Tsunami Science Helps Assess, Reduce Risk

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Ten years ago today, a 9.3 magnitude underwater earthquake—one of the most powerful ever recorded—caused a sudden vertical lift in the seafloor off the coast of Sumatra, launching a massive tsunami in the Indian Ocean.  

Indian Ocean Tsunami

People fleeing as a tsunami wave comes crashing ashore on December 26, 2004, at Koh Raya, part of Thailand’s territory in the Andaman Islands. The photographer who took this picture escaped without injury but retreated at the first wave and watched as a second wave tore apart the wooden buildings, with a third and largest wave coming forward and “ripping apart the cement buildings like they were made of balsa wood.”

© John Russell/AFP/Getty Images


Tsunamis are rare in this region, and the countries whose coastlines were hit by colossal waves that day had no warning systems in place. More than 226,000 people perished, and more than 1 million were left homeless. 

Scientists around the world are working to better understand events like the one that took place 10 years ago—and to help reduce risk from future tsunamis globally. Watch this video to see how researchers model earthquakes and tsunamis in an effort to help improve warning systems.


In parts of the world where large earthquakes occurred centuries before reliable instrumentation, scientists are peering back into the geologic record to assess risk in other ways. Watch this video to find out how the bank of a tidal creek in Washington State can reveal earthquakes, and tsunamis, that took place off the western coast of the United States over the past 3,500 years. 


Find out more about earthquakes, tsunamis, and how scientists are studying the risks for both phenomena in Nature’s Fury: The Science of Natural Disasters.

Tags: Tsunamis