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Tsunami – In My Backyard?

Tsunami can happen in any of the world’s oceans. Most tsunami occur in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

To find out more, visit the six lesson plans download on the Tsunami Lesson Plans page. 

Pacific Ocean

The map below shows that tsunami occur frequently in the Pacific Ocean. This region is sometimes called the Ring of Fire because this is where most of the seismic activity in the world takes place.

This map shows the location, size and intensity of over 2,000 tsunami events that have occurred since 1628BC. The colour of the circle reflects the tsunami intensity and the bigger the circle, the greater the event. Most tsunami have been generated along the active tectonic plate boundaries. 

This map shows the location, size and intensity of over 2000 tsunami events that have occurred since 1628BC. The colour of the circle shows the tsunami intensity. The larger the circle, the greater the event. Most tsunami have been generated along the active tectonic plate boundaries.

The “Ring of Fire” in the Pacific The “Ring of Fire” in the Pacific

Some of the main tsunami recorded in the Pacific Ocean were in:

  • Japan, 1896 - A 30m wave generated by an earthquake caused 27,122 deaths and destroyed 280km of the coastline.
  • Hawaii and Alaska, 1946 - This tsunami was caused by an earthquake on Unimak Island, Alaska. Waves up to 35m high caused 165 deaths.
  • Chile and Hawaii, 1960 - A series of earthquakes caused this tsunami. There were 2300 deaths in Chile and 61 deaths in Hawaii.
  • Philippines, 1976 - An earthquake caused this tsunami. There were 8000 deaths.
  • Papua New Guinea, 1998 - An earthquake caused waves ranging from 7m - 15m high. There were 3000 deaths.
  • Chile, 2010 - An earthquake of magnitude 8.8 on the Richter Scale triggered a tsunami that caused more than 300 deaths and affected millions of people.

Indian Ocean

Tsunami are not as common in the Indian Ocean because the seismic activity is less than in the Pacific Ocean. However, there have still been many major tsunami recorded in this region.

Some of the main tsunami were in:

  • India, 1941 - Five thousand people were killed by the tsunami that was caused by an earthquake.
  • Pakistan, 1945 - An earthquake in the Gulf of Oman caused a tsunami with 13m waves in which 4000 people died.
  • Sumatra, 2004 - The Boxing Day tsunami was caused by an earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Tsunami waves up to 25m caused more than 225,000 deaths. Five million people across 18 countries were affected.

Tsunami in Australia

The Australian coastline has experienced tsunami throughout recorded history but most have been small and have presented little threat of land inundation to our coastal communities. Despite this, it is important to remember that unusual tides or currents caused by even relatively small tsunami can result in strong rips and currents. These can be dangerous to swimmers and marine users such as beachgoers, fishers, marine industries and boats.

The risk of a tsunami hitting Australia’s coast varies from 'relatively low' for most of our coastline to 'moderate' on the north-west coast of Western Australia. Most tsunami in Australia are reported as being a marine foreshore threat. This is more severe than the 'no threat warning' but less severe than the 'land inundation threat warning'.

On 17 July 2006, an earthquake of magnitude of 7.7 on the Richter Scale south of Java generated a tsunami that reached the Australian coastline. The tsunami caused damage up to 200m inland. Roads and sand dunes were eroded, vegetation was dug up and several campsites were destroyed. A 4WD vehicle was moved 10m. Fish, corals and sea urchins were left stranded on roads and sand dunes, well above the high-tide mark.

To view images of the damage done by the tsunami, visit our Tsunami Education and Awareness page.

The largest recorded tsunami in Australia was in August 1977. Cape Leveque in Western Australia experienced tsunami waves of up to 6m above sea level. The University of Western Australia has information about other tsunami that have affected Western Australia.

Australia’s North-West coastline

Australia’s region of highest tsunami risk Australia’s region of highest tsunami risk
Australia’s region most likely to experience a tsunami

This map shows that the northern coastline of Western Australia is considered to be Australia’s region of moderate tsunami risk.

The reason why this part of Australia is more likely to be affected by a tsunami is because it is closest to other countries such as Indonesia that are more likely to have large earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

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