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This Why Files article looks at tsunamis in the wake of the July 17, 1998 disaster in Papua New Guinea that killed over a thousand people. Topics covered are: the causes of tsunamis, tsunami movement across the ocean, the history of some killer tsunamis of the last few hundred years, and ways to reduce human vulnerability to tsunamis. Readers can download a movie about how investigators think the Papua New Guinea tsunami spread out from its center. An August 1999 update discusses scientists' new thinking that the Papua New Guinea tsunamis were caused by undersea slides rather than an earthquake. Two university scientists and a hazard-warning official were interviewed for this article.
Intended for grade levels:
  • Intermediate (3-5)
  • Middle (6-8)
  • High (9-12)
  • General public
Type of resource:
  • Visual:
    • Visualization - scientific
  • Text:
    • Report
  • Natural hazards
  • Ocean Sciences:
    • Physical oceanography
Technical requirements:
QuickTime plug-in
Cost / Copyright:
No cost
Copyright 2001, University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents.
DLESE Catalog ID: DLESE-000-000-001-084
Educational standards:
  • National Science Education Standards (NSES):
    • 5-8:
      • D - Earth and space science:
        • Structure of the earth system
      • F - Science in personal / social perspectives:
        • Natural hazards
    • 9-12:
      • B - Physical science:
        • Interactions of energy and matter
      • D - Earth and space science:
        • Energy in the earth system
      • F - Science in personal / social perspectives:
        • Natural and human-induced hazards
Resource contact / Creator / Publisher:
Author: David Tenenbaum
The Why Files

Editor: Terry Devitt
The Why Files

Contributor: Amy Toburen
The Why Files

Publisher: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Graduate School