Oceanography > Issues > Archive > Volume 25, Issue 2

2012, Oceanography 25(2):208–218, http://dx.doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2012.60

Thirteenth Annual Roger Revelle Commemorative Lecture |
Tsunamis: Are We Underestimating the Risk?

Author | Introduction | Full Article | Citation | References


Eddie Bernard | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin-istration, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, Seattle, WA, USA



The horrific December 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed over 230,000 people and displaced 1.7 million across 14 countries, stimulated governments of the world into addressing tsunami hazards. Many Indian Ocean nations did not even recognize the word "tsunami," and none had tsunami preparedness programs in place. Ignorance of the natural signs of a tsunami's presence led to inappropriate actions and decisions by nations, population centers, and tourist destinations. The world's response to this terrible natural disaster was an unprecedented $13.5 billion in international aid, including $5.5 billion from the general public in developed nations. The 2004 tsunami, one of the top 10 deadliest natural disasters the world has recorded, will probably be best remembered for the global outpouring of help to the innocent victims of this tragedy.

Tsunamis rank high on the scale of natural disasters. They are on the top 10 lists of natural disaster casualties (2004 Indian Ocean) and economic losses (2011 Japan). Since 1850 alone, tsunamis have been responsible for the loss of over 450,000 lives and more than $261 billion in damage to coastal structures and habitats. Most of these casualties were caused by local tsunamis that occur about once per year somewhere in the world. Predicting when and where the next tsunami will strike is currently not possible. Once a tsunami is generated, however, forecasting tsunami arrival and extent of flooding is possible through recently developed tsunami modeling and measurement technologies (Bernard and Robinson, 2009).

As Figure 1 shows, tsunamis occur primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas. The United States is vulnerable to local tsunamis in Alaska, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and US Trust Territories, and on the West Coast. The United States is vulnerable to distant tsunamis from the Pacific Rim, the Caribbean, and Portugal. Because of the vast US coastline, an Alaskan tsunami can be a local tsunami in Alaska and a distant tsunami on the West Coast and in Hawaii and American Samoa. Thus, the United States must be prepared for both local and distant tsunamis.


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Bernard, E. 2012. Thirteenth Annual Roger Revelle Commemorative Lecture— Tsunamis: Are we underestimating the risk? Oceanography 25(2):208–218, http://dx.doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2012.60.



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