What is a tsunami?

The Japanese word tsunami (pronounced soo-NAH-mee) means “harbor wave.” It is a huge volume of moving seawater—kind of like a giant wave—that can travel for thousands of miles across the sea and then approach the shoreline with the strength to destroy buildings, trees, wildlife, and people. Tsunamis can be triggered by an undersea earthquake, landslide, or volcanic eruption. The most frequent tsunami-maker is an undersea earthquake, which buckles the seafloor and displaces large volumes of seawater, creating a tsunami. This unique ocean event is not related to tides, although it is sometimes mistakenly called a tidal wave.

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