Recent Tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire

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NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania — A tsunami is typically caused by large earthquakes that occur underwater at tectonic plate boundaries that then result in a series of ocean waves surging onto land.  Like other natural disasters, tsunamis are known for their extraordinary power and strength.  While tsunamis typically cause great damage wherever and whenever they occur, recovery from this natural disaster would become even more difficult if multiple tsunamis were to strike within a short amount of time.

That is exactly what happened earlier this year when five recent tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean occurred within a total of 19 days, two of which occurred in less than 48 hours of the previous disaster.

The five recent tsunamis  in the Pacific Ocean that all occurred in April of 2014 are listed below:

1.      April 1 – As the first tsunami in this sequence of five consecutive tsunamis, the Chilean tsunami, the Iquique, began after an earthquake with a ranking of 8.2 on the moment magnitude scale occurred.  Six people died and many of the 900,000-plus evacuees returned to find their homes and livelihoods destroyed due to the seven-foot waves.

2.      April 12 – The second tsunami occurred less than two weeks later south of Kirakira on the Solomon Islands and was generated by an Mw 7.4 earthquake.  The tsunami warning was later cancelled as the wave activity was measured at just a few centimeters, but a series of aftershocks following the earthquake affected the area.

3.      April 13 – The very next day, another 7.4 magnitude earthquake occurred causing a tsunami in the exact same area on the Solomon Islands.  Very little major damage resulted from this incident since it occurred farther away from the Islands, but approximately 7,000 people felt the shaking from the earthquake.

4.      April 18 – A 7.2 magnitude earthquake generated a tsunami that hit Guerrero, Mexico just five days later. Only one person was injured, but hundreds of homes were either greatly damaged or completely destroyed.

5.      April 19 – The fifth and final tsunami in this series occurred the very next day and the Solomon Islands were affected for a third time in this five-tsunami sequence after a  7.5 magnitude earthquake occurred.  Once again, the tsunami warning was later cancelled due to small wave size.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey regarding the latest tsunami on April 19, “This event is the latest in an ongoing sequence of seismicity in the same region over the past week, which began with  7.1 and 6.5 earthquakes on April 11, just to the northeast and southeast of the April 19 earthquake, respectively.”  Since April 11, a total of 45 earthquakes with a magnitude of 4.5 or higher have occurred in nearby areas.

Although tsunamis can occur anywhere due to underwater earthquakes, landslides or volcanic eruptions, it is very common for tsunamis to occur in the Pacific Ocean’s ‘Ring of Fire,’ an area where 80 percent of tsunamis occur due to tectonic shifts.

The sheer speed of tsunamis is one reason why they result in so much damage as they can travel at a speed of up to 500 miles an hour, which is almost as fast as a jet airplane.  Even though tsunamis typically only appear to be a foot high in the deep ocean, they gain more energy and height once they begin to approach the shoreline, and since tsunamis are composed of a series of waves, successive waves reaching the shore result in even more damage.

Despite the warning systems in place to caution people about the possibility of a coming tsunami, nothing can really prevent the damage caused by this powerful natural disaster.  This series of five recent tsunamis all occurring within the Ring of Fire has resulted in much damage, and now researchers are exploring the possible reasons for all the recent earthquakes and tsunamis in this area.

Meghan Orner

Sources: NOAA, National Geographic, Reuters 1, Reuters 2, Earthquake Report 1, Earthquake Report 2, RT, CNN
Photo: The Layered Earth

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Meghan Orner

Meghan is a BORGEN Magazine writer from Norristown, Pennsylvania.

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