The Corner

Re: Tsunami – Where Is The Money Shot?

Numerous satisfactory explanations from readers, of which the following two

pretty much cover it.

Reader A: “You’ve already seen the money pictures. The stuff that looks

like a really fast incoming high tide is it. Mega high waves are just

exceedingly rare and are typically the result of long run-out landslides.

Tsunamis from seismic activity typically look like a really fast high tide.

They are immensely destructive, but there’s not usually a ‘wall of water.’

It’s a myth. Out at sea, you don’t even notice the swell from a seismic

wave because it’s just a few feet high and the ocean’s so deep. The wave is

only noticeable at shore where the sea gets shallow. It’s more like a big

’slosh’ in a tub than a big wave.”

Reader B: “John — I was a little surprised too, and did a little

investigation and/or thinking. As far as the out-at-sea part goes, the

answer appears to be that in fact a 20-ft wave on shore isn’t all that big,

and the shock wave is propagating more or less as a compression wave, mostly

in the x-y direction. On the rest of it, well, I guess we’ve been misled by

the movies. Those great honkin’ walls of water we see from Hawaii and surf

movies are a function of a specific sort of subsurface topography. If you

don’t have that topography, you don’t get the big rolling breakers.”

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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