ABOUT TSUNAMIS: What many people think of as "tidal waves" actually have nothing to do with tides. They're called tsunamis. They are enormous ocean waves triggered by undersea earthquakes, and they can travel hundreds of miles at speeds near 500 MPH -- as fast as commercial jets. Only a patchwork warning system was in place during the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 200,000 unsuspecting victims. Recently developed systems are designed to simplify warnings in any future tragedies. Some are also compatible with alerting systems designed for multi-lingual and special needs populations.
ABOUT WAVES: Waves are the result of wind traveling over water. Imagine a breeze blowing gently across the surface of a lake, creating small waves. The waves arise from the surface tension of water. The molecules on the water's surface hold together and form a sort of 'skin', which makes the surface stretchy, and therefore 'sticky.' As more air passes over that sticky surface, it grabs some molecules and pushes them into molecules ahead, which push on other molecules, and so on, so that the wave travels to the opposite end of the shore. The water mostly stays in place; it's the disturbance caused by the wind that is moving across the water. In strong wind, the waves become choppy. The stronger the wind, the larger the waves, because as the waves move, they run into each other and merge-- adding their energy together to become bigger and move faster.
The American Physical Society, American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Division of Fluid Dynamics - American Physical Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.