Natural Disasters Project
Global Geography 12
Project Done by Chris Currie and Josh Lewis
May 5, 2003
One natural disaster that rarely leaves anyone
to recount the story is Tsunamis. Probably
one of the most devastating and destructive
natural forces on the planet. For thousands of
years Tsunamis have struck innocent coastal
cities and villages laying waste to countless
kilometers of land, and taking away innocent
lives. In geography studying the processes on
Earth and to understand everything that
happens, both above and below the surface is
the goal, and within the pages of this report, it
is hoped that some light is shed upon this
fascinating and deadly natural disaster.
Basic Background
The word Tsunami comes from Japanese language and means
“harbor wave” in English. This is an accurate description
because Tsunamis strike coastal villages, bays, and harbors.
Basically a tsunami is a huge wave that originates in deep
water. An event that alters the equilibrium of the ocean
surface sends small waves outward. These waves are small at
first but contain a large amount of water and when they
finally reach the coast they are gigantic walls of water
sweeping away anything and everything in its path. In the
past people have called Tsunamis “tidal waves” this is not
true for this natural disaster has nothing to do with the tide.
Tides are controlled by the gravitational forces of the sun,
moon, and the planets. Also Tsunamis have been called
“seismic waves” this is sometimes true but not all Tsunamis
are caused by underwater earthquakes but by other means
which will be discussed later.
Japanese Form of Tsunami
“Ring of Fire”
The ring of fire is the region basically
surrounding the Pacific Ocean and is also
commonly called the pacific basin.
Tsunamis generally occur within this zone as
well as earthquakes volcanoes and other
seismic activities. In this 32 000 km long
area are oceanic plates that slip and slide
underneath the continental plates the result
is often felt as an earthquake or tsunami.
Past Tsunamis have struck coastal cities
along the ring of fire and created devastating
damage, for example in 1996 Peru was hit,
and in 1998 Papua New Guinea. When
Tsunamis occur is beyond the capability of
scientists to predict but going by Tsunamis
from the past scientists can get an idea of
certain “hotspots” for Tsunami activity and
always be on guard with warning systems.
The Awesome Power!
Tsunamis have very small beginnings, and yet when they reach shore become
such forces of destruction and mayhem. A tsunami can be created in a variety
of ways, but basically any event that disables the equilibrium of the ocean’s
surface whether it be caused by underwater earthquakes, landslides, or
volcanoes or be even caused by large meteors. When a tsunami is formed an
upheaval of water is sent to the surface and in an effort to stabilize the oceanic
equilibrium smaller waves begin to spread outward. Ships at sea cannot even
tell these waves are out of the ordinary and it passes them unaffected. But
when these waves reach the coast and begin to come upon shallow water they
begin to increase in size, as the water depth grows shallower and the tsunami
slows down however when this happens the waves begin to pile up on another
and they carry a huge amount of water. Water from the coast is sucked into the
ocean much like the tide, probably where the misleading “tidal wave” had
come from, and to a unlucky person viewing this event it would seem as if a
huge wall of water were rushing forward until it comes crashing downward,
upon the land washing away sand, stone, soil, buildings, and people. Often
times a tsunami is followed by several smaller tsunamis but the first one when it
reaches shallow water can reach up to thirty feet high and can travel 725-800
km per hour.
Brief Overview of how Tsunamis are Created
The three basic steps of
1: A disturbance disrupts
the ocean floor and sends a
huge mound of water
2. Waves travel outward in
an attempt to stabilize the
ocean’s equilibrium.
3. When the waves reach
shallow water they begin to
slow and pile up on each
other, creating a massive
wall of water and striking
the coast with tremendous
With large forces traveling at such high speeds, a tsunami could
travel from Peru to Japan in a matter of twenty-one hours, these
natural disasters are some of the fastest moving things on the
planet, so it seems a reasonable precaution to have warning
systems in place. Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific is one
and is in place to try and detect underwater earthquakes and
notify the public before casualties are sustained, two centers
of this system include one in Alaska and one in Hawaii two
“hotspots” for tsunami activity. Seismic activity, though not
always relevant to tsunamis, can be picked up by seismographs to
help aid in the speed and origin of the tsunami.
In an overview Tsunamis are
dangerous, geological nightmares.
Along with their counterpart,
earthquakes, tsunamis can lay waste
to kilometer after kilometer of coastal
regions. While they have humble
beginnings started by a earthquake
miles beneath the calm surface of the
ocean, the devastating reach of this
natural disaster moves quickly and
packs a heavy punch. Thousands of
lives have been lost because of
tsunamis but we as scientists are
learning, day by day, tsunami by
tsunami, and soon we will have
protection against this mighty force.
But here is the question, now that so
light has been shed on Tsunamis, are
you living near the coast?
•“Understanding Plate Motions”
(April 2003)
•“Tsunami!” (April 2003)
•“Tsunamis on the Move”
(April 2003)
•“What is a Seismograph” (May
4, 2003)
•“Occultopedia, Tsunami” (May 4, 2003)
•“Tsunami” Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia 1985 ed.
•“Tsunami” The World Book Encyclopedia 1993 ed.
•Lauber, Patricia. This Restless Earth. Random House Inc.: New York, 1970
•Wyckoff, Jerome. The Story of Geology. Golden Press: New York, 1976
•Birkeland, Peter W. and Larson, Edwin E. Putnam’s Geology. Oxford University
Press: New York, 1982

Natural Disasters Project Global Geography 12