What have been some of the most historic tsunamis?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are several considerations in evaluating "the most historic" tsunamis. First: Tsunamis haven't been recorded throughout history, Second: Data on tsunamis is as yet limited though researchers on at least two projects are attempting to correct that. Third: Tsunamis can be ranked by size or by destruction wrought. Since our current tsunami science is limited, some prefer to rank tsunamis by economic and human destruction wrought by their force. Fourth: How far back does "most historic" extend?

The first tsunami generally attributed to history occurred in the Norwegian Sea around 6100 BC. In 1293 there was a known one in Kamakura, Japan. In 1700 there was a tsunami at Vancouver Island in Canada. In 1833, Sumatra, Indonesia, was hit. In 1906 a tsunami hit Colombia and Ecuador. In 1952, Russia's (then USSR) Kuril Islands were hit. And in 2004 the widely known Indian Ocean tsunami hit Sumatra, Indonesia, on Boxing Day (a British post-Christmas holiday for laborers and the poor).

In our society, "most historic" often means in terms in of tsunami destruction, not size. The first of these are listed as follows:

  • 2004 Sumatra, Indonesia: triggered by an earthquake over an oceanic tectonic fault zone in the Indian Ocean.
  • 2011 the North Pacific Coast of Japan: triggered by a 9.0 Pacific Ocean earthquake, the fourth largest earthquake ever recorded.
  • 1755 Lisbon, Portugal: triggered by an 8.5 earthquake in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • 1883 Krakatau, Indonesia: a profoundly historic event, triggered by the eruption of the Krakatau volcano that spewed ash into the air, which was seen all over the world for years afterward, and that triggered the beginning of mesospheric noctilucent clouds. The tsunami forced waters to recede (shrink away from shorelines) in Bombay, India.

The tsunami of the greatest magnitude was in 1960 hitting Valdivia, Chile. The "rupture zone" of the oceanic earthquake was more than 621 miles long (1000 kilometers) and generated tsunamis in Chile, Hawaii, the Philippines and Japan.