Tsunami Warning System

A tsunami is a series of large waves generated by the sudden displacement of water during an earthquake, landslide, volcanic eruption, or meteorite impact. Tsunami can cause incredible destruction to coastal communities, crushing structures under their enormous weight, and quickly drowning man and beast or sweeping them away to perish at sea.

The death toll of a tsunami could be greatly reduced if coastal communities could be warned of its approach. In this activity, you will explore different warning signs and systems, and learn how to respond to an approaching tsunami.

Natural Warnings

Government Tsunami Warning System

Critical Thinking

Tsunami prediction is complicated by a number of scientific uncertainties. For example, the formation and behavior of a tsunami caused by an underwater earthquake depends upon the size of the quake, the speed and direction of earth movement, the shape and depth of the ocean basin, the orientation and slope of coastlines, and so on. Despite the challenges of predicting tsunami, many scientists who do so think they have the easy job - the harder task falls on the local authorities who must get their citizens to safety. What are some of the problems of warning the public and getting them to evacuate ahead of a tsunami?

Check Answer
Evacuations are expensive and incredibly disruptive. Government officials have a difficult choice - if they order one and a tsunami doesn't hit, people will be furious and may not react to the next warning, but if they don't order an evacuation and a tsunami strikes, people die. Once an evacuation begins, there are logistical problems - in crowded, urban areas the roads may not be able to handle the crowds, and in poor areas many people may not have access to rapid transportation. It may be difficult to reach many of the people in danger. For example, beachgoers and boaters may not be listening to radio or television. There are also psychological barriers - some people will panic and disrupt an orderly, efficient evacuation. Many will be confused about what to do and where to go. Others will not take the warning seriously or will refuse to leave their homes or businesses.