What We Should Learn About Tsunami Threats

Tsunamis are huge and destructive waves that result from earthquakes on the ocean floors. Because that earthquake disturbs the surrounding water and exerts such pressure on that water, huge waves are formed which then roll very quickly to shore. The result is often horrible destruction and loss of life. While most tsunamis seem to occur in the Western Pacific, any coastal shoreline is susceptible. It is just that there are more faults in the ocean floor in the Western Pacific than in other areas of our ocean floors. This is just the same as the fact that we have faults on land that make certain areas more susceptible to earthquakes than others. (e.g., San Andreas fault in the San Francisco area).

Mapping the Faults

Scientists have been able to map the faults on the ocean floors, and that has certainly given us more information about the threat of a Tsunami in certain parts of the world. However, just like with land-based earthquakes, predicting any disturbance in advance is almost impossible. We can only react once an earthquake has actually been detected.

Helping Hand from Science

Through cooperative efforts of scientists and international seismic research organizions, we do have an early Tsunami warning systems in place for possible Tsunami threats. Buoys are place above known faults that can detect changes in sea level heights, an indicator that an earthquake has occurred and that a tsunami is a possibility. Once these signals are sent to shore, then evacuation orders can be given to populations along the coast, so that they can move to higher locations. Many of these, of course, are false alarms, because often the tsunamis that are created are not huge or they “play themselves out” at sea because they have begun so far from the shoreline. Still, false alarms are far better than loss of life.

The Dangers of “Close” Earthquakes

Close earthquakes are those that occur in faults that are quite close to shorelines. When these quakes occur, there are only minutes to evacuate, as tsunamis typically travel between 500 – 1000 kilometers/hour. The greatest number of deaths occur from these types of tsunamis, obviously. In 1993, for example, an earthquake quite close to the shore of Hokkaido, Japan, created a tsunami that hit shore within 3 minutes, killing over 200 people who had no time to evacuate.

Planning in Advance to Avoid Unnecessary Destruction

If the recent (2011) Fukushima disaster taught us nothing else, it should be fair warning that we cannot build nuclear power plants, oil rigs or any other environmentally dangerous (nuclear waste, for example) facility in close proximity to ocean faults that could spawn an earthquake at any time. The cleanup of Fukushima will be decades in the making, and no one will probably ever inhabit that area again. And, of course, the same goes for construction of land facilities of this nature as well.

There is a great deal of nature that man attempts to control and manipulate with his advances in technology. Mother Nature, however, through major natural events, continues to remind us that there are just some things beyond our control. Tsunamis would be one of these types of events.

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