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How did the Boxing Day tsunami happen?

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Quick Answer

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami on Boxing Day occurred as the result of an underwater earthquake, ranking 9.1 on the Richter scale, off of the west coast of Sumatra. The energy created by the shift in Earth's crust transferred to the water, leading to a devastating tsunami that was more than 20 feet tall.

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Full Answer

Underwater earthquakes commonly occur at the boundaries between tectonic plates. As these plates shift, they release and subsequently transfer large amounts of energy. However, in the 2004 earthquake, a part of the plate broke off from the crust, sending rock shooting upward through the water. There was a forced rise in the water above the surface of the ocean. This energy from the rise then changed from vertical motion to horizontal motion due to gravity, and began crossing the ocean towards various countries' shores.

The horizontal motion of the wave formed in a ripple effect, similar to what is observed when tossing a stone into a still pond. The energy traveled faster in deep water, but as it entered the shallow water near the beaches where the tsunami broke ground, the wave slowed and built height.

According to HowStuffWorks, the earthquake involved an amount of energy equivalent to 23,000 atomic bombs. Several factors intensified the damage of this particular tsunami. It struck a highly populated area, as tourists filled the resorts in the area during the recent holiday. The death toll from this event was around 230,000 people.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    Why did the Boxing Day Tsunami happen?

    A:

    The Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004 occurred because an underwater fault ruptured, causing one of the tectonic plates to be thrust upwards, which displaced the ocean above it and caused it to ripple outwards. The initial estimate of the magnitude of the earthquake which caused the tsunami was 8.8.

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  • Q:

    How many people died as a result of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami?

    A:

    Over 150,000 people died as a result of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which is the deadliest tsunami as of January 2015. Out of the 150,000 people who perished during the tsunami, it is believed that up to 50,000 were children. Those who were not killed by being slammed into structures or being crushed by debris were likely swept out to sea when the ocean withdrew.

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  • Q:

    What is a tsunami?

    A:

    A tsunami is a series of waves generated by a disturbance on the ocean floor. This disturbance can be caused by earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, explosions or meteorites. The waves have very long wavelengths, which can travel hundreds of miles across the ocean. As the waves reach the continental shelf, they can grow to be several meters in height and cause extensive destruction along the coastline.

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  • Q:

    How do you prepare for a tsunami?

    A:

    Before a tsunami is imminent, people living in areas where tsunamis are possible should construct tsunami emergency kits and organize a family communications plan. When a tsunami watch is issued, people should tune into the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's weather service, ensure the emergency kit is well stocked, locate family members and prepare to evacuate. When a tsunami warning is issued, everyone should evacuate to higher ground.

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