Travelling Tsunamis

3.0 based on 24 ratings

Updated on Sep 19, 2013

Grade Level: 5th - 8th; Type: Earth Science


Learn about how tsunami waves travel around an island.

The purpose of this experiment is to generate a pretend tsunami wave in a swimming pool in order to find how it travels to and around an island.

  • How is a tsunami generated?
  • How far can a tsunami travel?
  • How big can a tsunami get?
  • Why is a tsunami sometimes referred to as a tidal wave?
  • How can a tsunami travel around an island?

A tsunami is an extremely destructive wave that is capable of travelling across large distances. Tsunamis can be generated by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or large meteors that crash into the ocean. They can travel at great speeds, crossing the entire Pacific Ocean in under a day. Islands are at particular risk of being hit by tsunamis, which can wrap around them and damage their entire coast line. Understanding how a tsunami travels to and around an island is important in order to help develop evacuation plans and emergency response plans.

  • 3 inflatable beach balls
  • Gray paper (find a color that looks considerably different when wet)
  • Tape
  • Measuring tape
  • A marker
  • A few friends
  • A swimming pool

  1. Inflate the beach balls only half way or less; enough so they will float in the shape of an island.
  2. Tape the uninflected part of the beach balls up tight against the bottom of the “islands.”
  3. Cover the top part of the islands with paper by rolling tape and sticking it under the paper. Do not cover any part of the paper with tape.
  4. Take the islands, the measuring tape and the marker to a swimming pool with a few friends.
  5. Stand in the center of the shallow end of the pool.
  6. Have one friend stand one meter away from you in the water, holding the first island above his or her head so it doesn’t get wet.
  7. Have another friend stand three meters away from you in a different direction, holding the second island above his or her head so it doesn’t get wet.
  8. Have another friend stand five meters away from you in a different direction, holding the third island above his or her head so it doesn’t get wet.
  9. Have your friends mark the islands with an arrow pointing towards you, which is where the tsunami will be generated from.
  10. Have your friends carefully place the islands down so that they are floating in the water.
  11. Generate a tsunami by stirring up the water below the surface. Try not to splash.
  12. The waves you displace will travel to and around the islands.
  13. Once the waves have dissipated, pull the islands out of the water and draw a line around them along the line where the water reached.
  14. Compare the results of the destruction on the three islands, noting especially the difference between how the island was hit on the side facing the origin of the tsunami versus how it was hit on the side opposite.

Terms/Concepts: Tsunami; Earthquake; Volcano; Meteor; Displacement


Writer and educator Crystal Beran is rarely seen without a pen. Her adventures have brought her to four continents and her quest for answers has led her to discover more questions than she could fill all the pages with. She currently resides in Northern California, where she can be found sipping tea and writing books.

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