Seismic parameters controlling far-field tsunami amplitudes: A review

Emile A. Okal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

184 Scopus citations


We present a review of the influence of various parameters of the sources of major oceanic earthquakes on the amplitude of tsunamis at transoceanic distances. We base our computations on the normal mode formalism, applied to realistic Earth models, but interpret our principal results in the simpler framework of Haskell theory in the case of a water layer over a Poisson half-space. Our results show that source depth and focal geometry play only a limited role in controlling the amplitude of the tsunami; their combined influence reaches at most 1 order of magnitude down to a depth of 150 km into the hard rock. More important are the effects of directivity due to rupture propagation along the fault, which for large earthquakes can result in a ten-fold decrease in tsunami amplitude by destructive interference, and the possibility of enhanced tsunami excitation in material with weaker elastic properties, such as sedimentary layers. Modelling of the so-called 'tsunami earthquakes' suggests that an event for which 10% of the moment release takes place in sediments generates a tsunami 10 times larger than its seismic moment would suggest. We also investigate the properties of non-double couple sources and find that their relative excitation of tsunamis and Rayleigh waves is in general comparable to that of regular seismic sources. In particular, landslides involving weak sediments could result in very large tsunamis. Finally, we emphasize that the final amplitude at a receiving shore can be strongly affected by focusing and defocusing effects, due to variations in bathymetry along the path of the tsunami.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-96
Number of pages30
JournalNatural Hazards
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 1988


  • Tsunami excitation
  • seismic sources
  • tsunami earthquakes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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