A tsunami ('harbor wave') or tidal wave is a series of water waves (called a tsunami wave train) caused by the displacement of a large volume of a body of water, usually an ocean, but can occur in large lakes. Tsunamis are a frequent occurrence in Japan; approximately 195 events have been recorded. Due to the immense volumes of water and energy involved, tsunamis can devastate coastal regions.
Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions (including detonations of underwater nuclear devices), landslides and other mass movements, meteorite ocean impacts or similar impact events, and other disturbances above or below water all have the potential to generate a tsunami.
The Greek historian Thucydides was the first to relate tsunami to submarine earthquakes, but understanding of tsunami's nature remained slim until the 20th century and is the subject of ongoing research. Many early geological, geographical, and oceanographic texts refer to tsunamis as "seismic sea waves."
While everyday wind waves have a wavelength (from crest to crest) of about 100 meters (330 ft) and a height of roughly 2 meters (6.6 ft), a tsunami in the deep ocean has a wavelength of about 200 kilometers (120 mi). Such a wave travels at well over 800 kilometers per hour (500 mph), but due to the enormous wavelength the wave oscillation at any given point takes 20 or 30 minutes to complete a cycle and has amplitude of only about 1 meter (3.3 ft). This makes tsunamis difficult to detect over deep water. Ships rarely notice their passage.
As the tsunami approaches the coast and the waters become shallow, wave shoaling compresses the wave and its velocity slows below 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph). Its wavelength diminishes to less than 20 kilometers (12 mi) and its amplitude grows enormously, producing a distinctly visible wave. Since the wave still has such a long wavelength, the tsunami may take minutes to reach full height. Except for the very largest tsunamis, the approaching wave does not break (like a surf break), but rather appears like a fast moving tidal bore. Open bays and coastlines adjacent to very deep water may shape the tsunami further into a step-like wave with a steep-breaking front.
When the tsunami's wave peak reaches the shore, the resulting temporary rise in sea level is termed 'run up'. Run up is measured in meters above a reference sea level. A large tsunami may feature multiple waves arriving over a period of hours, with significant time between the wave crests. The first wave to reach the shore may not have the highest run up.
About 80% of tsunamis occur in the Pacific Ocean, but are possible wherever there are large bodies of water, including lakes. They are caused by earthquakes, landslides, volcanic explosions, and bolides.
The principal generation mechanism (or cause) of a tsunami is the displacement of a substantial volume of water or perturbation of the sea. This displacement of water is usually attributed to earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, or more rarely by meteorites and nuclear tests. The waves formed in this way are then sustained by gravity. It is important to note that tides do not play any part in the generation of tsunamis; hence referring to tsunamis as 'tidal waves' is inaccurate.
Seismicity generated tsunamis
Tsunamis can be generated when the sea floor abruptly deforms and vertically displaces the overlying water. Tectonic earthquakes are a particular kind of earthquake that are associated with the earth's crustal deformation; when these earthquakes occur beneath the sea, the water above the deformed area is displaced from its equilibrium position. More specifically, a tsunami can be generated when thrust faults associated with convergent or destructive plate boundaries move abruptly, resulting in water displacement, due to the vertical component of movement involved. Movement on normal faults will also...
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