40 Years of Tsunami Research

Throughout Earth’s history, few natural phenomena have resulted in such widespread colossal damage and loss of life as tsunamis, caused by volcanos, earthquakes, and–yes–even giant meteor strikes. Learn from tsunami expert and Northwestern emeritus Emile Okal in this two-night mini-course.

Tuesdays, Oct. 11 and 18, 6-7: p.m. Register.

Professor emeritus Emile Okal of Northwestern’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences has studied the physics and the geology of tsunamis for most of his career–frequently on site, arriving as soon as possible after they strike. This has led him all over the world–from Peru to Samoa, Yemen, and Madagascar. Prof. Okal will introduce us to the causes of tsunamis, how to measure them, and perhaps how we might someday forecast their effects. In the first session (Tuesday, October 11), he will review the general topic of tsunamis: what they are, what they can do (and have done, with specific examples), and what the role of the scientist is in studying them. In the second session (Tuesday, October 18), Prof. Okal will take a close look at several case studies from over the course of his professional career, examining which new facets of science, engineering, and social response each of these events have taught us. Among these: Sumatra 2004 and Japan 2011, but also challenging, less known cases such as Nicaragua 1992 and whatever comes out of our ongoing research into Tonga 2022–which is a very different event from the others, as it involved the largest volcanic eruption in 160 years. At the end of the day, we must ask the question: “Have we become any wiser?”

Readings for this mini-course will be circulated to all registered participants several weeks before the first class session. When you register, by default you will be registered for both class sessions, on October 11 and 18. Attendance of both sessions, though strongly recommended, is not required.

About this picture: It shows Prof. Okal on the island of Niuatoputapu (Tonga) during the survey following the 2009 Samoa tsunami. This used to be a palm grove of 15m (50 foot) trees, all felled consistently to the left. In the back, the island of Tafahi. The white band at its bottom documents the stripping of the vegetation by the tsunami, later surveyed at a height of 22 meters (over 70 feet).


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