Teaching Notes

Example Output

example output Example Output
Map and Oregon coastal data displayed on a My World GIS map. Click on image for a larger view.
Screen capture from My World software showing Oregon coastal contour data and a topographic map of Seaside, Oregon. Contour lines, highlighted in yellow, show potential tsunami run-up heights.

Grade Level

This chapter is most appropriate for grades 7-16.

Learning Goals

After completing this chapter, students will be able to:


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. My World is an inexpensive and widely available Earth visualization tool that will allow students the opportunity 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, users will use digital elevation model (DEM) data loaded into My World GIS 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 user'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.

The use of tools and techniques, including mathematics, will be guided by the question asked and the investigations students design. The use of computers for the collection, summary, and display of evidence is part of this standard. Students should be able to access, gather, store, retrieve, and organize data, using hardware and software designed for these purposes.

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

Students should base their explanation on what they observed, and as they develop cognitive skills, they should be able to differentiate explanation from descriptionproviding causes for effects and establishing relationships based on evidence and logical argument. This standard requires a subject knowledge base so the students can effectively conduct investigations, because developing explanations establishes connections between the content of science and the contexts within which students develop new knowledge.

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

Thinking critically about evidence includes deciding what evidence should be used and accounting for anomalous data. Specifically, students should be able to review data from a simple experiment, summarize the data, and form a logical argument about the cause-and-effect relationships in the experiment. Students should begin to state some explanations in terms of the relationship between two or more variables.

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

Students should develop the ability to listen and to respect the explanations proposed by other students. They should remain open to and acknowledge different ideas and explanations, be able to accept the skepticism of others, and consider alternative explanations.

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.

A variety of technologies, such as hand tools, measuring instruments, and calculators, should be an integral component of scientific investigations. The use of computers for the collection, analysis, and display of data is also a part of this standard. Mathematics plays an essential role in all aspects of an inquiry. For example, measurement is used for posing questions, formulas are used for developing explanations, and charts and graphs are used for communicating results.

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

Student inquiries should culminate in formulating an explanation or model. Models should be physical, conceptual, and mathematical. In the process of answering the questions, the students should engage in discussions and arguments that result in the revision of their explanations. These discussions should be based on scientific knowledge, the use of logic, and evidence from their investigation.

12ASI1.6 Communicate and defend a scientific argument.

Students in school science programs should develop the abilities associated with accurate and effective communication. These include writing and following procedures, expressing concepts, reviewing information, summarizing data, using language appropriately, developing diagrams and charts, explaining statistical analysis, speaking clearly and logically, constructing a reasoned argument, and responding appropriately to critical comments.

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.

We can observe some changes such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on a human time scale, but many processes such as mountain building and plate movements take place over hundreds of millions of years.

12ASI2.4 Mathematics is essential in scientific inquiry.

Mathematical tools and models guide and improve the posing of questions, gathering data, constructing explanations and communicating results.

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 inquirynew knowledge and methodsemerge from different types of investigations and public communication among scientists.

In communicating and defending the results of scientific inquiry, arguments must be logical and demonstrate connections between natural phenomena, investigations, and the historical body of scientific knowledge. In addition, the methods and procedures that scientists used to obtain evidence must be clearly reported to enhance opportunities for further investigation.

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 My World GIS project files ahead of time.

Teaching Resources

The My World GIS project files are provided here and directly within the chapter at the end of each part. It is not necessary to download these files; they serve as back-ups to the chapter instructions.

Part 1: Tsunami.m3vz ( 11.8MB Nov8 10)
Part 2: Tsunami_runup_part2.m3vz ( 12.3MB Nov8 10)
Part 3: Tsunami_runup_part3.m3vz ( 15.8MB Nov10 10)
Part 4: Tsunami_runup_part4.m3vz ( 15.8MB Nov11 10)
Part 5: Tsunami_runup_part5.m3vz ( 15.8MB Nov29 10)

The three files listed below are also linked within the chapter but can be downloaded ahead of time and saved for later use.

Part 2:
Tsunami Source Event text file (Text File 213kB Nov7 10)
Tsunami Run-up Event text file (Text File 1.2MB Nov7 10)
Part 3:
Geobrain Contour Shapefiles (Zip Archive 3.3MB Nov9 10)

« Previous Page      Next Page »