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COMMENT: Srinivas Tadepalli, Aeronautics and Astronautics (415) 723-1825

How tsunamis gain destructive power

STANFORD -- Tsunamis, the highly destructive waves produced by underwater earthquakes or landslides, can travel transoceanic distances without losing much of their energy at 500-mile-per-hour speeds. However, the most dangerous tsunamis are often those that start near the shore. Srinivas Tadepalli, a graduate student in Stanford's Environmental Fluid Mechanics Laboratory, and engineering Professor Costas Synolakis of the University of Southern California, have developed a model to profile near-shore and transoceanic tsunamis. In 1994, they showed that both the leading wave and the trough of a tsunami are significant; the folk wisdom is true: that when the ocean withdraws far below its normal shoreline, because the trough has reached the shoreline first, the wave that follows will be more destructive. In this study they have shown that the source mechanisms of earthquakes have important effects on the potential of danger to a particular stretch of coastline. While their model matches the profile of the Nicaraguan tsunami of 1992, they caution that more must be learned before tsunami danger could be plotted for any coastline.

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