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Keywords searched: 16 April 2010 Interview with Marie Eble

  1. What are tsunamis?
  2. What causes tsunamis?
  3. Where are tsunamis most common?
  4. Can a tsunami be prevented?
  5. What is the worst part of a tsunami?
  6. How can someone tell when a tsunami is coming?
  7. What was the biggest tsunami? What was the outcome?
  8. How did you get interested in studying tsunamis?
  9. What is a person supposed to do when a tsunami comes?

  1. What are tsunamis?

    Tsunamis (pronounced soo-nah-mee) are a series of long period shallow water waves that are generated by the sudden displacement of water due to subsea, or underwater, disturbances such as earthquakes, submarine landslides, or volcanic eruptions. Less commonly, a meteor impact to the ocean or meteorological forcing can generate a tsunami. The first wave may not be the largest and successive waves may be spaced many minutes apart and continue to arrive at a coastline for several hours.

    The word tsunami is Japanese and comes from the Japanese character "tsu" meaning harbor, and the character "nami" meaning wave. Many people confuse the “harbor wave” translation as meaning “tidal wave” but this is not correct because tsunamis are caused by unpredictable motion of the earth while tides occur predictably from the gravitational influences of the moon, sun, and planets.

    Authority: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research

  2. What causes tsunamis?

    Tsunamis are most often caused by earthquakes and landslides. These natural events push the water upward, sideways or downward to generate the tsunami waves. Volcanic eruptions can also cause tsunamis. There is evidence that in the distant past, asteroids and comets striking the Earth created enormous tsunamis. In the case of an earthquake, the most common way tsunamis are generated, a portion of the seafloor is moved relative to another portion that is not moved. In other words, certain types of earthquakes cause the seafloor to drop or raise in some places. The drop causes the water above it to also drop which sets up a wave. Not all earthquakes generate tsunamis, and not all tsunamis are generated from earthquakes. For instance, submarine landslides may also generate a tsunami.

    Authority: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research

  3. Where are tsunamis most common?

    Tsunamis are most common in the Pacific Ocean Basin. The entire Pacific Ocean is ringed by areas known as subduction zones, where the tectonic plates of the earth are moving relative to one another. Subduction zones are where two or more plates are colliding and one is going underneath another. This is where there are ocean trenches. There are a lot of earthquakes daily around the Pacific in these regions, which is why the coastal areas around the Pacific is called the Ring of Fire.

    Authority: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research

  4. Can a tsunami be prevented?

    No, there is no way to prevent a tsunami because there is no way to stop the earth’s plates from moving and causing earthquakes.

    Authority: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research

  5. What is the worst part of a tsunami?

    Most people would say that the worst part of a tsunami is the flooding when it hits land or the impact it has on people’s lives. If the tsunami waves are large, the water destroys what is in its path. People who do not get to high ground fast enough can either drown or be killed by any of the large objects that are being carried by the waves.

    Authority: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research

  6. How can someone tell when a tsunami is coming?

    Some earthquakes generate tsunamis and some don’t. If a tsunami is generated far away from where a person is, models and local emergency officials will probably notify the people who are in danger. If the tsunami is generated close to where a person is, they will probably feel the earthquake and even though they might not know for sure right away, they should know that a tsunami is possible and run to high ground immediately. If there is no one to tell a person on the coast about a tsunami coming or if a tsunami is generated close by, the water might let the person know. Tsunamis are waves with a high part (crest) of each wave and a low part of each wave (trough). Frequently the low part of tsunami waves arrive first so a person would see a draw down or what looks to be a very low tide. A person seeing this should think a tsunami is coming and run to high ground. So, water going out further than ever seen before is a sign that a tsunami is coming.

    Authority: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research

  7. What was the biggest tsunami? What was the outcome?

    The highest, reliably measured tsunami on record occurred in Lituya Bay, Alaska on 9 July 1958. This was an uncommon event caused by a landslide when a very large area of material from a slope above the Bay broke away and fell abruptly into the Bay. The resulting tsunami washed up the slope on the opposite side of the narrow bay to a height of 518 m (1,700 ft). It is believed by some scientists that larger tsunamis have occurred from asteroids or meteors falling into the ocean in the geologic past.

    The Lituya Bay tsunami was not generated by an earthquake and it was contained within the Bay so it didn't travel across the Pacific Ocean. The outcome of this tsunami was the death of 3 people and deforestation of Lituya Bay slopes.

    Authority: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research

  8. How did you get interested in studying tsunamis?

    My interest in tsunamis developed really quite accidentally. I was always interested in math and physics so when I was in college I looked at options to apply these subjects to real world phenomena. I learned about ocean tides, currents, and internal waves in some of the oceanography courses I took and decided to study the physics of the ocean in graduate school. After graduate school I worked for a consulting company modeling currents and then took a job with the tsunami group at the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. Tsunamis are particularly interesting and rewarding to study because there is an opportunity to have a real affect on the lives of people that might some day be impacted by a tsunami.

    Authority: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research

  9. What is a person supposed to do when a tsunami comes?

    People in danger from a tsunami should run to high ground immediately. Many people have died thinking they can out run a tsunami but no one really can.

    Authority: NOAA Center for Tsunami Research

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