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Home » Occurrence of Tsunamis

Occurrence of Tsunamis - worldwide


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Occurrence Mediterranean Occurrence Mediterranean
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Where do tsunamis occur?

Generally the danger of a tsunami occurring exists where earth- and lake-quakes are possible, in areas where tectonic plates collide with each other, drift past each other or collide, as well as in other areas with geological faults. Mostly beaches and coastlines are affected by tsunamis. In estuaries, however, the wavefront can advance many miles inland. Tsunamis arise from the sudden displacement of gigantic water masses due to earthquakes on the seabed, volcanic eruptions above and under water, landslides or meteorite impacts. About 86 % of all Tsunamis result from so-called seaquakes.

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World map Tsunamis

Historical occurrence of tsunamis worldwide

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Which regions are mostly affected?

Tsunamis occur most frequently in the Pacific, particularly along the "Pacific Ring of Fire ". This zone is found at the northern edge of the Pacific Plate and refers to the geologically most active fields of the earth. Several times a year, strong earthquakes of at least 7 on the Richter scale result in tsunamis. Japan, for example, is hit by a tsunami at least once a year. From observations of scientists and historical sources, we know today that Tsunamis can occur in all larger seas of the world. Thus, fatal tsunamis occur in geologically less active oceans such as the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean or the Mediterranean as well. Great danger exists in densely populated areas or in vacation areas in which a tsunami can endanger millions of human lives. Indeed Tsunamis occur more seldom in for example the Mediterranean than in the Pacific Ocean, but that is exactly why one must not underestimate or minimize the danger. Looking back to the year 1755 one can see that the tsunami triggered by the earthquake off Lisbon is accountable for the majority of the 70 000 deaths.

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The greatest tsunami catastrophes worldwide

About 1000 tsunamis were documented and verified so far but most of the tsunamis were small waves that had caused only minimal damage. Only 10% of the verified tsunamis were of catastrophic dimension due to their destructive force.

The greatest tsunami catastrophes worldwide – an overview Further information on the Tsunami Alarm System from the media
Date Sea region Affected region Mag. Max. Wave height Casualties  
17.06.2006 Pacific Indonesia, Java 7,7 2,00 m 700
26.12.2004 Indian Ocean Indonesia, Off w. Coast of Sumatra 9,0 34,90 m 283.100
23.06.2001 Pacific Peru 8,4 7,00 m 26
26.11.1999 Pacific Vanuatu, Vanuatu Islands 7,5 6,00 m 5
17.07.1998 Pacific Papua New Guinea 7,0 15,00 m 2.182
17.02.1996 Indian Ocean Indonesia, Irian Jaya 8,2 7,70 m 127
14.11.1994 Pacific Philippines, Philippine Islands 7,1 7,30 m 62
04.10.1994 Pacific Russia, Kuril Islands 8,3 11,00 m k. A.
02.06.1994 Indian Ocean Indonesia, Java 7,8 13,00 m 222
12.07.1993 Pacific Sea of Japan 7,7 31,70 m 330
12.12.1992 Pacific South Pacific, Indonesia 7,5 26,20 m 1.000
02.09.1992 Pacific Nicaragua 7,4 10,00 m 168
26.05.1983 Pacific Japan, Noshiro 7,7 14,50 m 103
12.12.1979 Pacific Colombia, Colombia-Ecuador 7,7 5,00 m 500
19.08.1977 Indian Ocean Indonesia, Sunda Islands 8,0 15,00 m 190
16.08.1976 Pacific Celebes Sea, Philippines, Moro Gulf 8,1 5,00 m 5.000
29.11.1975 Pacific USA, Hawaii 7,2 8,00 m k. A.
26.07.1971 Pacific Papua New Guinea 7,9 10,00 m k. A.
22.11.1969 Pacific Bering Sea, Russia, Bering Strait 7,7 15,00 m k. A.
14.08.1968 Banda Sea Indonesia 7,8 10,00 m k. A.
11.08.1965 Pacific South Pacific, Vanuatu, Vanuatu Islands 7,0 7,00 m k. A.
04.02.1965 Pacific USA, Rat Islands, Alaska 8,7 10,70 m k. A.
28.03.1964 Pacific Usa, Prince William Sound, Alaska 9,2 70,00 m 123
22.05.1960 Pacific Chile, Central Chile 9,5 25,00 m 1.260
10.07.1958 Pacific USA, Se. Alaska 8,3 525,00 m 5
09.03.1957 Pacific USA, Fox Islands, Andreanof Islands 9,1 15,00 m k. A.
09.07.1956 Mediterranean Sea Greece, Amorgos Island, Aedean Islands 7,5 20,00 m 50
04.03.1952 Pacific Japan, Se. Hokkaido Island 8,1 6,50 m 33
23.06.1946 Pacific Northeast Pacific, USA, Unimak Island, Alaska 7,3 30,00 m k. A.
01.04.1946 Pacific USA, Unimak Island, Alaska 7,3 35,00 m 165
27.11.1945 Indian Ocean Pakistan, Makran Coast 8,3 15,30 m k. A.
07.12.1944 Pacific Japan, Off Southeast Coast Kii Peninsula 8,1 10,00 m 40
02.03.1933 Pacific Japan, Sanriku 8,4 30,00 m 3.000
22.06.1932 Pacific Eastern Pacific, Mexico 7,0 10,00 m 75
03.10.1931 Pacific Solomon Islands 7,9 10,00 m 50
02.02.1931 Pacific South Pacific, New Zealand 7,7 15,30 m k. A.
16.11.1925 Pacific Eastern Pacific, Mexico 7,0 11,00 m k. A.
01.09.1923 Pacific Japan, Tokaido 7,9 12,00 m 2.144
13.04.1923 Pacific Western Pacific, Russia, Kamchatka 7,2 30,00 m 20
03.02.1923 Pacific Western Pacific, Russia, Kamchatka 8,3 8,00 m 3
11.11.1922 Pacific Chile, North Chile 8,5 9,00 m 100
11.10.1918 Atlatic USA, Puerto Rico, Mona Passage 7,5 6,00 m 40
07.09.1918 Pacific Russia, S. Kuril Islands 8,2 12,00 m 50
15.08.1918 Pacific Celebes Sea 8,3 7,00 m 6
26.06.1917 Pacific South Pacific, Tonga, Tonga Islands 8,3 12,00 m k. A.
01.05.1917 Pacific New Zealand, Kermadec Islands 8,0 12,00 m k. A.
28.12.1908 Mediterranean Sea Italy , Messina 7,2 k. A. k. A.
31.01.1906 Pacific South Pacific, Ecuador, Colombia 8,8 5,00 m 1.000
30.09.1899 Banda Sea Indonesia 7,8 12,00 m 3.620
10.09.1899 Pacific Usa, Yakutat Bay, Alaska 8,2 60,00 m k. A.
15.06.1896 Pacific Japan, Sanriku 7,6 38,00 m 26.360
06.03.1895 Pacific Solomon Sea 7,5 6,00 m 30
27.08.1883 Indian Ocean Indonesia, India k. A. 35,00 m 36.500
10.05.1877 Pacific Peru 8,3 24,00 m 500
13.08.1868 Pacific Chile, North Chile 8,5 21,00 m 25.000
28.06.1859 Pacific Indonesia, N. Moluccas Islands 7,0 9,00 m k. A.
23.08.1856 Pacific Japan, Se. Hokkaido Island 7,8 6,00 m 26
23.01.1855 Pacific South Pacific, New Zealand 8,0 9,00 m k. A.
24.12.1854 Pacific Japan, Nankaido 8,4 28,00 m 3000
26.11.1852 Banda Sea Indonesia 8,2 8,00 m 60
07.05.1842 Caribbain Sea Haiti, Cap-Haitian 7,7 5,00 m 300
21.07.1788 Pacific USA, Shumagin Islands, Alaska 8,0 88,00 m k. A.
29.06.1780 Pacific Russia, S. Kuril Islands 7,5 12,00 m 12
24.04.1771 Pacific Japan, Ryukyu Islands 7,4 85,00 m 13.500
01.11.1755 Atlantic Portugal, Lisbon 9,0 12,00 m 60.000
29.10.1746 Pacific Peru 8,0 24,00 m 3.800
08.07.1730 Pacific Chile, Central Chile 8,7 16,00 m k. A.
28.10.1707 Pacific Japan 8,4 11,00 m 30.000
31.12.1703 Pacific Japan, Tokaido-Kashima 8,2 10,50 m 5.200
20.10.1687 Pacific Peru 8,5 8,00 m 500
04.11.1677 Pacific Japan, Kashima 7,4 8,00 m 500
26.09.1650 Mediterranean Sea Greece, Thera Island, Santorini k. A. 16,00 m k. A.
02.12.1611 Pacific Japan, Sanriku 8,0 25,00 m 5.000
24.11.1604 Pacific Peru 8,5 16,00 m 80
09.07.1586 Pacific Peru 8,5 24,00 m k.A.
20.09.1498 Pacific Japan, Nankaido 8,6 17,00 m 31.000
12.09.1495 Pacific Sagami Bay, Japan, Tokaido 7,1 5,00 m 200
Source: National Geophysical Data Center - Tsunami Event Database More informations about the Tsunami Alarm System from the mass media

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Overview historical tsunamis worldwide

17. July 2006: A Tsunami was evoked by a quake south of Java, Indonesia. No warning by the Indonesian government was disseminated and 700 people died. The A3M Tsunami Alarm System had successfully warned its users, no casualties happened.

26 December 2004: The worst tsunami disaster in living history was caused by an earthquake in the Indian Ocean off the island of Sumatra measuring 9,3 on the Richter Scale. More than 300 000 people (many of them European holiday makers) were killed in eight Asiatic countries (in particular Indonesia/Sumatra, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Maldives, Malaysia and Bangladesh). The flood wave even reached coastlines several thousand kilometres away, like East and Southeast Africa. There were also casualties in Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar and the Seychelles.

17. August 1999: A large destructive earthquake struck northwest Turkey and generated a local tsunami within the enclosed Sea of Marmara. It occurred along the Northern Anatolian Fault zone. Its epicentre was in the Gulf of Izmit. Official estimates indicated that about 17,000 people lost their lives and thousands more were injured.

17 July 1998: A seaquake caused a flood wave on the north coast of Papua New Guinea. 2 000 people lost their lives.

12 December 1992: A wave of 26 meters high flooded the Flores Islands and approximately 1 000 people were injured. No deaths were reported.

2. September 1992: A flood wave of 10 meters high killed about 180 people on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. The epicenter was 120 km off the coast.

16. August 1976: On the Philippines, more than 5 000 people were killed by a tsunami.

28 March 1964: An earthquake off the coastline of Alaska caused a tsunami that claimed 122 lives on the western coast of Alaska and the USA.
The damage to property amounted to about 100 million dollars.

22 May 1960: On Hawaii a whole village was evacuated in time because of the first warning system. In spite of this, 61 people were killed. In Chile, the point of origin of the tsunami, 1 000 people lost their lives through a wave of eleven meters high.

9. Juli 1958: The best documented and most recent tsunamigenic earthquake in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey is the one that occurred near the southwest coast of the island of Amorgos, killing 53 people, injuring 100, and destroying hundreds of houses. The waves were particularly high on the south coast of Amorgos and on the north coast of the island of Astypalaea. At these two places, the reported heights of the tsunami were 25 and 20 m, respectively.

9 July 1956: Das letzte Erdeben in der Aegean Sea zwischen Griechenland und der Türkei welches einen Tsunami auslöste, war das nahe der Südwest-Küste der Insel Amorgos, 53 Menschen starben, 100 wurden verletzt, und hunderte von Häusern wurden zerstört. An der Süd-Küste Amorgos und an der Nord-Küste der Insel Astypalaea waren die Wellen besonders hoch. An diesen zwei Plätzen war die berichtete Höhe jeweils 20 und 25 m.

1. April 1946: In Alaska a flood wave washed a lighthouse in the sea. The five-man crew were swept away. After 3 700 km, the wave reached Hawaii and claimed the lives of 159 people.

02 March 1933: A 20 meter high wave that rose off the coast of Japan caused 3 000 casualties.

02 December 1908: Due to an earthquake and the ensuing tsunami, the city of Messina in Italy was almost completely destroyed. More than 75 000 people were killed.

15 June 1896: During religious ceremonies tens of thousands of Japanese were surprised by a 23 meter high wave. The so-called Saraiko tsunami claimed 26 000 human lives.

31 January 1906: During a flood wave that broke on the coasts Colombia and Ecuador 500 to 1 500 people died.

27. August 1883: One of the greatest volcanic eruptions ever happened on the island of Krakatau in Indonesia. The eruption destroyed almost two thirds of the island and caused flood waves of 40 meters high. 36 000 people died.
Even on the coast of Great Britain the tsunami was noticeable through a half-a-meter rise of the sea level. The air pressure wave from the blast travelled around the earth seven times.

1. November 1755: The Portuguese capital of Lisbon and its inhabitants were particularly badly hit by an earthquake that occurred in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Two thirds of the city was destroyed by resulting fires. The people seeking refuge from the flames on the banks of the Tejo River were surprised by huge flood waves produced by the earthquake. Some 60 000 people lost their lives. The waves were even observed in Ireland and on the other side of the Atlantic on the Lesser Antilles. On the coastline of the Madeira islands the waves still had a height of 15 meters.

26. September 1650: A destructive earthquake was accompanied by a submarine explosion from the Colombo Volcano, which crater lies in the sea to the northeast of the island of Santorini. There was a devastating tsunami observed on the island of Ios, north of Santorini, and waves of up to 16 m were reported.

18. November 1601: The first tsunami documented by eyewitnesses transpired in Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. The wave of up to 4 meters caused considerable damage to the city of Lucerne. It was triggered by landslides caused by an earthquake with its epicentre in Unterwalden in central Switzerland. Reportedly, eight people died.

In 1628 BC: The coast of the entire eastern Mediterranean was submerged by flood waves of up to 60 meters high. The wave, caused by a volcanic eruption on Santorini, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, is believed to be responsible for the destruction of the Minoan culture.

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