COOL IMAGES: Making Waves

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Science  21 Aug 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5380, pp. 1107
DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5380.1107a

A wall of water slams into the northern coast of Papua New Guinea in this spooky computer simulation of the 17 July tsunami that killed more than 2100 people ( The preliminary image by Eric Geist of the U.S. Geological Survey is displayed on a Web site that also features movies of the wave, which reached up to 15 meters in height and was spawned by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake offshore. Outside links lead to other groups' animations, a history of tsunamis in the region, and photos taken by an international team dispatched to survey the damage.

Geophysicists are now scrambling to refine their models of the Papua New Guinea tsunami, although doing so may require a ship cruise to get higher resolution data of the ocean floor. The hope is to be able to anticipate the next tidal wave and map out evacuation plans, says Geist. “If we can get this right, we can use it in a predictive sense”—whether the wave is headed for a South Pacific island or the coast of Oregon.

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