Tsunamis and Rogue Waves: 5 of the Most Massive Waves in History

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A tsunami is a massive wave caused by an earthquake or other disturbance in the earth like the shifting of tectonic plates or volcanic activity. And while, on average, two tsunamis occur every year globally, only a few were massive enough to make this list.  (Most tsunamis actually measure under 3 feet tall.)

From the Indian Ocean to the Lituya Bay in Alaska, these larger-than-life waves have caused mass mayhem, leaving death and destruction behind.

Believe it or not, however, not all super-sized waves are tsunamis. Throughout history, there have been some waves so immense that they defy expectations. Often called “rogue waves”, these unusual natural phenomena aren’t just big, they are also unexpected which adds to their danger.

#5 Indonesia, 1883

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The eruption of the Krakatau volcano in 1883 caused a massive tsunami. It is said that the wave towered over 120 feet (though it is impossible to say for sure). This tsunami destroyed two entire towns, Anjer and Merak.

The destruction caused by both the volcanic eruption and the tsunami was immense, and around 40,000 people were killed.

#4 Indian Ocean, 2004

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history, the 2004 tsunamis (caused by one large earthquake) in the Indian Ocean killed an estimated 230,000-280,000 people.

Animation of 2004 Indonesia tsunami Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheri Adme

Many claim that the waves reached 80-100 feet tall, depending on where they were located. These waves were not only colossal and far-reaching, but also gained speeds up to 500 miles per hour.

#3 Norway, 1995

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On New Years’ Day off the coast of Norway,  a wave 84 feet tall was recorded. This massive wave, surrounded by waves 20 feet tall, was not a tsunami.

It was a type of “rogue wave” where multiple waves join together to form a much more colossal wave. Nicknamed the ‘Draupner wave’, this unique wave provided the first real evidence of rogue waves.

#2 Nazare, Portugal – 2013

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Believed to be the biggest wave ever surfed, this enormous wall of water has been estimated to be 80 feet tall (24.4 m). Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa tackled this monstrous wave and lived to tell the tale. He broke the previous record of 78 feet, held by American Garrett McNamara.

This wave is not an unusual occurrence in Nazare.

This location is home to frequent large waves. These waves are not tsunamis and are not considered “rogue waves”, instead they are caused by a variety of unique geological qualities of the region. Under the water there are enormous caves that help to create these waves.

#1 Lituya Bay, Alaska – 1958

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Topping the list at 22 miles deep, this mega-tsunami is known by many as the largest tsunami in recorded history, towering at 100 feet tall and killing 5 people.

The tsunami was triggered by an earthquake and subsequent rock slide that could be heard 50 miles away. This wave was so immense that it caused scientists to completely re-evaluate methods for studying waves and what causes them.


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