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Why is Climate Change Increasing the Threat of Tsunamis?
Blog...Why is Climate Change Increasing the Threat of Tsunamis?

Why is Climate Change Increasing the Threat of Tsunamis?

Ecology News
Global Warming
large wave under sunset
What are tsunamis, how do they impact society, and how could fighting against climate change help to reduce the risk of tsunamis in the future?
Ecology News
large wave under sunset

From tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, droughts, and earthquakes – it’s hard to remember that even tsunamis can be added to the long list of natural disasters and weather patterns that are negatively impacted by climate change. 

In this article, we’ll explore what tsunamis are, how they impact coast areas, how they are different from other natural disasters, and how fighting against climate change could alter the trajectory for future tsunamis.

What are tsunamis?

Tsunamis refer to a series of large ocean waves that are usually caused by massive disturbances in large bodies of water: such as oceans and seas. 

Often, these disturbances can be triggered by:

  • Earthquakes that occur near or beneath the ocean, such as in Japan or in the San Francisco Bay area
  • Volcanic activity or eruptions
  • Various landslides such as with submarine landslides or onshore landslides, which is when significant debris falls into a body of water 

👉 It isn’t unusual for people to refer to tsunamis as, “tidal waves” – but this is incorrect, seeing as tsunamis are not caused by tides. In fact, tsunamis are dissimilar to the ocean waves we are used to – seeing as tsunamis don’t “fall apart” the way that a surfer or swimmer would feel in an ocean.

youtube screenshot

Tsunamis are also different from regular ocean waves as: 

  • Tsunamis have longer wavelengths, meaning they travel at higher speeds without losing energy 
  • Tsunamis are not noticeable in the open ocean, but can become visibly alarming once they reach the shore. The opposite is true for ocean waves, which usually appear calm once they hit the sand. 
  • Tsunamis have higher speeds than ocean waves – up to 500-600 miles (800-1000 kilometers)  per hour
  • Tsunamis will grow taller once they reach shallow coastal areas, unlike ocean waves that will usually “die” by this point.  

👉 Tsunamis usually occur in the Pacific Ocean, making areas such as Japan, Alaska, Australia, Chile, and the Philippines most vulnerable to tsunamis.

Tsunamis consist of currents strong enough to knock people off of their feet and to last for hours.

Tsunamis embody multiple waves that flee to the shore and act as a fast rising tide. This is caused by the underwater disturbance. Once a tsunami has reached the shore, it turns into a speedy tide that moves inland – eventually invading buildings, residences, and coastal communities. 

ocean waves crashing dusk sky

How do tsunamis affect society?

Tsunamis, just like other natural disasters, can cause catastrophic damage once they hit the coast – as they prey on low-lying residences, impact infrastructure, and can even result in death. 

As a result, tsunamis impact our social surroundings, infrastructure, the economy, and our environment.

Tsunamis impact our social environment by:

  • Taking lives
  • Land inundation which can cancel both essential and recreational activities 
  • Loss of houses and coastal communities from coastal erosion
  • Embedding eco-anxiety

Tsunamis impact our infrastructure by:

  • Causing damage to coastal infrastructure imperative to the global economy ports, boats, and other businesses 
  • Destruction of essential buildings such as homes, schools, and businesses destruction of buildings and infrastructure

Tsunamis impact the economy by:

  • Preventing fisheries, tourism, and shipping freight cargo on boats due to tsunamis impacting the functionality of coastal ports
  • Ruining agricultural land and otherwise viable crops to be harvested

Tsunamis impact our environment by:

  • Forcing both marine life and animals on land to relocate in the midst of underwater disruptions that cause tsunamis 
  • Deterioration of ecosystems as a result of land inundation 

Various marine environment changes that can impact ecosystems, biodiversity, and ultimately climate change

tsuanmi destruction

How can you prepare for tsunamis?

Since tsunamis are not as well known or likely as other natural disasters, the unawareness on the importance of tsunami preparedness is often the biggest culprit to the mass destruction of property and lives lost. 

👉 Unlike other natural disasters that can be predicted (such as hurricanes and tornadoes), tsunamis are more like earthquakes as in they could happen at any moment without warning. In general, if you can already see a tsunami on the rise in the distance – outrunning it isn’t possible. 

Therefore, implementing early warning systems and seeking to educate those living in areas vulnerable to tsunamis on preparedness measures is imperative to help reduce the impact of tsunamis on society.

However, if you can already see a tsunami or feel the ground shaking – it is important to seek high ground and avoid the coast until authorities have declared the tsunami to be over. This high ground should have adequate shelter as a tsunami could last for days.

You can further protect yourself from tsunamis by:

  • Educating yourself on tsunami warnings and sign up to receive tsunami warning alerts
  • Making an emergency plan to communicate with family and friends in the event of an evacuation
  • Mapping out potential escape routes from places you go to everyday (work, school, etc.)
  • Creating an evacuation plan by foot in the event roads are damaged
  • Keeping a disaster supply kit handy
youtube screenshot

What makes tsunamis different from hurricanes and other natural disasters?

People often associate tsunamis with hurricanes seeing as much of their damage is caused by water, whether it be a combination of strong winds, flooding, or precipitation – but the two natural disasters aren’t as alike as everyone thinks. 

Here is a breakdown of how tsunamis are not the same as hurricanes:

How It Happens

Tsunamis happen as a result of activity occurring below the earth – such as underwater earthquakes, volcanic activity, or landslides. However, hurricanes are caused by tropical cyclones that develop above warm ocean waters and are influenced by atmospheric conditions and weather patterns. Ultimately, tsunamis occur from underground activity and hurricanes from atmospheric conditions – making their roots of origin completely different.

The Nature of the Disaster

Tsunamis are known for their wavelengths and don’t need strong wind or precipitation to cause damage, whereas hurricanes are more similar to a full-on storm – where damage is caused by water in combination with strong winds and heavy precipitation.

👉 Tsunamis do not need external weather factors to provoke more damage the way that hurricanes do.

Affected Areas by Geography

Both tsunamis and hurricanes remain most vulnerable to coastal communities. However, tsunamis can travel further distances than hurricanes can – eliciting more damage inland than a hurricane will. This is because hurricanes travel by wind and affect coast regions in their “flight” paths.

Warning Tactics

Tsunamis, unlike hurricanes, cannot be predicted as it is difficult to monitor underwater seismic activity. Therefore, hurricanes have the upper hand over tsunamis – as they can be tracked days beforehand and allow people time to prepare for evacuation if necessary.

Overall Impact 

Both tsunamis and hurricanes can cause extreme destruction, especially in coastal areas – but hurricanes are usually prone to cause more extensive damage due to the fact hurricanes act in combination with strong winds and heavy precipitation. This results in more flooding and infrastructure issues than tsunamis usually have the power to cause.

tsunami from bird's eye view

How does climate change increase the chances of tsunamis?

Not all natural disasters are influenced by climate change, but tsunamis sure are.

There are many scientific explanations as to how climate change can aggravate tsunamis to be even worse for the economy, society, and the environment. For instance, the biggest threat to tsunamis are rising sea levels – which are being aggravated by climate change. The reason that rising sea levels can make tsunamis even worse than they already are is because higher sea levels can allow for tsunamis to travel further inland and cause even more damage.

In addition to this, rising sea levels result in more vulnerable coastlines – which make these coastal communities even more vulnerable to an incoming tsunami as the natural buffer to absorb the energy of an incoming tsunami will cease to exist. 

👉 Think of when an ocean wave finally reaches your feet – it’s a lot calmer than when it was still active out in the deep waters of the ocean, right? Rising sea levels will cause approaching waves to the shore to be more erratic, and can impact the severity of tsunamis with a greater risk of coastal inundation. 

Also, it has been theorized that ocean warming, caused by climate change, can impact the tectonic plates that rest below large bodies of water. Ultimately, this can result in more geological activities and in turn – worse tsunamis. Climate change has also affected ocean patterns, which could eventually lead to tsunamis distributing themselves across the ocean and impacting other areas of the world. 

The bottom line is that climate change has a direct impact on tsunamis, and the more that climate change worsens – the more likely it is that tsunamis will, too.

giant ocean wave in grey sky

Can fighting against climate change help to reduce the chances of future tsunamis?

Given that climate change has created undesirable circumstances that have allowed tsunamis to grow stronger and more dangerous to both people and the planet, it is probable that fighting against climate change could help to reduce the future impact of tsunamis.

👉 However, it is important to remember that measures to fight against global warming (such as reducing emissions and implementing sustainable practices) will not have an immediate or direct effect on tsunamis. 

Fighting against climate change can help mitigate the effects of tsunamis by preventing the circumstances allowing for more intense tsunamis from getting worse than they already are: such as rising sea levels.

In addition to this, seeking to build climate resilience in coastal communities and avoiding ocean acidification (both of which are forms of fighting climate change) can also help to reduce the severity of future tsunamis. 

Here is why fighting climate change will indirectly help to avoid tsunamis:

  • Reduces Sea-Level Rise: Rising sea levels are occurring as a result of climate change, mostly due to melting ice caps and thermal expansion of water. Working to reduce global temperatures can help to avoid catastrophic tsunamis. 
  • Boosts Coastal Ecosystems: Coral reefs, mangroves, marshes – all of these components are essential to help coastlines act as a natural barrier against tsunamis. Investing in restoring and preserving these ecosystems can help coastal communities build greater resilience to tsunamis.  
  • Avoids Ocean Acidification: Ocean acidification has an impact on the marine ecosystems present in oceans, which are essential to maintaining the stability of tectonic plates underwater. Seeking to mitigate ocean acidification can reduce the now typical erratic behavior of underwater tectonic plates, which cause tsunamis. 
  • Builds Climate Resilience: Making an effort to improve infrastructure and raise awareness on natural disaster preparedness could help to reduce the potential impact a tsunami could have on a region. 

Ultimately, tsunamis are a natural disaster that will either improve or worsen depending on how we as a world decide to tackle climate change – and the good news is that it isn’t too late to take action for the better.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about how tsunamis are impacted by climate change has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

The continued threat climate change has on various natural disasters and ultimately your business can be overwhelming, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help. Click here to schedule a demo to see how Greenly can help your company to build climate resilience and remain functional during a natural disaster. 

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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