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Can asteroids, meteorites or man-made explosions cause tsunamis?

Fortunately, for mankind, it is indeed very rare for a meteorite or an asteroid to reach the earth.  Although no documented tsunami has ever been generated by an  asteroid impact, the effects of such an event would be disastrous.   Most meteorites burn as they reach the earth's atmosphere.  However, large meteorites have hit the earth's surface in the distant past. This is indicated by large craters, which have been found in different parts of the earth.  Also, it is possible that an asteroid may have fallen on the earth in prehistoric times - the last one some 65 million years ago during the Cretaceous period.  Since evidence of the fall of meteorites and asteroids on earth exists, we must conclude that they have fallen also in the oceans and seas of the earth, particularly since four fifths of our planet is covered by water.  

The fall of meteorites or asteroids in the earth's oceans has the potential of generating tsunamis of cataclysmic proportions.  Scientists studying this possibility have concluded that the impact of moderately large asteroid, 5-6 km in diameter, in the middle of the large ocean basin such as the Atlantic Ocean, would produce a tsunami that would travel all the way to the Appalachian Mountains in the upper two-thirds of the United States.  On both sides of the Atlantic, coastal cities would be washed out by such a tsunami.  An asteroid 5-6 kilometers in diameter impacting between the Hawaiian Islands and the West Coast of North America, would produce a tsunami which would wash out the coastal cities on the West coasts of Canada, U.S. and Mexico and would cover most of the inhabited coastal areas of the Hawaiian islands.  

Conceivably tsunami waves can also be generated from very large nuclear explosions.  However, no tsunami of any significance has ever resulted from the testing of nuclear weapons in the past.  Furthermore, such testing is presently prohibited by international treaty.



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Regional Disaster Information Center (Latin America & the Caribbean)

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Post-Tsunami Survey:
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Learn the basics of tsunamis. Available in English and Samoan.

Tsunamis on the Move

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Tsunami, The Great Waves

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Tsunami Glossary

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Where the First Wave Arrives in Minutes

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