Ocean

What causes a tsunami? An ocean scientist explains the physics of these destructive waves

Earthquakes can easily move huge amounts of water and cause dangerous tsunamis. Image: Unsplash/ NOAA

Sally Warner
Assistant Professor of Climate Science, Brandeis University
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When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano erupted, it launched ash into the atmosphere, created a powerful shock wave and displaced a huge amount of water, generating a tsunami that raced across the ocean.
When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano erupted, it launched ash into the atmosphere, created a powerful shock wave and displaced a huge amount of water, generating a tsunami that raced across the ocean. Image: Japan Meteorological Agency via WikimediaCommons,

Many tsunamis, including the 2011 Tsunami in Japan, move inland and can flood areas far from the coast.
Many tsunamis, including the 2011 Tsunami in Japan, move inland and can flood areas far from the coast. Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse via WikimediaCommons
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As waves approach shore, they get pushed upward by the rising seafloor.
As waves approach shore, they get pushed upward by the rising seafloor. Image: Régis Lachaume via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
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