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* Many people picture large, breaking waves when they hear the word tsunami. This is usually not the case, however.
* Most tsunamis make landfall as little more than a gigantic surge, as if the tide just moved in way too far way too fast.
* This surging nature of tsunamis is mostly due to the extremely long wavelength, generally on the order of 100-200km.
* A tsunami can turn into a locally, large and breaking wave if the wave energy is concentrated, shortening the wavelength and increasing the amplitude.
* This often happens if the wave enters a bay, fjord or similar feature.
* Tsunamis can be regional, like the recent tsunami in SE Asia, or localized, like the megatsunami in Lituya Bay, Alaska in 1958.
* Regional scale tsunamis are general caused by crustal rebound after a large earthquake, usually associated with a subduction zone
* Localized tsunamis are also generally associated with earthquakes, but the physical cause of the wave is usually due to a landslide or pyroclastic flow.
There are several geologic events that can trigger the propagation of a tsunami
* Earthquakes: generally tectonic rebound at or near a subduction zone, when there is a vertical component to crustal movement that displaces a large volume of the overlying water
* Landslides: often earthquake or volcanically triggered, can be purely submarine or the slide could begin on land and slide into the water (i.e. a collapsing volcano)
* Volcanic activity: usually subaerial, could be pyroclastic flows, lahars, nuees ardants, or collapse of the mountain side
* Impact of a large meteor or asteroid
* A tsunami behaves as a shallow water wave.
* Tsunami's travel in much the same way as your garden variety, wind-propagated water waves: with some combination of transverse and longitudinal movement.
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* The main differences between tsunamis and wind-generated waves is the wavelength and period of the waves. Regular ocean waves have a wavelength of about 150m, and a period of about 10s. Tsunamis, on the other hand, have wavelengths in excess of 100km, an amplitude of 1.5m and a period on the order of an hour.
The energy of a tsunami can be expressed as: where =the density of water, g=the acceleration of gravity, =the wavelength, L=distance traveled, and a=the wave amplitude.
A good average for the energy in a tsunami wave is 2 PJ (2x10^15 J).
In the open ocean, a tsunami wave will appear little if any different from other waves. If a tsunami passes by a ship, the crew will not notice it.
* As a tsunami approaches land, the wavelength and period begins to shorten.
* The tsunami also experiences a decrease in velocity, as the velocity of a tsunami (v) is equal to the square root of the acceleration of gravity (g) times the water depth (d). v = (g*d)^1/2
* Because energy must be conserved, the decrease in wavelength, period, and velocity results in a very large increase in the amplitude, A.
* Here are some satellite images of the recent tsunami in SE Asia that killed 300,000.
* The bottom image shows this beach in Sri Lanka early last year, almost a year before the tsunami.
* The top image shows the still large waves coming onto the beach and further inland, as well as some of the destruction from the wave.
Heinrich, Ph., Piatanesi, A., Hebert, H., 2001. Numerical modeling of tsunami generation and propagation from
submarine slumps: the 1998 Papua New Guinea event. Geophysical Journal International, 145, 97-111
Rabinovich, A.B., Stephenson, F.E., 2004. Longwave Measurements for the Coast of British Columbia and Improvements to the Tsunami Warning Capability. Natural Hazards, 32, 313-343
University of Washington Department of Earth and Space Sciences, 03/15/2005. Tsunami. http://www.ess.washington.edu/tsunami/index.html
Serway, R.A., Jewett, J.A., 2003. Physics for Scientists and Engineers. Brooks Cole; 6th edition.
* Special thanks to Dr. Jim Beget, UAF Department of Geology and Geophysics