Oceanographer Eddie Bernard said progress has been made in understanding tsunamis since the one that struck southeast Asia in 2004. But, he said, the science of predicting earthquakes, the disturbance that causes 90% of tsunamis, is still unreliable.
Eddie Bernard: It’s easy for seismologists to say that an earthquake could occur in the next day or 200 years, but that’s not really useful in planning a society.
He offered a way to think of the relationship between an earthquake and a tsunami.
Eddie Bernard: If you think of throwing a rock on a pond, that’s a sudden impact on the surface, and you see waves radiate out from it.
He said the same thing can happen on a planetary scale. An earthquake in the ocean – like the rock in a pond – can create large waves that amplify when they hit the shore. Bernard explained the problem of a tsunami for people who live along coastlines.
Eddie Bernard: No one can tell them exactly when it’s going to happen. It will be abrupt, it will be sudden. But if you can interpret the physical signature of the tsunami, you can save your life.
He said to look for three signs. If you feel the earth shake, see water withdraw from the coast, or hear a loud roar from the ocean, get off the beach. Run inland, and preferably uphill.
Our thanks to:
Director, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Photo Credit: epugachev
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.