In this science experiment we will simulate a Tsunami. The word Tsunami is Japanese for
'harbour wave'. Tsunamis can be caused by underground earthquakes, landslides, or
volcanic eruptions above or below the water. We will build a wave tank that will generate a
Tsunami waves to demonstrate the earthquake and landslide events.
Materials For Tsunami Simulation Experiment
- Build or obtain a container. A good size would be around 2 1/2 feet long x 16inches
wide x 6 inches deep. Get as close as you can.
- A hinge from local hardware store.
- Some thin plywood or plastic sheeting (needs to be pretty sturdy but not too think)
- screws & screwdriver
- Sand & Gravel
- Some wire or string
- Drill with small bit
Process for Tsunami Simulation Experiment
1) First either build or more easily go to your local Walmart and buy a container for your wave
tank. A good size would be around 2 1/2 feet long x 16 inches wide x 6 inches deep. Get as
close as you can.
2) Next construct a flap that we will use to generate our earthquake on the floor of the wave
tank. Cut the flat from plastic or thin plywood (needs to be sturdy). The flap should to be just
slightly smaller that the width of the tank. So if your width is 16 inches then the flap should be
about 15.5 inches in width. It should be about 3 or 4 inches long.
3) Drill two small holes close together on flap in the center. Loop a piece of string through
both holes or use a piece of wire. This will create a handle for you to be able to move the flap
up and down when its under the water.
4) Next use the hinge to attach to the container and flap together. You want to make sure the
hinge is placed so the flap can move up and down when its under water when you pull on the
string. Position the hinge so the bottom edge of the flap will sit close to the bottom of the
wave tank when its attached. Now screw the hinge into place.
5) Use some more of the thin plywood or plastic sheeting to create a slope at the far end of
the tank (opposite side from the flap). The slope should go up from the bottom of the wave
tank and stop at about 1/2 inch from the top water line. This will simulate the actual coastal
shallows. Now we have a wave tank that will simulate an earthquake in the deep ocean and
see how the Tsunami wave effects the coastline.
6) Fill the tank with water 1/2 way full. So if the wave tank is 6 inches deep then fill 3 or 4
inches of water.
7) Now pull the string or wire sharply and quickly to simulate the underground earthquake.
Watch the Tsunami wave surge to the coastline. You can experiment with different size flaps
and different water levels to vary your experiment and measure and log the various results!
Which leads to the biggest Tsunami? Which combination leads to the smallest?
8) You can also use the wave tank to simulate a different type of Tsunami - one that is
caused by a landslide (not an earthquake). Use the plywood to build a slope that leads into
the tank on the side by the flap. Get a coffee can and fill it with sand or gravel or a mix of both.
Slightly dampen the sand in the can so it will stick together a little better. Now pour the sand
from the coffee can or container starting at the top of the slope. When it slides into the water a
Tsunami wave is generated and it races to the coastline. Try experimenting with different
slopes (longer, shorter, steepier, etc..) and different types of materials (just sand, just gravel,
a mix of both). Measure and log your results. Which created the biggest Tsunami wave?
Which created the smallest Tsunami wave?
The Science of A Tsunami
A tsunami is a series of water waves (called a tsunami wave train) caused by the
displacement of a large volume of a body of water, such as an ocean. The original Japanese
term literally translates as "harbor wave." Tsunamis are a frequent occurrence in Japan;
approximately 195 events have been recorded. Due to the immense volumes of water and
energy involved, tsunamis can devastate coastal regions. Casualties can be high because
the waves move faster than humans can run.
Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions (detonations of nuclear
devices at sea), landslides and other mass movements, bolide impacts, and other
disturbances above or below water all have the potential to generate a tsunami.
A tsunami can be generated when convergent or destructive plate boundaries abruptly move
and vertically displace the overlying water. It is very unlikely that they can form at divergent
(constructive) or conservative plate boundaries. This is because constructive or conservative
boundaries do not generally disturb the vertical displacement of the water column.
Subduction zone related earthquakes generate the majority of tsunami.
Tsunamis have a small amplitude (wave height) offshore, and a very long wavelength (often
hundreds of kilometers long), which is why they generally pass unnoticed at sea, forming
only a slight swell usually about 300 millimetres (12 in) above the normal sea surface. They
grow in height when they reach shallower water, in a wave shoaling process described
below. A tsunami can occur in any tidal state and even at low tide can still inundate coastal
The Greek historian Thucydides was the first to relate tsunami to submarine earthquakes,
but understanding of tsunami's nature remained slim until the 20th century and is the subject
of ongoing research. Many early geological, geographical, and oceanographic texts refer to
tsunamis as "seismic sea waves."
Most tsunamis are caused by submarine earthquakes which dislocate the oceanic crust,
pushing water upwards
Tsunami can also be generated by erupting submarine volcanos ejecting magma into the
A gas bubble erupting in a deep part of the ocean can also trigger a tsunami
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