Teaching Notes

Example Output

Example Output
Screen capture from AEJEE software showing Oregon coastal data. Click on image for a larger view.

A map created by using AEJEE software is illustrated here, showing Oregon coastal data, an aerial photograph, and a topographic map of Seaside, Oregon. The Tsunami Inundation Area, highlighted in orange, shows the potential tsunami run-up region.

Grade Level

This chapter is most appropriate for grades 7-16.

Learning Goals

After completing this chapter, students will be able to:
  • navigate, extract and download data from GeOnAS DEM Explorer;
  • use geospatial data to investigate coastal topography;
  • use AEJEE for predicting sea-level rise during a potential tsunami event; and
  • conduct spatial analyses in order to generate a evacuation management plan.


Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) digital elevation model (DEM) data has been widely available for many years, but mostly to advanced Geographic Information System (GIS) users. The GeOnAS DEM Explorer tool allows the novice GIS user to extract, view, and process DEM data without needing the sophisticated knowledge of advanced GIS software. The tool also allows the user to export extracted data for visualization in other GIS software. AEJEE is a free and widely available Earth visualization tool that will allow the user to examine the potential run-up of a tsunami. The combination of these GIS tools and data allows for the data analysis necessary for informed decision-making. This chapter provides students with the knowledge and skills for conducting a similar analysis at their own locale.

A student could easily adapt this project for her/his own "backyard" use. Suggestions for adaptation and modification of this chapter are in the Going Further section.

Background information

Tsunamis are ocean waves that are usually the result of an earthquake, landslide, or volcanic eruption. These occurrences most often initiate underwater, but can also happen near the coast. Tsunami originates from the Japanese, literally translated as "Harbor Wave." Tsunamis are not "tidal" waves or related to typical wave action and schedules of low or high tide; they also are not storm related. Although tsunamis are most frequently reported or identified in oceanic regions, they can also occur in large lakes. For purposes of this lesson, the focus will be on oceanic tsunamis.

Changes in Earth's crust, along subduction zones, are primarily responsible for the earthquakes that spawn tsunamis. By analyzing subduction zones and historical data of earthquakes and tsunamis, scientists are able to identify areas worldwide that are more susceptible to tsunamis.

Two main types of tsunamis exist: teletsunamis (far-field tsunamis) and local tsunamis. Earthquakes typically cause both types but differ in their far-field or localized effects (local tsunamis are much more difficult to detect and flee from). Tsunamis can also range dramatically in height. They can be as small as one centimeter to as large as 150 meters. Mini-tsunamis can often only be measured by scientific equipment while mega-tsunamis are likely to cause significant damage and present danger in coastal areas that are densely inhabited.

Tsunamis have recently become more highly publicized, understood, and prepared for, after the devastating mega-tsunami in December 2004 that caused massive loss of life in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. Historically, however, tsunamis have been observed in most coastal areas of Earth. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) maintains a database that contains documented tsunamis since 2000 B.C. In the United States, NOAA has observed and recorded numerous tsunamis on its U.S. coast since the early 1800's.

Over the past century, tsunami-preparedness has rapidly changed, as scientists are now able to use historic data, plate tectonic information, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to determine which coastal areas are at risk of major damage from tsunamis. Tsunami-watch systems are now in place in many areas of the world, relying on seismic data and ocean sensing equipment. Countries like Indonesia, and others in the "Ring of Fire," are at greater risk due to the numerous earthquakes in that area. This, combined with the low-lying geography of that area, creates the potential for significant damage.

In this chapter, students will use digital elevation model (DEM) data loaded into AEJEE to generate potential sea-level rise scenarios that might occur during a tsunami run-up event. The DEM contour data will be overlaid with political and geographic data, allowing the user to see the potential impact on transportation infrastructure, housing, and natural habitat. The student's task in this chapter is to identify the potential for a five, fifteen, and twenty-meter rise in the ocean due to a tsunami on the Oregon coast near Seaside.

References and Further Information

Instructional Strategies

If students are unfamiliar with tsunami causes, impacts, and terminology, many excellent teaching resources are available on the websites listed above. Instructors may decide to add extra class time to share this introductory material before working through the EET chapter.

This chapter serves well for exploring and building explanations pertaining to the topic of coastal topography and tsunami impacts. (The second and third steps in 5E model; see link below for more information.) If possible, have students each work on their own computer, but collaborate and discuss in small teams. Upon completion of this chapter, students should have the necessary skills to investigate any coastal location on Earth. As an extension or elaboration, students might explore the areas popular for tourism, such as a local beach (fourth and fifth steps in the 5E model). For students not located in a coastal area, an alternative scenariosuch as a flooding rivercould be investigated by utilizing these tools and data.

More about the 5E instructional model.

Learning Contexts

This lesson provides an opportunity in either an Earth Science or Environmental Science (Studies) course in which students can learn about GIS technologies and make decisions based on spatial data. This chapter can also be used in geography or social studies classes.

Science Standards

Grades 5-8

8ASI1.3 Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.

8ASI1.4 Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.

8ASI1.5 Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.

8ASI1.6 Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.

8ASI1.7 Communicate scientific procedures and explanations. With practice, students should become competent at communicating experimental methods, following instructions, describing observations, summarizing the results of other groups, and telling other students about investigations and explanations.

Understandings about scientific inquiry

8ASI2.4 Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results of investigations.

8ASI2.5 Scientific explanations emphasize evidence, have logically consistent arguments, and use scientific principles, models and theories. The scientific community accepts and uses such explanations until displaced by better scientific ones. When such displacement occurs, science advances.

Grades 9-12

12ASI1.3 Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.

12ASI1.4 Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.

12ASI1.6 Communicate and defend a scientific argument.

Understandings about scientific inquiry

12DESS3.3 Interactions among the solid Earth, the oceans, the atmosphere, and organisms have resulted in the ongoing evolution of the Earth system.

12ASI2.4 Mathematics is essential in scientific inquiry.

12ASI2.5 Scientific explanation must adhere to criteria such as: a proposed explanation must be logically consistent; it must abide by the rules of evidence; it must be open to questions and possible modification; and it must be based on historical and current scientific knowledge.

12ASI2.6 Results of scientific inquiry - new knowledge and methods - emerge from different types of investigations and public communication among scientists.

Geography Standards

The World in Spatial Terms

1. How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.

2. How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context.

3. How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface.

Places and Regions

4. The physical and human characteristics of places.

5. That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity.

Physical Systems

7. The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface.

8. The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth's surface.

Human Systems

9. The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth's surface.

11. The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface.

12. The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement.

13. How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of Earth's surface.

Environment and Society

14. How human actions modify the physical environment.

16. The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.

The Uses of Geography

18. How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future.

Time Required

Approximately three to five 45-minute periods are required to complete the Case Study and the content in the chapter. However, this lesson can be adapted to require less classroom time by downloading the datasets and AEJEE project files ahead of time.

Teaching Resources

For new users to AEJEE, this tutorial may prove to be helpful.
AEJEE instructions and sample lessons (Acrobat (PDF) 2.1MB Nov19 10) (in PDF).

The AEJEE project and other files are provided here and directly within the chapter. It is not necessary to download these files; they serve as back-ups to the chapter instructions.

Part 1:
Tsunami Run-Up data and project file (Zip Archive 24.4MB Nov16 10)in a zipped folder.

Part 2:
Tsunami Source Events 1900-2010 (Text File 118kB Nov17 10)Downloaded and saved as a text file, for use in Excel.
Tsunami Source Events 1900-2010 (Comma Separated Values 69kB Nov16 10)Downloaded, edited and saved as a CSV file, for use in AEJEE.

Part 3:
Geobrain Contour Shapefiles (Zip Archive 3.3MB Nov9 10)in a zipped folder, for use in AEJEE.