Meaning 'great harbour wave' in Japanese, tsunamis are sometimes called 'tidal waves', but their strength has nothing to do with the tides. Out in the open ocean, tsunami waves are only about one-metre high because the water is deep. A normal wind wave travels at about 90kmh, but a tsunami can race across the ocean at an incredible 970kmh!
To save lives, scientists established the Pacific Tsunami Warning System, based in Hawaii, in the USA. About four out of five tsunamis happen within the Ring Of Fire, a zone in the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions frequently take place.

Sometimes, before a tsunami hits, there is a huge vacuum effect, sucking water from harbours and beaches.
These waves can race from one side of the Pacific Ocean to the other in less than a day, so people need to be warned in time to head for higher ground! If an earthquake lifts or drops part of the ocean floor, the water above rises and starts spreading across the ocean, causing a tsunami. However, the scariest thing about a tsunami is its wavelength, as this determines how far inland it can travel. Then a wave blasts onto the shore minutes later, then another and another for two hours or more.

Underwater landslides or volcanic eruptions can also displace water (cause water to spread across the ocean) and may lead to a tsunami.

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