Education Help with Education Outreach Animations & Videos Calendars Educational Giveaways UNAVCO Global Data Ruler PBO52 Playing Cards Velocity Map Posters UNAVCO Educator Packet Hands-on Demonstrations Infographics Interactive Data & Mapping Tools

Tsunami Early Warning Demonstration

  • About the demonstration

    This hands-on demonstration illustrates how instruments can be used to warn people of a tsunami. The same principles can be applied to earthquake early warning. With an older audience, this is a demonstration that can be used to start a conversation. With a younger audience, this activity is a game.

    This demonstration was created by 2016 USIP interns Cody Bomberger and Bobby Nash.

    Major concepts

    • A tsunami is a large wave of water that can cause destruction to coastal communities.
    • Tsunamis are generated by earthquakes that happen underwater.
    • Scientists can detect tsuanmi waves before they reach land using GPS installed on buoys in the ocean.
    • GPS instruments can be used to warn people of an incoming tsunami.
    • Earthquake early warning systems use the same principles as tsunami early warning systems.


    • Long plastic storage container (tub)
    • Two boards that can fit widthwise inside the container (particle board works, but something waterproof is preferred)
    • Beach citizens (animal figurines!)
    • Fishing bobber or foam blocks
    • String
    • Washers
    • Rocks or something else for weight

    Instructions for assembly

    • Use the fishing bobbers as the buoys or make buoys out of foam. Attach a washer (to serve as an anchor) to each buoy with a string.
    • Fill tub with 3-5 inches of water.
    • Place one board angled into the water as a beach at one end of the tub. Prop up and weigh down with rocks as needed.
    • Place animals on the "beach" and have the buoys and other board close at hand.

    Questions to ask

    • Do you want to help save the animals from a tsunami?
    • Do you know what creates a tsunami?
    • Have to ever experienced an earthquake?
    • How do you think we could detect a tsunami before in runs onto the shore?

    Running the activity

    • Create a "tsunami" by using the second board as a paddle at the opposite end of the tub from the beach.
    • Explain the role of the “zoo keeper.” The participant(s) must save the animals from a tsunami!
    • Have the participant watch the animals closely, and then send the first wave down the tub. Most likely, they will fail to pick up the animals in time. If they succeed, you can ask, how did you know the wave was coming? You saw it! That’s what we’re trying to do with the buoys!
    • Assign another participant or a parent to be the buoy operator. The buoy operator can place the buoys, and yells "wave!" as soon as a buoy detects the tsunami. It's helpful to get eye-level with the buoy.
    • Create additional waves as needed.
  • Tsunamis
    A collection of resources on tsunami from SERC.

    Helpful supplemental materials include:


    Demonstration created by 2016 USIP interns Cody Bomberger and Bobby Nash.

    Video produced by Daniel Zietlow.


Last modified: 2019-12-24  01:26:00  America/Denver