“….When I looked at the sea I saw something I had never seen before and I was terrified…. The black wave hit our minivan, turning us over several times before I blacked out….”
- Marthunis, 17, Alue Naga village, Banda Aceh
Tsunami, the word that immediately brings into mind pictures of sky high tsunami waves tossing over cargo ships like plastic toys, huge insurmountable wall of water that gives everyone nightmares. The worst ever earthquake on recorded history was the “Great Chilean Earthquake, 1960” coming in at a magnitude of 9.5. It killed not more than 6,000 people, which is a huge number but looks insignificant when compared to 2,30,000 – the amount of people killed by the "Sumatra tsunami, 2004" which was caused by a relatively low 9.1 magnitude earthquake.
The damage caused by the Sumatra tsunami was about 10 billion USD, way more than 3 to 6 billion USD damage, caused by the Great Chilean Earthquake. However, both of this looks tiny in front of the damage the "North Pacific Coast, Japan tsunami, 2011" did which was about 235 billion USD. The World Bank estimated that it could take Japan as much as 5 years to overcome the damage. If this proves anything then it is that, we humans are most prone to damages caused by water than any other natural element. Storms, volcanoes and landslides doesn’t even come close to the damage caused by earthquakes and tsunamis. What gives life, takes life.
So how much energy is there in a tsunami?
Finding the answer was not easy. To find it, we contacted Dr. Denys Dutykh, CNRS, Laboratory of Mathematics, University of Savoie, France. He is a Ph.D and an expert in the fields of hydrodynamics and scientific computing for wave propagation problems. According to him, huge tsunamis like the Sumatra tsunami, 2004 has energy of order 10^17 Joules. Several including National Geographic [Link] and USGS websites states that it is about 20x10^17 Joules, an equivalent of 23,000 bombs, the one that was dropped on Hiroshima. That’s huge! To verify ourselves, we contacted the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and asked them.
B.Kelly, from USGS said that there is a slight mistake - it is equivalent to 23,000 bombs that was dropped on Nagasaki (20KiloTNT) not Hiroshima (15kiloTNT). This much energy is enough to power a city like Delhi for more than 6 years.
[based on the energy consumption of Delhi in the year 2013-2014]
While the thought of dark sky high wall of death with a sublime froth crowning the apex coming at us is bloodcurdling, Dr. Denys said something else too. He said, tsunami is more of a one dimensional feature and maximum energy of tsunamis are concentrated at the circular curvature of the propagating waves. Therefore, when tsunami comes, the best thing to do according to science is not to run for your lives or hide but to face it. Try to make your boat climb and pass over the wave before it collapses. As long as you stay at rest relative to the wave along it’s direction of propagation, the work the wave does on you will be very, very small.
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