Tsunami are waves caused by sudden movement of the ocean surface due to earthquakes, landslides on the sea floor, land slumping into the ocean, large volcanic eruptions or meteorite impact in the ocean.
Until recently, tsunami were called tidal waves, but this term is generally discouraged because tsunami generation has nothing to do with tides (which are driven by the gravity of the Earth, Moon and Sun).
The largest run-up (measured as elevation about sea level) was recorded as 7.9m (Australian Height Datum (AHD)) at Steep Point in Western Australia from the July 2006 Java tsunami. DOI: 10.1177/0309133314522282 Geoscience Australia receives real-time data from over 60 seismic stations in Australia and more than 130 international seismic stations.
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The JATWC also receives data from the Bureau of Meteorology's sea level observations and other international sea level stations.
These instruments provide real-time sea level observations that can verify whether an earthquake has generated a tsunami and, if so, monitor its path.
Although some tsunami may appear like a rapidly rising or falling tide at the coast, in other situations they can also feature one or more turbulent breaking waves.
A tsunami is different from a wind-generated surface wave on the ocean.
Most tsunami do not cause such extreme coastal inundation and the effect of small events may not be noticeable to without careful analysis of tide gauge measurements.
Most tsunami are caused by large earthquakes on the sea floor when slabs of rock move past each other suddenly, causing the overlying water to move.
If Duty Seismologist considers that the earthquake has the potential to generate a tsunami that may impact Australia, the seismologist sends the information to the JATWC office in the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne via a dedicated data link.
This process is completed within 10 minutes of the earthquake's origin time.
While wind-generated waves in deep water only cause water movement near the surface, the passage of a tsunami involves the movement of water from the surface to the seafloor.