Tsunamis are not weather!

I'm often asked meteorological questions, and most of the time I have to answer that I have no idea because I have no training or experience in that field.  This sometimes surprises people because for some reason they assume a tsunami expert should know such things.

Tsunamis are geophysical rather than meteorological phenomena.  These are two separate but related branches of the earth sciences. Their definitions paraphrased from wikipedia are below:

Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere that focuses on weather processes and forecasting bound by variables including temperature, pressure, water vapor, and the gradients and interactions of each variable, and how they change in time.


Geophysics is the study of the Earth or any other planet by quantitative physical methods, especially by seismic, electromagnetic, and radioactivity methods. It calls heavily upon other fields of science such as math, physics, and computer science.


Atmospheric science (and by inclusion meteorology) is a subdiscipline of geophysics.  Thus, all weather is geophysical but not all geophysical phenomena are weather.  Tsunamis are mainly created by tectonic movements due to earthquakes, landslides, and volcanoes.  Thus, the geophysical subdicipline of seismology is closely linked to tsunami science.  Tsunami wave propagation in the ocean is described by physical oceanography, which is another geophysical subdicipline.


Meteotsunamis are the exception to this point of view.  These are tsunami-like waves generated by large atmospheric pressure disturbances such as atmospheric gravity waves.  They generally have shorter periods of oscillation than tsunamis.

The moral of this story is that, with the exception of meteotsunamis, tsunamis are not related to the weather.  Sometimes I think it's a little misleading to the public that the tsunami warning centers happen to fall under the National Weather Service organization umbrella.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are the author's opinions only and don't necessarily reflect those of NOAA or the NWS.

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5 comments:

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff said...

Not sure how my original got screwed up, but I get asked questions too. "Any earthquakes today?" "When's the next big one?"

Do you work with the Hawaii infrasound Lab much? I've got a friend who works there, David Fee. He worked woth me at NEIC for a bit until he graduated from U of WY in '04.

brian said...

Hi Jeff. Yes, I work with the folks at the Infrasound Lab sometimes. I know David Fee. In fact, I need to contact him regarding some equipment we have there. Thanks for the reminder :)

Mikesauce said...

Hey sir. i was googling a way to get an astronaut application myself. I too am interested in obtaining one and i am presently unqualified, but i am want to know exactly what it takes to be out in space. can you help me find out where i can download or obtain a copy of the application?

brian said...

Mikesauce, I'm not sure what your response has to do with tsunamis, but I'll do my best to answer your question anyway.

NASA only has open calls for astronauts every few years. You just missed the last deadline, which was 1 July 2008. I'm not sure when the next class of astronauts will be announced, but it'll probably be at least two years.

Applications are through http://www.usajobs.gov , and they consist of a resume, medical history form(s), and a reference form. There is a good website for astronaut hopefuls http://www.ashos.org which has some example forms from how NASA used to do its application process in tne 1980s-1990s.