Tsunami and tidal wave

The terms tsunami and tsunami often confuse us and we think that they are the same, however, it must be clear that they are different concepts. A tsunami is an earthquake that has its epicenter at the bottom of the sea, while a tsunami is a gigantic wave caused by an extraordinary phenomenon that occurs in the ocean, such as the tsunami. Below you will find the information necessary to distinguish the two concepts.

DefinitionA Tsunami is a giant wave generally caused by a tsunami.A tidal wave is a seismic movement produced at the bottom of the ocean.
It causesThey are caused by tidal waves, eruptions of marine volcanoes, coastal or underground landslides, landslides, among others.They are caused by the shifts of the tectonic plates that occur under the earth’s crust.
Effects editLarge wave that causes disasters when it touches the mainland.A large marine wave that causes the transmission of enormous amounts of kinetic energy from the water, causing Tsunamis.


Definition of Tsunami

The term tsunami comes from the Japanese words tsu,  which means port and  nami,  which means wave. From its definition we can understand that it is a giant wave generally caused by a tsunami.

Why do Tsunamis occur?

The main cause of its origin is an alteration in the ocean floor, which causes the mass of water to move fiercely vertically and the ocean loses its natural balance, when trying to regain this balance is that huge waves are generated . Among the alterations that cause it, we can find tidal waves, eruptions of marine volcanoes, coastal or underground landslides, meteorite impacts, glacial ice falls, landslides, among others.

Characteristics of a Tsunami

The height of these waves can exceed 30 meters, depending on the magnitude of the seismic event that causes it. Although in the depth of the ocean they may seem small, when approaching the coasts and shallower waters they lose speed but increase their energy and height, since the top of the wave moves faster than the base, for this reason it is that when they hit the mainland they cause great disasters.

Their speed often exceeds 700 km / h. They are very feared for their great destructive capacity and are one of the main concerns after a large earthquake.

Tsunamis can occur in any ocean, but it has been proven that the Pacific Ocean has a greater propensity, since volcanic eruptions, seismic activities and earthquakes are more common in this area.

90% of tsunami are caused by tidal waves or earthquakes that develop near the coast.

Examples of Tsunamis

Among the most remembered and devastating tsunamis we can name:

Indian Ocean (2004)

The disaster caused by this tsunami took place on December 26, 2004 and is remembered as the most devastating Tsunami. It is estimated that it took around 280,000 victims and generated major disasters on the coasts of Sumatra, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, the Maldives, Somalia and Sri Lanka.

It was caused by a 9.1-degree tsunami on the Richter scale and its waves exceeded 18 meters. The epicenter of the Tsunami occurred 120 km off the coast of Sumatra and approximately 30 km below sea level.

The shaking lasted between 8 and 10 minutes and caused the formation of the giant wave that traveled through the Indian Ocean for a couple of hours, although the first wave took only minutes to reach the coast of Sumatra.

Japan (2011)

Another of the remembered tsunami was the one that occurred in Japan during 2011.

It happened on March 11 and was caused by a tsunami measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale. This great magnitude caused the damage to reach several countries, although the greatest damage was suffered by Japan with waves greater than 10 meters in height. In addition to countless infrastructure damage and several lives, the tsunami set fires at the Fukushima nuclear plant, triggering a high nuclear alert.

Definition of tsunami

tidal wave is a seismic movement produced at the bottom of the ocean, which, depending on its intensity and location, results in the formation of a tsunami . Its name comes from the Latin mare which means sea and motus which means movement.

Its movement produces a large marine wave that causes the transmission of enormous amounts of kinetic energy from the water.

Why do tidal waves occur?

The main cause of the origin of tidal waves are the shifts of the tectonic plates that occur under the earth’s crust. These movements can cause them to collide or move, causing them to change shape. This change generates a friction that transmits the energy in the form of vibration to the waters causing the enormous waves.

The intensity of tidal waves is determined by a set of variables, among which we can highlight that they depend on the type of geological fault that causes it.

One of the major consequences of tsunamis is the formation of tsunamis, which have shown their enormous destructive capacity and how fearsome they are in certain areas such as the coasts of the Pacific Ocean. In addition, tidal waves can cause major changes, either momentarily or permanently, in the distribution of ocean currents, as well as in the fauna and flora that inhabit the bottom of the sea.

Tsunami and Tsunami: Differences

Among the main differences that we can find between the two terms, the following stand out:

  • The Tsunami is an earthquake caused at the bottom of the ocean. Depending on its intensity, they may or may not give rise to tsunamis.
  • The Tsunami is a gigantic wave caused by movements in the oceanic plates, generally by tidal waves.

One is the consequence of the other, that is, as a product of the tsunamis, Tsunamis are generated.


Although the terms tsunami and tsunami are often used synonymously, it must be borne in mind that they are not. The Tsunamis occur in a marine earthquake and as a consequence of it the fearful Tsunamis are generated .

Currently, several cities located near the shores of the Pacific Ocean have an alarm system and evacuation plans for possible tsunamis . In addition there are several institutes dedicated to the study, prevention and monitoring by means of satellites.

Although it cannot be specified when and where they will occur, in the event of a tsunami it can be calculated, according to the location of its epicenter, how long it will take to reach the coasts.

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