We Americans use hundreds of French words in our vocabularies, but few Japanese words, and this is one of them, tsunami means ‘harbor wave’. Oceanographers never call them “tidal waves”because they have nothing to do with the tides, and since Japan has the longest recorded history of these destructive waves, they got to name them for the world community.
Here in the islands we’re semi-safe compared to, say, Seaside, Oregon. Any low inhabited beach area, especially on the open coast, is vulnerable. This photo was taken at Jackson’s Beach and the most likely source of an earthquake generated wave would be out beyond the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Pacific. Cattle Pass at the south end of San Juan Island forms a narrow gateway that would dissipate most of the energy of a potentially dangerous wave passing up the strait.
If you were to pass through a series of tsunamis in a boat out on open water, you may not even notice them for they would be just inches high for all their energy is underwater. The geologists say that there’s a good chance of a big tsunami occurring on the Cascadia fault off the Washington and Oregon coast. Japan, however, would be in more danger than we would, for the energy is passed from water molecule to water molecule and very little water actually moves, but that energy can clip along at up to 600 miles per hour, nearly the speed of a jet airliner! So within hours the energy could reach Japan, the first landfall across the huge Pacific ocean, and it’s when that energy finds a shoaling sea bottom that the wave grows skyward and slows down its forward motion.
Fun times, living on the “ring of fire” around the Pacific. Teach your kids about tsunamis and hope we don’t experience one caused by a comet or large meteorite hitting the Pacific. Ever seen the movie “Deep Impact?” Their depiction of New York getting wiped off the map was actually quite accurate, for the tsunami from an extraterrestrial source would be the mother of all waves, many times what an earthquake could generate. Maybe my daughter Jamie has the right idea living at 9500 ft. in the Rocky Mountains. Nah, I’ll take the gamble. I’d miss the water, even if it does come with the potential of danger.
Photo location: Port of Friday Harbor’s Jackson’s Beach recreation area and boat launch, north end of Griffin Bay.