 2021 at 5:56 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -A tsunami is a huge tidal wave that is usually caused by an earthquake below or near the ocean floor. Since 1900 over 80% have likely generated by earthquakes. This shaking of the earth can cause waves that radiate outward in all directions and this energy can sometimes cross ocean basins. Tsunami’s can also be caused by landslides, due to thunderstorms, tornadoes and frontal systems. Other things that can trigger Tsunami’s are asteroids and comets collide. Anything that causes a sudden change in atmospheric pressure.

It differs from waves that build up from wind because they only travel through the top layer of the ocean, tsunamis move through the entire water column, from the ocean floor to the ocean surface. They can happen in the United States

The deeper the ocean the faster the speed. If the ocean is deep ocean, a tsunami can move over 500 mph. A tsunami only becomes an issue when it gets close the shore.

When Tsunami’s strike land, most are less than 10 feet high according to oceanographers, but in extreme cases, they can exceed 100 feet near their source. A tsunami can wash onshore like a rapid flood or a wall water. Some Tsunami’s can flood low-lying coastal areas more than a mile inland.

Many people don’t realize how powerful water can be. Just six inches of fast-moving water can knock adults off their feet, and twelve inches of water can carry a car. A Tsunami can be very dangerous due to the speed and height of water. As the wave heads back to sea it may return to the sea, carrying debris and people. The initial wave in a tsunami may not be the last or the largest or the most damaging.

Tsunami’s can have major threats to human life and property. Impacts can last a long time. Huge tsunamis can reach distant shorelines, causing widespread damage. According to research in 2004 an Indian Ocean Tsunami impacted 17 countries in Southeastern and Southern Asia and Eastern and Southern Africa.

Scientists are not able to predict when and where the next tsunami will take place. Scientist are able tell which earthquakes are likely to produce a tsunami and can issue alerts when possible. NOAA scientists are working to further improve warning center operations and to help communities be prepared.

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