Investigating Factors That Affect Tsunami Inundation

Bonnie Magura (Portland Public Schools), Roger Groom (Mt Tabor Middle School), and CEETEP (Cascadia EarthScope Earthquake and Tsunami Education Program)

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see

This page first made public: May 24, 2018


Learners modify elements of a tsunami wave tank to investigate the affect that near-coast bathymetry (submarine topography) and coastal landforms have on how far a tsunami can travel inland. Damaging tsunami are most commonly produced by subduction zone earthquakes, such as those that occur in Alaska.



This activity could be done with introductory geoscience learners in secondary school or early college. It can also work for informal education or public outreach venues as a demonstration or interactive.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Learners should know what tsunami are and, ideally, some of the ways that they can be triggered.

How the activity is situated in the course

This should probably come later in a unit on earthquakes and tsunami after students already know something about these geohazards.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Learners will be able to:
  • Describe topographic or other factors that affect tsunami inundation

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Conduct an experiment related to tsunami inundation
    • Form a Question or Hypothesis,
    • Design an Investigation around the topic,
    • Collect and Present Data, and
    • Analyze and Interpret their Results.

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Working in groups
  • Using physical models

Description and Teaching Materials

See attached file for educator notes, NGSS alignment, and student exercise.
Investigating Factors That Affect Tsunami Inundation (Acrobat (PDF) 966kB May20 18)

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • See above educator notes
  • Regionally damaging tsunami are most commonly produced by subduction zone earthquakes but locally very damaging tsunami can occur due to landslides or volcanic eruptions. In Alaskan fjords the shaking during an earthquake can cause submarine landslides that generate tsunami, which reach shore while earthquake shaking is still going on. You could experiment with adding a landslide variable to the wave tank experiments by dropping in a packet of gravel rather than using the paddle to make the wave.


The exercise worksheet serves as the summative assessment for the activity. The answers are short but open ended so the instructor should develop a simple couple-point scale for evaluating the completeness of each answer. Alternatively, if the activity is being used for a demonstration or informal interactive activity, questions and discussions with learners can help the presenter gauge the level of understanding and to address misconceptions.

References and Resources