In this paper we develop materials to address student interest in the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. We discuss the physical characteristics of tsunamis and some of the specific data regarding the 2004 event. Finally, we create an easy-to-make tsunami tank to run simulations in the classroom. The simulations exhibit three dramatic signatures of tsunamis, namely, as a tsunami moves into shallow water its amplitude increases, its wavelength and speed decrease, and its leading edge becomes increasingly steep as if to “break” or “crash.” Using our tsunami tank, these realistic features were easy to observe in the classroom and evoked an enthusiastic response from our students.

D.H. Peregrine, “Equations for Water Waves and the Approximations Behind Them,” in Waves on Beaches and Resulting Sediment Transport, edited by R. Meyer (Academic Press, New York, NY, 1972).
These results are derived in a number of sources in the literature. We have posted a website (see http:// for those readers of The Physics Teacher interested in exploring these derivations, as well as a more detailed “Shallow-Water Wave” model. We leave the reader to determine the level of these materials that is appropriate for his or her classroom.
The United States Geological Survey, “USGS Home Page: Historic Worldwide Earthquakes,”
In the 1830s, the Scottish naval engineer John Scott Russell built water troughs 30 ft in length in his garden and studied the large waves created by either dropping masses into or removing masses from one end of the trough. In 1834, Russell was the first to observe and describe the “Wave of Translation,” which today is known as a “Soliton” or “Russell Solitary Wave.” See P.G. Drazin and R.S. Johnson, Solitons: An Introduction, Cambridge Texts in Applied Mathematics (Cambridge University Press, 1989).
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