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Tsunami History

Although tsunamis occur most frequently in the Pacific Ocean, they are known to occur anywhere. Many ancient descriptions of sudden and catastrophic waves exist, particularly in and around the Mediterranean. A large percentage of world cultures share the legend of a Great Deluge or Flood, which may have been inspired by oral histories of real-life tsunamis.
Past World Earthquakes and Tsunami List.

26 Dec 2004 - Indian Ocean tsunami

2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The magnitude 9.0 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake triggered a series of lethal tsunamis on December 26, 2004, with over one hundred and fifty thousand fatalities, ranging from those in the immediate vicinity of the quake in Indonesia, Thailand and the north-western coast of Malaysia to people thousands of kilometres away in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and even as far as Somalia in eastern Africa. The death toll from this event makes it the deadliest tsunami in recorded history.

Unlike the Pacific Ocean, there is no organised alert service covering the Indian Ocean. This is in part due to the absence of major tsunami events since 1883 (the Krakatoa eruption) and an emphasis on developing a tropical cyclone warning system.

The tsunami has sparked the largest ever relief efforts, gathering more than $2 billion dollars from all over the world in contributions so far.

5000 BC and beyond

5000 B.C. (and beyond). In the North Atlantic, the Storegga Slide is a major series of sudden underwater land movements resulting in massive tsunami covering much of present-day Scotland.

1650 BC, Santorini, Greece Tsunami

Santorini. At some time between 1650 BC and 1600 BC (still debated), the volcanic Greek island Santorini blew up in a violent eruption, causing a 100m to 150m high tsunami that devastated the north coast of Crete, 70km (45 miles) away, and would certainly have eliminated every timber of the Minoan fleet along Crete's northern shore.

1755, Portugal

1 November 1755 - Lisbon, Portugal. Tens of thousands of Portuguese who survived the great 1755 Lisbon earthquake were killed by a tsunami which followed minutes later. Many townspeople fled to the waterfront, believing the area safe from fires and falling debris from aftershocks. Before the great wall of water hit the harbor waters retreated, revealing lost cargo and forgotten shipwrecks.

The earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent fires killed some more than a third' so Lisbon's pre-quake population of 275,000. Historical records of explorations by Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus were destroyed, and the power and colonial ambitions of the Portuguese Empire were sharply curtailed. 18th century Europeans stuggled to understand the disaster within religious and rational belief systems. Philosophers of the Enlightenment, notably Voltaire, wrote extensively about the Lisbon earthquake and the devastation. The concept of the sublime, as described by philosopher Immanuel Kant in the Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, took its inspiration from attempts to comprehend the enormity of the Lisbon quake and tsunami.

Many animals sensed danger and fled to higher ground before the water arrived. This is the first documented case of such a phenomenon, which was also noted in Sri Lanka in the 2004 Indian Ocean (Boxing Day) earthquake. Some scientists speculate that animals may have an ability to sense subsonic Rayleigh waves from an earthquake minutes or hours before a tsunami strikes shore.

1883, Krakatoa Volcano

26 August 1883 - Krakatoa explosive eruption. The island volcano of Krakatoa in Indonesia exploded with devastating fury in 1883, blowing its underground magma chamber partly empty so that much overlying land and seabed collapsed into it. A series of large tsunami waves was generated from the explosion, some reaching a height of over 40 meters above sea level. Tsunami waves were observed throughout the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the American West Coast, South America, and even as far away as the English Channel. On the facing coasts of Java and Sumatra the sea flood went many miles inland and caused such vast loss of life that one area was never resettled but went back to the jungle and is now the Ujung Kulon nature reserve.

1960, Chili

22 May 1960 - Chilean tsunami. The Great Chilean Earthquake, the largest earthquake ever recorded, off the coast of South Central Chile, generated one of the most destructive tsunamis of the 20th century. It spread across the entire Pacific Ocean, with waves measuring up to 25 meters high. When the tsunami hit Onagawa Japan almost 22 hours after the quake, a tide gauge recorded a wave height of 10 feet above high tide. The number of people killed by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami is estimated to be between 490 to 2,290.

1964, Alaska, British Columbia

27 March 1964 - Good Friday tsunami. After the magnitude 9.2 Good Friday Earthquake, tsunamis struck Alaska, British Columbia, California and coastal Pacific Northwest towns, killing 122 people. The tsunamis were up to 6 m tall that killed 11 people as far away as Crescent City, California.

Other historical tsunamis

Other tsunamis that have occurred include the following:
  • The 1755 Lisbon earthquake, along with the resulting tsunami and fires, led to near total destruction of the Portuguese capital.
  • One of the worst tsunami disasters engulfed whole villages along Sanriku, Japan, in 1896. A wave more than seven stories tall (about 20 m) drowned some 26,000 people.
  • 1946: An earthquake in the Aleutian Islands sent a tsunami to Hawaii, killing 159 people (only five died in Alaska).
  • 1958: A very localized tsunami in Lituya Bay, Alaska was the highest ever recorded: more than 500 m (1500 ft) above sea level. It did not extend much beyond the outlet of the fjord in which it occurred, but did kill two people in a fishing vessel.
  • 1976: August 16 (midnight) a tsunami killed more than 5000 people in the Moro Gulf region (Cotabato city) of the Philippines.
  • 1983: 104 people in western Japan were killed by a tsunami spawned from a nearby earthquake.
  • July 17, 1998: A Papua New Guinea tsunami killed roughly 3,000 people. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake 15 miles offshore was followed within 10 minutes by a tsunami about 12 m tall. While the magnitude of the quake was not large enough to create a tsunami directly, it is believed the earthquake generated an undersea landslide, which in turn caused the tsunami. The villages of Arop and Warapu were destroyed.

External Tsunami Warning System Links

Pacific Tsunami Warning Center
Established in 1949, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) in Ewa Beach, Hawai`i, provides warnings for teletsunamis to most countries in the Pacific Basin as well as to Hawai`i and all other US interests in the Pacific outside of Alaska and the US West Coast. Those areas are served by the West Coast / Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (WC/ATWC) in Palmer, Alaska. PTWC is also the warning center for Hawai`i's local and regional tsunamis

The Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network
The Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network, or PNSN, operates seismograph stations and locates earthquakes in Washington and Oregon. The network is funded by the US Geological Survey (USGS), the Department of Energy, and the State of Washington.

U.S. Geological Survey
USA Federal source for science about the Earth, its natural and living resources, natural hazards, and the environment.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency of the United States Department of Commerce. NOAA operates a network of weather satellites, the National Weather Service, the National Hurricane Center, and cooperates with the National Ice Center.

The U.S. National Earthquake Information Center
The mission of the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) is to rapidly determine location and size of all destructive earthquakes worldwide and to immediately disseminate this information to concerned national and international agencies, scientists, and the general public.

Southern California Earthquake Data Center (http://www.data.scec.org/)
Searchable archive of earthquake data for research in seismology and earthquake engineering.

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