More than a year has passed since an earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, sending a tsunami toward the island nation, killing 20,000 people, destroying homes and property and causing one of the worst nuclear disasters in history at the Fukushima Daiichi generating station.
Tsunami are fairly common in the Pacific and Indian oceans where fault lines are active, according to Tamie Jovanelly, Berry College associate professor of geology, who spoke to the Rome Rotary Club on Thursday.
Earthquakes that occur below the surface of the ocean cause the killer waves that typically range between 30 and 50 feet in height.
“Tsunamis typically are earthquake generated, although they can happen by landslides, or volcanoes or meteorite impact, but that (occurs) less often,” she said. “You have crust that is thrusted up — instantaneously mind you — so it’s thrusted up and when that happens the water above you is thrown forward.”
This causes waves like those that occurred in the Indonesia tsunami in 2004, which killed 300,000 people in its impact zone because of the lack of an early warning system, Jovanelly said.
“A majority of those (lives) were lost because they didn’t have the education, because they didn’t understand the movement of a tsunami and they didn’t have early warning,” she said. “So in a place like Thailand, for example, that was some distance away from the epicenter, they had about two hours to prepare themselves and get to higher ground. They didn’t have a warning system so they weren’t able to move.”
Though the Indian Ocean and Japan earthquakes in the past decades that resulted in tsunamis have taught scientists a great deal, they have also forced governments to think about how they can better protect people from these natural disasters. In the wake of the Indian Ocean earthquake governments installed an early warning system and worked toward better educating residents about the dangers of such events.
As for tsunamis on this side of the world, Jovanelly said they are rare events. According to the professor, during the Haitian earthquake in 2010, Florida was put under a tsunami warning, but no large waves like those in the Pacific and Indian oceans ever came ashore.