Chile quake wave racing to Asia at jet speed: scientist

February 27, 2010
A wave hits the coast of the Hakahau city in the French Polynesia Marquesas Ua Pou island. A tsunami triggered by the powerful quake that rocked Chile was Saturday racing across the Pacific Ocean towards Hawaii and Asia at around 450 miles per hour, a quake expert said.

A tsunami triggered by the powerful quake that rocked Chile was Saturday racing across the Pacific Ocean towards Hawaii and Asia at around 450 miles per hour, a quake expert said.

Estimating the depth of the wave's water column to be around four kilometers (2.4 miles) on average, Roger Bilham, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado, calculated that at mid-ocean, the mass of water would be hurtling toward Hawaii at 200 meters per second, or 720 kilometers per hour (446 mph).

"Mid-ocean, the wave is traveling at around the speed of a jet plane," Bilham told AFP.

"The amplitude of the wave is small when it's mid-ocean, but it may rise to five to 10 meters when it reaches Japan or the Philippines," he said.

A huge arc of nations around the Pacific, from New Zealand to Japan, have gone on tsunami alert, while sirens sounded warnings of destructive waves around Hawaii for the first time in 16 years.

The powerful 8.8-magnitude quake that rattled Chile in the early hours of Saturday occurred offshore in a subduction zone -- the point where two tectonic plates meet and one plunges beneath the other.

The undersea earthquake that set off the 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed some 200,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless, was also a subduction earthquake.

"Subduction zone earthquakes produce the world largest tsunamis because the sea floor moves like a piston, heaving 100 kilometer by 50 kilometer (60 miles x 30 miles) or larger regions of sea floor water up or down," Bilham told AFP.

Walls of water of up to four meters (13 feet) crashed ashore in French Polynesia and the Marquesas Islands hours after the quake had rattled Chile.

But the tsunamis caused only minor damage and no casualties as they rampaged across the Pacific, where authorities had sounded warning sirens and urged residents of coastal areas to move to higher ground.

The tidal waves that devastated parts of southern Asia in 2004 struck without warning. It was after that deadly series of monster waves that the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, set up after a tsunami unleashed by a 9.5-magnitude earthquake in Chile in 1960, beefed up its warning system.

"This time, we're ready for the tsunamis. When the waves hit Hawaii, there will be cameras there to catch them," said Bilham.

"This is a huge success," he said.

Explore further: 6.1 magnitude quake hits Philippines region: USGS

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1 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2010
It's traveling super fast, but it's super weak. It must not be your typical tsunami.
not rated yet Feb 27, 2010
We who reside on the East Coast of Australia are still waiting for it to hit according to all the media hype. Beaches have been closed on the Gold Coast and further south though, so the authorities are taking it quite seriously.
not rated yet Feb 28, 2010
Fast, but weak? A couple of hundred meters high water column moving at 720 km per hour under the water? Just because it does not make a high wave on the open ocean, it can be quite large underneath. When it hits the coast, the hundred or so meters of fast moving water column beneath the ocean suddenly wants to be above the ocean instead. Sure, it will slow down due to more resistance from the rising ocean floor and the height of the wave will diminish, but it can still hit the coast with catastrophic consequences.
not rated yet Feb 28, 2010
LordHellFire666, you didn't watch it hit Hawaii did you? I've researched this quite a lot, I know all about that. But in this case I spoke AFTER the observation took place and expect similar profile in all locations roughly similar distances and further away. So yes... fast but weak, as demonstrated.

I'm guessing the 8.8 quake occurred in shallow waters or on the coast line(?). I imagine an earthquake like that wouldn't cause deep vertical rifts in the ocean water.
not rated yet Feb 28, 2010
We saw it here in New Zealand but luckily it was fairly small and struck at low tide so there was no damage.

It was so awesome to see the sea level rise from low tide to high-tide-equivalent in only a couple of minutes though.
not rated yet Mar 01, 2010
eh I think authorities are afraid of not calling the next bad one. I had a feeling this was gonna be a dud after hearing the Chile wave was at max 7-9 feet. I now consider the fact I got lucky with my prediction because of the devastation observed on Chilean news feeds. I didnt fathom that kind of damage from a 7-9 foot tsunami.

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