When is a Tsunami a Mega-Tsunami?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Catherine Chague-Goff1,2, James R Goff2, James P Terry3 and Kazuhisa Goto4, (1)Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation - ANSTO, Lucas Heights, Australia, (2)UNSW Australia, Sydney, Australia, (3)Zayed University, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, (4)Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami is commonly called a mega-tsunami, and this attribute has also been linked to the 2011 Tohoku-oki tsunami. However, since this term was first coined in the early 1990’s there have been very few attempts to define it. As such it has been applied in a rather arbitrary fashion to a number of tsunami characteristics, such as wave height or amplitude at both the source and at distant locations, run-up height, geographical extent and impact. The first use of the term is related to a tsunami generated by a large bolide impact and indeed it seems entirely appropriate that the term should be used for such rare events on geological timescales. However, probably as a result of media-driven hyperbole, scientists have used this term at least twice in the last decade, which is hardly a significant portion of the geological timescale. It therefore seems reasonable to suggest that these recent unexpectedly large events do not fall in the category of mega-tsunami but into a category of exceptional events within historical experience and local perspective. The use of the term mega-tsunami over the past 14 years is discussed and a definition is provided that marks the relative uniqueness of these events and a new term, appropriately Japanese in origin, namely that of souteigai-tsunami, is proposed. Examples of these tsunamis will be provided.