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    Ocean waves are a powerful force in the lives of New Zealanders. We like to surf them and swim in them – yet we are also vulnerable to the power of ocean waves. In particular, coastal New Zealand is at high risk of severe flooding by a tsunami.

    Several tsunamis – particularly those in South-east Asia (2004), Samoa (2009) and Japan (2011) – have focused attention on the destructive power of these waves. New Zealand researchers are actively working to understand how a large tsunami would affect our coast. Find out more about the work of:

    • Dr Rob Bell – NIWA researcher, specialising in ocean waves, including storm surges and tsunamis, with a particular interest in sea-level changes
    • Dr Richard Gorman – NIWA researcher, focused on waves, numerical modelling and wave forecasting 
    • Dr Te Taka Keegan – university lecturer with resarch interests in traditional navigation, Māori language technologies, indigenous language interfaces and multilingual usability.
    • Dr Willem de Lange – Earth sciences university lecturer involved in numerical modelling, coastal processes and climatic hazards and tsunami research.

    For all their destructiveness, tsunamis share many features with surf waves and other water waves. In fact, waves of all kinds (such as water waves, sound waves and electromagnetic radiation) share several fundamental characteristics that can help us understand why they behave the way they do.

    Find out about the similarities and differences between tsunamis and surf waves, and learn how ocean waves are studied in New Zealand, how early Māori used ocean waves as a guide to navigate across the Pacific and why you should never try to surf a tsunami.

    Take up the challenge

    Student activities include:

    Useful link​​​​​​s

    News article about how ancient tsunami have been mapped in a new interactive project. The New Zealand Palaeotsunami Database was compiled from old records by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

    The Ocean Today website is has a series of videos on tsunamis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


      Published 2 May 2011, Updated 3 August 2018 Referencing Hub articles