Terrestrial Tour: Tsunami—Sumatra 2004

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This segment describes the cause and devastating effects of the tsunami that struck Indonesia in December 2004.

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory.

·       Air photo of devastated landscape in Sumatra, January 2, 2005: Philip A. McDaniel, U.S. Navy
·       Plate boundary animation: STScI
·       Visualization of the December 26, 2004 tsunami: NCTR NOAA Center for Tsunami Research
·       Before and after IKONOS satellite images of Aceh, Indonesia: Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP), National University of Singapore, and DigitalGlobe
·       Air photo of mosque in coastal village, Sumatra, January 4, 2005: Jacob J. Kirk, U.S. Navy
·       Air photo of destruction south of Banda Aceh, Sumatra, January 1, 2005: Patrick M. Bonafede, U.S. Navy
·       Photo of stranded boat in Aceh, Sumatra, January 1, 2005: Michael L. Bak, U.S. Department of Defense
·       Tsunami waves striking Ao Nang, Thailand, December 26, 2004: David Rydevik
·       Village flooded in Sumatra, January 2, 2005: Philip A. McDaniel, U.S. Navy
·       Tsunami destruction Xaafun, Somalia, December 31, 2004: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Written by Leah Ramsay
Designed by Dani Player and Leah Hustak
Editorial and design input from Margaret W. Carruthers, Timothy Rhue II, John Godfrey, and Claire Blome
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music

Text, Sumatra 2004. A marshy valley with scattered vegetation and farmland.
The Earth rotates in space. Earth's surface is made of separate tectonic plates. Plate boundary lines appear around the globe, carving out the continents. Most tsunamis begin with violent movement at the undersea boundaries between these plates. A cross-section of a seabed shows two plates rubbing up against one another and slipping violently over each other. A shockwave is unleashed to the water above, creating a tidal wave.
While tsunamis are most common in the Pacific Ocean, which is ringed by the boundaries of tectonic plates, they can, and have, occurred in every ocean.
One of the deadliest natural disasters in modern history began on December 26, 2004, on the floor of the Indian Ocean. A shockwave radiates out from a plate boundary in Sumatra, Indonesia. The force of the 9.1 magnitude earthquake altered Earth's rotation and shape, and generated a world-sweeping tsunami. The wave quickly travels throughout the Indian Ocean and around the continents into the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Northern Sumatra was hit within 20 minutes. Because tsunamis occur less frequently in the Indian Ocean, the region had no established warning system.
An IKONOS Satellite Image of Aceh, Indonesia, January 10, 2003, shows a fertile, green coastline, compared to a barren, reddish brown landscape in December 29, 2004. A single building remains standing amidst the remains of a city, reduced to mud. The human toll was catastrophic. Indonesia lost more than 167,500 people. Buildings are shredded to rubble. A boat washed up in the middle of the road. People watch as an enormous dirty wave crashes through palm trees. Ao Nang, Thailand. Globally, more than 200,000 people died, including in Eastern Africa, 3,000 miles away from the epicenter. The husks of scattered houses amidst a sea of debris and muddy water. A devastate village. Xaafun, Somalia.