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How do tsunamis form?

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Tsunamis are massive waves that form when an ocean is disturbed by an earthquake, landslide, volcanic eruption or other disruptive event. Underwater earthquakes, which occur at the boundaries of tectonic plates, are one of the most common causes of tsunamis. When one plate moves up or down, it displaces water, and it is this displaced water that becomes the tsunami wave.

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How do tsunamis form?
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Tsunamis also form as a result of undersea landslides. The formation process is similar. Displaced water seeks a stable position, and in doing so, creates a tsunami. In rare cases, tsunamis occur when meteors strike the ocean and displace a large amount of water.

Not all earthquakes or landslides result in tsunami waves. Only those that occur with enough violence to displace a large amount of water very quickly have this devastating effect. Tsunamis are not single waves. Instead, they are a series of large waves in quick succession. These waves may not appear large on the open ocean, but as they approach shallow water, they become higher in comparison to the normal water level. Often, they reach distances of a mile or more offshore, causing destruction in their paths. Because of the large amount of water brought on shore, it takes many hours or days for the water levels to recede after a tsunami.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    How does an earthquake form?

    A:

    Earthquakes happen when the boundaries of the Earth's tectonic plates bump and slide past one another; sometimes, they get stuck on jagged edges and cause earthquakes once they are released. These earthquakes are always followed by aftershocks starting from the same epicenter.

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  • Q:

    Where can you find tsunami pictures?

    A:

    National Geographic magazine has many images of the wreckage caused by tsunamis around the world. Its tsunami photo gallery includes photographs of the disasters in Sri Lanka, Chile and the Indian Ocean.

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  • Q:

    What happens after a tsunami hits?

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    After the initial wave hits land, a large wall of water follows closely behind it. The water slams into the land, then immediately begins to recede, taking many objects on land with it.

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  • Q:

    What happens during a tsunami?

    A:

    When a tsunami occurs, it's typically in response to an earthquake, and oceanic waves grow to large proportions, increasing their rate of causing damage. Other natural earth forces can cause tsunamis as well, including meteorites, landslides, explosions and a volcano erupting, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology or BOM.

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