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What is a tsunami?

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Quick Answer

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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What is a tsunami?
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Though they may travel at speeds over 500 miles per hour, tsunamis are hard to visually detect in the deep ocean. Early warning is essential to save lives. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has developed stations in the Pacific Ocean that are capable of detecting the passage of a tsunami with sea bottom pressure recorders. Warnings are then sent to areas predicted to be affected by the readings.

Before a tsunami hits, the ocean may recede, creating a barren landscape to which sightseers flock. Many have been killed when the water unexpectedly crashes back to shore in a huge wall. Tsunamis do not always create a crest. Sometimes they simply flood an area, rising inland well beyond the normal shoreline. The geography of an area has a huge impact on the effects of the tsunami. Some areas of coastline may experience little damage, while nearby areas may be devastated.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    Can we prevent a tsunami?

    A:

    A tsunami is a natural geohazard that is almost impossible to prevent from forming or occurring. Though it cannot be prevented, damage from a tsunami can be reduced through sophisticated early warning systems, effective response and community preparedness. The United Nations Environment Program also suggests that tsunamis cause less damage in areas where there are natural tsunami barriers, such as coastal vegetation, coral reefs and mangroves.

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  • Q:

    When was the first tsunami?

    A:

    According to Eden, the first recorded tsunami occurred off the coast of Syria over 4,000 years ago. The Storegga Slides is a famous event that occurred in the prehistoric era that may have been caused by a tsunami.

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  • Q:

    What are the aftereffects of a tsunami?

    A:

    According to the Centers for Disease Control, the aftereffects for humans of a tsunami include lack of clean drinking water, loss of shelter and injury from remaining debris. Economically, areas affected by tsunamis struggle to amass funding to repair damaged structures. Those who survive tsunamis often suffer mentally and emotionally.

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  • Q:

    How can a tsunami be prevented?

    A:

    No known way to prevent a tsunami from occurring exists. Individuals can take steps to be prepared for a tsunami, and warning systems can help get people out of harm's way if an impending tsunami is predicted.

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