on July 31, 2000
This fascinating book is told from the perspectives of victims, observers and researchers. It gives vivid descriptions (Mrs. Ito floating out of her house on a screen) that are terse and exciting without being overblown. Some of the pictures, such as people running from the 1960 tsunami which struck Hilo, HI are simply amazing. Interspersed in the text, the authors also give a clear and concise summary, with charts, of the study of tsunamis. They describe the warning system currently in place - how an earthquake in Alaska creates a tsunami which takes approximately 5 hours to reach Hawii - and how it needs to be improved. Best of all, they describe how to recognize the signs of a tsunami and how to avoid becoming a victim. This book could easily give The Perfect Storm a run for it's money!
on January 4, 2005
Now that there has been a huge disaster, with a tsunami off the coast of Sumatra in 2004, we may be interested in looking at a book about tsunamis, written in 1998.
This book boasts about the early warning system in Hawaii. And it tells about proposals to install real-time tsunami detectors to protect Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and much of the rest of the Pacific Ocean shores.
Dudley and Lee begin with a description of the tsunami of April 1, 1946. 48 minutes after the earthquake, a 100-foot high wave struck Unimak Island, Alaska. Hawaii was over 2300 miles from the site of the earthquake, but it was struck less than 5 hours later, and there was considerable damage. There is also a description of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Lisbon, Portugal in 1755, killing tens of thousands of people.
The book then describes how the complete lack of preparedness for the 1946 tsunami led to the development of an early warning system. This includes a "tsunami watch" and the use of the emergency broadcast system to warn everyone. And, of course, it includes predictions of wave arrival times at various places along the shores. In 1957, this system was tested when a 10-foot high tsunami from Alaska struck Hawaii. Hawaii's system was tested again in 1960, on the occasion of a very high magnitude earthquake in Chile (probably the largest earthquake in the world during the twentieth century). That generated a huge tsunami: those in Chile could have used an early warning of it! This tsunami was 35 feet high when it eventually struck Hilo, Hawaii. In 1964, the waves from the great Alaskan earthquake were less than a third that high when they reached Hawaii.
The warning system was used to warn the residents of Hawaii in 1986 of a potentially damaging tsunami. But this turned out to be a false alarm: the waves that hit Hawaii were only one to four feet high and did no damage.
The authors explain that Indonesia has been a frequent target of tsunamis, mentioning the ones in 1992 and 1994, as well as one that struck nearby Papua New Guinea in 1998. And it talks about the eruption of Krakatoa, which generated a tsunami that struck nearby Merak with a 135-foot high wave.
Dudley and Lee discuss the threat of bolide-generated tsunamis (large meteor strikes). These could produce waves several hundred feet high, over a thousand miles away.
The book concludes with a discussion of improvements in tsunami warning systems. Obviously, there is more work to be done!
If you are near the beach and get hit by a big earthquake, some folks will tell you to head for the shore to get away from buildings and avoid the aftershocks. I suggest thinking twice about that!
I recommend this book.
on February 11, 2005
The recent cataclysm in Southeast Asia points up a problem about which Pacific Ocean residents have long known; tsunamis or "tidal waves". This book is written by Dr. Walter Dudley, one of the chief experts on tsunamis, and on how to detect them, and protect against them.
The book is well-organized, highly readable for professional and lay persons alike, and is a valuable contribution to literature on this most important subject. The diagrams readily follow the text and greatly augment its understanding. The photographs are interesting, but average. However, tsunamis are not a subject in which photographs aid understanding to any real degree.
Dr. Dudley carefully examines the various causes of this phenomenon, including meteor strikes and landslides, matters which have only recently come to the attention of science. He explains the physics of the tsunami with a merciful absence of complex mathematical equations.
Considerable attention is devoted to the creation and development of the Pacific Tsunami Warning System, with specific reference being made to mistakes and corrections follwing each event. A very fine summary of each damaging Pacific tsunami over the last half of the 20th Century gives a excellent portrayal of the ever-present danger from such spasms of nature.
Looking to the future, Dr. Dudley urges continued education and refinement of the Warning System as the best way to avoid enormous human disaster from these waves. It is ironic that he counsels warning systems should be in place all over the world, since any large body of water is subject to such disturbances.
Since both our mainland coasts are subject to tsunamis, I think this book is must reading for anyone with coastal property, particularly for folks in Washington, Oregon, and California. Tsunamis cannot be stopped, but while property can be replaced, human life cannot. This book will help save yours by showing the dimension and frequency of the hazard, and what to do when a tsunami is imminent.
I recommend this book very, very highly.
on February 10, 2005
Tsunami! (Second Edition) is written from a Hawaiian Islands perspective, but includes tsunamis from around the world. A large portion of the book is devoted to recounting the experiences of individuals who witnessed a tsunami firsthand. Many of the stories survivors shared have been intertwined by the authors, providing a panoramic view of the cataclysmic events.
In addition to the collection of personal experiences, the reader will find a "simplified summary of recent (pre-1999) tsunami research findings," a discussion of the development of warning systems and big picture view of tsunamis on earth through the millennia.
The authors have included a large number of illustrations depicting the destruction and tragedy caused by various tsunamis. For the reader inclined to further research the topic, the book includes a dozen pages of references in a bibliography and suggested readings.
(Note: I purchased this book in 2003 while on holiday in the Hawaiian Islands after reading a local newspaper story about a tourist who was washed off a beach and drowned by a rogue wave. Upon returning home, the unread book found its way into my small mountain range of books to be read, someday. There it stayed until the recent Sumatra tsunami. Reading Tsunami! was like reading the coverage of an event in the newspaper and the weekly news magazine simultaneously - breaking and in-depth.)
Four stars and not five, only because the authors now should write a post-Sumatra tsunami updated Third Edition.
This is the review I wrote in 1988 of the first edition of "Tsunami!" The second edition is about twice as long, reflecting additional research:
For a good, simple, workable idea, tsunami prediction has had a tough career.
First, the idea was scoffed at. Thomas Jaggar, the founder of the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, had the idea that seismographic indications of big earthquakes could give hours of warning that a destructive "tidal wave" was on its way to Hawaii. He made successful predictions as early as 1923, but the technique was ignored for a long time.
The disastrous 1946 waves, which killed more than 100 people in Hawaii, led to a revival of Jaggar's idea.
Most of "Tsunami!" is devoted to retelling the experiences of people who lived through the big waves of the past generation in Hawaii. Many died, many lived but lost everything. There were also many exciting escapes.
Unfortunately, although tsunami prediction works, it has had and still has problems with consumer acceptance. There would be fewer stories of exciting escapes if more people would take the warnings seriously. But to some, the declaration of a tsunami watch is a signal to head for the shore -- to watch.
These funseekers contributed to the death toll of 61 when waves hit Hilo in 1960.
The biggest part of the tsunami warning problem is that the system turns in too many false alarms. Any earthquake that shifts the sea floor in a big way may set off a cycle of huge waves. But not every big undersea quake does. (Landslides and exploding volcanoes also can initiate the misnamed "tidal" waves, but they are minor causes.)
Tide gauges were added to the system to help sort out which quakes set off big waves. Still, with waves traveling up to 500 miles an hour, Hawaii has at best about six hours notice of a tsunami coming from the Aleutian islands.
Co-author Walter Dudley, a tsunami researcher at the University of Hawaii-Hilo, says that the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center policy is to sound the alarm in doubtful cases. There seems to be no alternative, but too many false positives erode public confidence. (Since this book was published in 1988, the center's response time has improved considerably, but there has not been a big, Pacific-wide tsunami since then to provide a real-world test. In 2006, when a big undersea quake shook Hawaii, so close that any tsunami would have started reaching local shores within five minutes, the center was able, accurately, to predict "no tsunami" very quickly.)
Under the circumstances, tsunami experts are faced with a constant struggle to keep the public educated about the danger (especially the public in Hilo, almost always the place in Hawaii that gets hit the hardest).
Just now (as of 2006), they have an extra burden. In almost 200 years of record-keeping there have been about 96 tsunami in Hawaii, about one every other year. But there hasn't been a big foreign tsunami for more than 40 years. (The last killer tsunami in Hawaii, at Halape, Big Island, was in 1975, but it was unusual in being caused by a local earthquake at Kilauea.)
Although the Boxing Day tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia in 2004 and was videotaped gave people worldwide a close look at what the waves can do, few in Hawaii have any good sense of what a big one would do here in the 21st century. Areas of Hawaii that were uninhabited the last time the waves struck are built up now. Scientists fear that the 159 deaths caused by the 1946 waves could be exceeded next time.
"Tsunami!" is packed with useful information. Dudley tells what tsunami are and how the warning system came into being. Co-author Min Lee collected the accounts from survivors of the 1946, 1952, 1957, 1960 and 1975 waves.
Anyone living in Hawaii would be better off for knowing what's in this book. But if you live near the shore, and if the tsunami zone map in your telephone book includes your house, don't consider reading this book as an option. Make it an obligation.