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Difference Between Tidal Wave and Tsunami

tsunamiTidal Wave vs Tsunami

Most people assume that there is no difference between a tidal wave and a tsunami, and often use the words interchangeably. This is inaccurate, and while both of the waves carry the power of destruction, the greatest difference is how each is born.

A tidal wave is directly impacted by the atmosphere. The correlating factors between the sun, moon, and Earth cause a disturbance in the sea, and a ‘shallow water wave’ is formed. Shallow water waves imply that the development of a tidal wave is much closer to the shoreline of a land mass, that will ultimately be in its path. However, because of the depth relating to it origins, it is possible that a tidal wave can ‘burn itself out’ before it reaches the land.

The origin of the tsunami is much deeper. It is caused by a deep disturbance along the ocean floor. This disturbance usually comes from an underwater earthquake, or even an underwater landslide. The deeper origin of the tsunami creates a more emphatic wave. It will often carry itself across hundreds, or even thousands, of miles of ocean before making landfall.

The tidal wave has what we would call regional preferences. It is unlikely that a tidal wave would make landfall in areas of temperate climates, or northern countries. The various elements which cause its development form, in their precise manner, in lower latitudes, creating a higher possibility for landfall in places like the West Indies, for example. The tidal wave follows the currents, and therefore, is only able to strike areas within the current flow.

The tsunami has the potential to develop anywhere. The placement of the earthquake or landslide, or even the unique event of an underwater eruption, compels the start of the wave. Just like the tidal wave, the tsunami also follows the currents. Yet, since the development of the underwater event can happen within the current flow heading toward the US, Canada, or Great Britain, it could be assumed that a tsunami can hit one of these usually unaffected countries.

Most people who do understand the difference between the two waves are inclined to believe that the tsunami is more destructive than the tidal wave. While in many cases, this is a correct assumption, a blanket statement is not necessarily true. The size of the waves is determined by many varying factors, including the wind’s direction and speed.


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5 Comments

  1. TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
    I HAVE THE ARTICLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TIDAL WAVE AND TSUNAMI, BUT MY PHYSIC CLASS TEACHER GAVE THE LITTLE BIT DEFFERENT ANSWER WHICH IS ON YOUR WEB SITE. MY TEACHER ANSWER AND EXPLANATION IS AS FOLLOW:
    A tsunami is a gigantic water wave that is the result of a sudden undersea motion possibly caused by an undersea landslide, earthquake, or volcanic eruption creating a huge wave 100f high or more. These waves can travel thousands of mile and crash into coastlines with catastrophic results. Tsunamis are sometimes, but incorrectly, called tidal waves. A tidal wave is the wave the is result of the sun’s and moon’s constant gravitational pull on the ocean water on the earth. The result of the gravitational pull creates a ocean bulge on opposite sides of the earth. The bulge is the tidal wave that is constantly present on the earth. As the earth rotates it move into the tidal wave (bulge) so that at the ocean coast would experience high tide every (approximately) 12 hours. At the place between the ocean bulges the ocean coast would experience low tide. So every day at the beach you would experience two high tides and two low tide spaced about six hours apart. These occur daily without any threat of danger to people or property.
    PLEASE READ MY TEACHER EXPLANATION. I LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR AN EARLY REPLY.
    THANK YOU,
    NASER MOHAMMED
    FREDERICK, MD.
    U. S. A.
    mawnaser@yahoo.com

  2. Very good explaination. One question that come to mind is… When the side of a mountain (above water) slips into the ocean and causes a huge wave, is this a tidle wave, a tsunami, or something else??

    • Very true andy, I myself wonder that ,as these kinds of waves can be most destructive if conditions are right. Of course it may just burn itself out if it has to cross a large body of water such as the pacific, but it all depends on the mass that is being transfered to the body of water, and how much momentum it is carrying.

      One documentary discussed how a landslide created a large wave in a lake wipeing out a forest 50-100ft above the water’s surface. ( this was located in a moutainous area) The evidience of this was found in the new, younger trees right below the origonal forest. The younger trees were much greener and of course, shorter. The 2 groups of trees ( old and new) created a perfect line that could be seen that was brought out between the differences.

      I would think this kind would be called a tidal wave, as I only know of 3, and it would not fall under rouge or tsunami

    • i would assume the word tidal comes from the word tide which means the alternate rising of the of the sea due to the attraction of the sun and the moon… so i would definately consider any tidal wave to do with that, as for you a tsunami i know thats caused by underwater events… I really like your question:P it’s a good one

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