Twenty-four hours after the Chilean earthquake, the resulting tsunami has rolled across the Pacific Ocean to wash up on the shores of Japan and Alaska. It was easily managed nearly everywhere it hit, almost always less than a meter in amplitude. (Note: amplitude means height above normal sea level, not crest-to-trough wave height.)
The news services are no doubt disappointed to have so little to report on, after all the hype and on-the-scene cameras. But the truth is, tsunamis happen on a regular basis, all over the world, just like earthquakes. And just like earthquakes, the vast majority of these tsunamis are only detectable by scientific measuring equipment. But the public perception is always of the gigantic wave, because small is not memorable.
Small is memorable to people who have seen the power of even a 2-meter tsunami. Yesterday’s tsunami showed its greatest amplitude in the port city of Talcahuano, Chile, where it reached 2.34 meters (7.7 feet) above normal sea level. Here is what 2.34 meters can do:
The Big Picture at Boston.com has a set of 35 photographs of the earthquake damage in Chile. The last three were taken in Talcahuano, and are an excellent lesson in why the governments around the Pacific Rim were wise to evacuate their low-lying areas. Even a small tsunami is not to be taken lightly.