Waves Hit Southern California: The Science of a Tsunami

west coast tsunami waves
What turns an earthquake into a tsunami?

As we’re all consumed with news of Japan’s massive 8.9 earthquake and resulting tsunami, I’m here on the coast of Southern California watching the water and anticipating what meteorologists say will be the resulting tides hitting our shores at 8:32 a.m.

Needless to say, I panicked this morning when I heard the news and darted to the window. It looks like just another calm, warm and sunny morning here. But as we speak, the ripple effects of Japan’s earthquake are headed my way.

Here’s what scientists are saying about the effect on the shores of of the west coast. And a breakdown of what exactly causes a tsunami of this size in the first place:

The waves have already hit Hawaii and thankfully are less powerful than expected (only a foot higher than usual). That means that on California shores here, it will less powerful still. The waves hit San Francisco short after 8 a.m. and shortly after, southern california coast saw the waves.

Why do some earthquakes cause a tsunami? Geologists explain that the powerful tsunami waves results when an earthquake breaks the crust of the earth in such a way that one side lifts up, acting like a huge paddle transferring energy to the water around it — the exact movement of that paddle is what affects which direction the waves travel. In this case, the pacific plate went underneath the Japan Trench and thrust the sea floor away from Japan and towards the West coast.

Image: flickr