How Tsunamis Cross the Ocean

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Last week an earthquake in Chile raised concerns over a possible tsunami in the Pacific. This animation shows a simulation of how waves would spread from the quake’s epicenter over the course of about 30 hours. In the open ocean, a tsunami wave can travel as fast as 800 kph (~500 mph), but due to its very long wavelength and small amplitude (< 1 m), such waves are almost unnoticeable to ships. It’s only near coastal areas, when the water shallows, that the wave train slows down and increases in height. Early in the video, the open ocean wave heights are only centimeters; note how, at the end of the video, the wave run-up heights along the coast are much larger, including the nearly 2 meter waves that impacted Chile. The power of the incoming waves in a tsunami are not their only danger, though; the force of the wave getting pulled back out to sea can also be incredibly destructive. (Video credit: NOAA/NWS/Pacific Tsunami Warning Center; via Wired)

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