Eddie Bernard: ‘No one can precisely predict the next tsunami’

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.

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:
Eddie Bernard
Director, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Seattle, WA

Photo Credit: epugachev

Beth Lebwohl