A tsunami (plural: tsunamis or tsunami; from Japanese: , lit. "harbor wave" is a series of water waves caused by the displacement of a large volume of a body of water, typically an ocean or a large lake. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other underwater explosions (including detonations of underwater nuclear devices), landslides, glacier calvings, meteorite impacts and other disturbances above or below water all have the potential to generate a tsunami.
Tsunami waves do not resemble normal sea waves, because their wavelength is far longer. Rather than appearing as a breaking wave, a tsunami may instead initially resemble a rapidly rising tide, and for this reason they are often referred to as tidal waves. Tsunamis generally consist of a series of waves with periods ranging from minutes to hours, arriving in a so-called "wave train". Wave heights of tens of metres can be generated by large events. Although the impact of tsunamis is limited to coastal areas, their destructive power can be enormous and they can affect entire ocean basins; the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was among the deadliest natural disasters in human history with over 230,000 people killed in 14 countries bordering the Indian Ocean.
The Greek historian Thucydides suggested in 426 B.C. that tsunamis were related to submarine earthquakes, but the understanding of a tsunami's nature remained slim until the 20th century and much remains unknown. Major areas of current research include trying to determine why some large earthquakes do not generate tsunamis while other smaller ones do; trying to accurately forecast the passage of tsunamis across the oceans; and also to forecast how tsunami waves would interact with specific shorelines.
The term tsunami comes from the Japanese 津波, composed of the two kanji (tsu) meaning "harbor" and (nami), meaning "wave". (For the plural, one can either follow ordinary English practice and add an s, or use an invariable plural as in the Japanese.)
Tsunami are sometimes referred to as tidal waves. In recent years, this term has fallen out of favor, especially in the scientific community, because tsunami actually have nothing to do with tides. The once-popular term derives from their most common appearance, which is that of an extraordinarily high tidal bore. Tsunami and tides both produce waves of water that move inland, but in the case of tsunami the inland movement of water is much greater and lasts for a longer period, giving the impression of an incredibly high tide. Although the meanings of "tidal" include "resembling" or "having the form or character of" the tides, and the term tsunami is no more accurate because tsunami are not limited to harbours, use of the term tidal wave is discouraged by geologists and oceanographers.
There are only a few other languages that have an equivalent native word. In the Tamil language, the word is aazhi peralai. In the Acehnese language, it is ië beuna or alôn buluëk (Depending on the dialect. Note that in the fellow Austronesian language of Tagalog, a major language in the Philippines, alon means "wave".) On Simeulue island, off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia, in the Defayan language the word is smong, while in the Sigulai language it is emong.