The Perils of Tsunamis Quiz


By: Nathan Chandler

4 Min Quiz

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

The sea's deadly potential is made crystal clear by the sneaky power of tsunamis. How much do you know about these devastating natural disasters? Find out by taking this quiz!

What is a tsunami?

A tsunami is a series of waves caused by the sudden displacement of a massive volume of water.


What does the Japanese word "tsunami" mean in English?

"Harbor wave" doesn't quite sum up the deadly potential of these incredible natural events.


How fast can tsunamis travel?

At 500 mph, tsunamis are as fast as some jet aircraft. Their tremendous speed is one reason they're so deadly.


What's one common cause of tsunamis?

Sudden shifts in tectonic plates can cause earthquakes, which then trigger tsunamis. Landslides, nuclear tests and volcanic eruptions can also cause these waves to form.


What percentage of tsunamis originate in the Pacific Ocean's "Ring of Fire," an area with many earthquakes and frequent volcanic activity?

Roughly 80% of the world's tsunamis occur in the Ring of Fire, making this area both turbulent and treacherous to human life.


Where did the highest recorded tsunami wave in history occur?

In 1958 in Alaska, a humungous rockslide plunged into Lituya Bay and created waves that were about 1,720 feet tall, scouring the 7-mile bay and sweeping away millions of trees.


How does a tsunami affect ships in open, deep water?

In deep water, tsunamis are often unnoticeable and may only be a few inches high. However, as the waves approach land they can quickly become tall walls of water.


Where is the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center headquartered?

Based in Hawaii, the system has two major centers -- the other is in Alaska.


What should you do if you hear a tsunami alert for your area?

Higher ground or even a tall (solid) structure may be the difference between life or death. And make sure the all-clear is sounded before you dare return to lower areas.


How does the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center detect tsunamis in deep ocean water?

The Deep Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoys are scattered in dozens of places. They record sea-bed bottom pressure and transmit the data to headquarters through an acoustic modem.


How many people died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami?

The exactly death will never be known, but at least 230,000 people were killed, making this tsunami one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.


How tall were the tallest waves during the Indian Ocean tsunami?

The 100-foot waves meant that the walls of water traveled far inland before weakening. Most tsunamis waves are only a few feet high, making this tsunami much more powerful than most.


Tsunamis generally only happen in the ocean.

Any large body of water is susceptible to the same forces that generate tsunamis in the ocean. A large lake tsunami can be just as deadly as one that originates in the sea.


What do many witnesses say that a tsunami sounds like as it approaches shore?

The incredible turbulence of the wave action often sounds like the rumbling of a freight train.


The waves in the "wave train" that make up the tsunami may arrive onshore how far apart?

The gap between the arrival of major waves can be anywhere from five minutes to up to an hour. The longer gaps may mislead people into thinking it is safe to return to lower ground when in fact the tsunami may just be gaining strength.


What sort of earthquakes are typically to blame for the creation of tsunamis?

Shallow earthquakes (those at 20 miles deep or less) near the Earth's surface most often cause the sudden disruption of water bodies that then generates massive waves.


In what year did a massive earthquake and tsunami hit southern Italy, killing perhaps 200,000 people?

Just before World War I, the disaster struck Italy, killing countless people and essentially destroying two entire cities.


What was the magnitude of the earthquake that struck Italy in 1908, triggering a tsunami with 40-foot waves?

The strong earthquake with a 7.1 magnitude shook the ground for more than half a minute and was felt nearly 200 miles away.


Where was the USS Wateree beached by a tsunami in 1863?

The ship was swept inland by a series of 10 tsunami waves. The ship was deposited hundreds of yards inland and simply abandoned. One person died.


What's one sign that a tsunami may be about to strike land?

As the wave action of a tsunami takes hold, water may recede noticeably on the shoreline. During the huge 2004 tsunami, many people gathered at the ocean's edge to gawk as the ocean seemed to fall away … only to rush in minutes later with horrifying force.


Since 1850, about how many people have tsunamis killed around the world?

Since 1850, more than 420,000 people have died from the effects of tsunamis. The waves also cause economic and humanitarian challenges that last for years after the disaster.


In what year did the Indonesian volcano named Krakatoa explode, causing tsunamis felt as far away as South America?

Not only the eruption and tsunami kill tens of thousands of people, but the years-long climate changes destroyed crops and caused even more suffering.


Tsunamis can travel up rivers and streams.

Any natural water channel can serve as a route for a tsunamis surge, meaning you should treat these areas with the same caution that you would the ocean shoreline.


How tall were the waves from the 1883 Krakatoa tsunami?

The huge 120-foot-tall waves so thoroughly devastated some communities that to this day some have never been rebuilt.


The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami caused deaths in how many countries?

People were killed in 14 countries and caused great humanitarian suffering for years following the event.


How tall was the megatsunami that occurred at Vajont Dam in Italy in 1963?

A huge rockslide plunged into the reservoir, causing an 820-foot wave that blotted out the sky and then drowned nearly 2,000 people. The water was so high that it simply swept right over the top of the dam and into the towns below.


What happens to a tsunami's waves as they approach land?

As the water contacts land it slows down, but the waves actually gather more energy and the water takes on greater heights, simply because the water on top is moving faster than the water on the bottom.


Really large tsunamis can travel how far inland?

If the land is relatively flat, the waves can travel miles and miles inland, meaning that even people who are far from the ocean could be in danger.


What year did an earthquake-caused tsunami blast the Pacific coast of Japan, causing a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant?

More than 18,000 people were killed in the disaster and the power plant is off-limits. Radioactive material is still leaking from the plant.


When did the U.S. first deploy a tsunami warning system?

The first system went live in the World War II era, but the system was still primitive and sometimes created false alarms. Researchers think that with more accurate detection, they could prevent about 25% of tsunami deaths.


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