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Tsunamis Lesson for Kids Facts & Information

Instructor: Greta VanBrackle

Greta has eleven years of experience teaching third and fourth grade students in all subject areas.

Tsunamis are waves of water that can cause a lot of damage if they hit the land. This lesson teaches you about tsunamis, how they form, and where they are most likely to happen.

What Is A Tsunami?

To understand a tsunami (pronounced like soo-NAH-mee), you first have to think about earthquakes and volcanoes. Earthquakes and volcanoes can happen underwater, not just on land. And when they happen under the ocean, they can cause the Earth's tectonic plates to move against each other and release a lot of pressure. (Tectonic plates are slabs of rock in Earth's crust.)

This pressure can create ripples of water that build up and turn into giant waves. Underwater landslides and meteorite impacts can also be powerful enough to create this pressure, but most tsunamis are caused by earthquakes.

A tsunami hitting the shore of Japan
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Usually there are several waves that form the tsunami, and this is called a wave train. A wave train can create a lot of damage as the waves reach shore. People and animals can be badly hurt, because the water rushing into land is extremely powerful and destructive. Buildings and cars can be knocked down and even carried away by the water! Tsunamis can also cause shipwrecks, damaged crops, unsafe drinking water, and fires from broken gas lines.

The Ring Of Fire

Coastal countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean basin are the most likely to have tsunamis. These coastal areas make up what is known as the Ring of Fire.

Tsunamis are most likely to happen in the Ring of Fire.
Ring of Fire

The tectonic plates beneath these areas experience a lot of shifting. Indonesia and Japan are two countries in the Ring of Fire that have experienced very strong tsunamis throughout history. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake caused a tsunami with waves reaching as high as 100 feet. That's about as tall as a 10-story building! This tsunami affected many people in the countries of India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

Staying Safe

This hazard sign warns people that they are in a dangerous spot in the case of a tsunami.
Tsunami hazard zone sign

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