Tsunami in the Pacific: wave height and propagation models

The top image is a wave height model of the Pacific in the wake of the tsunami triggered by today’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake off Japan.  The waves are tallest near the earthquake epicenter and lessen with increasing distance, growing taller in coastal zones (but also decreasing in size with distance).  Tsunami waves extend through the entire water column to the ocean floor, unlike surface waves, so the faster the seafloor bathymetry changes from deep to shallow areas (second image shows 3D bathymetry offshore of Japan), the taller the waves could become.  The epicenter of this event was relatively close to shore, ultimately reducing the amount of water displaced, but still affecting much of the Pacific.

You can see NOAA’s animation of the tsunami propagation below:

For recent reports, maps, and a people finder, see Google’s Crisis Response site.  For ways to help, this is a good place to start.

Update:  For a narrated version of the NOAA animation, you can go here.

Images from the NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory (NOAA and NOAA Center for Tsunami Research).  See here and here for more information about how they were created and for some of the physics behind tsunamis.  Video from Youtube user ExWeather with NOAA data.

h/t pourmecoffee on Twitter for the NOAA images


2 thoughts on “Tsunami in the Pacific: wave height and propagation models

  1. A researcher who is camped out in Antarctica has reported whirlpools & varying tidal heights at Palmer Station, on Anvers Island, from the Tsunami.
    Has a Tsunami EVER stretched from the Pacific Ocean into the Atlantic in modern history..? or EVER?

  2. Jack,

    That’s really interesting. There have been reports of the tsunami causing sea level rises on Scott Base, Antarctica. And a tsunami warning was issued for Antarctica after the Sumatra earthquake last year. But Scott Base is south of New Zealand. Palmer Station is on the other side, directly south of Tierra del Fuego on the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s really an impressive extent.

    Just to nitpick, Palmer Station (and the rest of the Antarctic Peninsula) is in the Southern Ocean, not the Atlantic. I’m not sure if a tsunami has ever made it from the Pacific to the Atlantic in modern times–the only current large opening would be through the Drake Passage, and there’s still quite a bit of land there. There have been tsunamis in the Atlantic, however rare due to the general lack of subduction zones. The most widely known was in Lisbon, Portugal in 1755.

    Thanks for reading!

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