Tsunamis on the Pacific Coast of Canada Recorded in 1994–2007

  • Frederick E. Stephenson
  • Alexander B. Rabinovich
Part of the Pageoph Topical Volumes book series (PTV)


In the last 15 years there have been 16 tsunami events recorded at tide stations on the Pacific Coast of Canada. Eleven of these events were from distant sources covering almost all regions of the Pacific, as well as the December 26, 2004 Sumatra tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Three tsunamis were generated by local or regional earthquakes and two were meteorological tsunamis. The earliest four events, which occurred in the period 1994–1996, were recorded on analogue recorders; these tsunami records were recently re-examined, digitized and thoroughly analysed. The other 12 tsunami events were recorded using digital high-quality instruments, with 1-min sampling interval, installed on the coast of British Columbia (B.C.) in 1998. All 16 tsunami events were recorded at Tofino on the outer B.C. coast, and some of the tsunamis were recorded at eight or more stations. The tide station at Tofino has been in operation for 100 years and these recent observations add to the dataset of tsunami events compiled previously by S.O. Wigen (1983) for the period 1906–1980. For each of the tsunami records statistical analysis was carried out to determine essential tsunami characteristics for all events (arrival times, maximum amplitudes, frequencies and wave-train structure). The analysis of the records indicated that significant background noise at Langara, a key northern B.C. Tsunami Warning station located near the northern end of the Queen Charlotte Islands, creates serious problems in detecting tsunami waves. That station has now been moved to a new location with better tsunami response. The number of tsunami events observed in the past 15 years also justified re-establishing a tide gauge at Port Alberni, where large tsunami wave amplitudes were measured in March 1964. The two meteorological events are the first ever recorded on the B.C. coast. Also, there have been landslide generated tsunami events which, although not recorded on any coastal tide gauges, demonstrate, along with the recent investigation of a historical catastrophic event, the significant risk that landslide generated tsunami pose to coastal and inland regions of B.C.

Key words

Tsunami records British Columbia tide gauge meteorological tsunami landslide generated tsunami tsunami catalogue 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abe, K. (1979), Size of great earthquakes of 1837–1974 inferred from tsunami data, J. Geophys. Res., 84, 1561–1568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Battjes, J.A. (1988), Surf-zone dynamycs, Annual Rev. Fluid Mech. 20, 257–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bornhold, B.D., Harper, J.R., McLaren, D., and Thomson, R.E. (2007), Destruction of the First Nations village of Kwalate by a rock avalanche-generated tsunami, Atmosphere-Ocean 45(2), 123–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Clague, J.J. and Bobrowsky, P.T. (1999), The geological signature of great earthquakes off Canada’s west coast, Geoscience 26(1), 1–15.Google Scholar
  5. Clague, J.J. (2001), Tsunamis. In A Synthesis of Geological Hazards in Canada (ed. Brooks, G.R.) Geol. Surv. Canada, Bulletin 548, 27–42.Google Scholar
  6. Clague, J.J., Munro, A., and Murty, T. (2003), Tsunami hazard and risk in Canada, Natural Hazarads 28(2–3), 433–461.Google Scholar
  7. Emery, W.J. and Thomson, R.E. Data Analysis Methods in Physical Oceanography. 2nd and Revised Edition (Elsevier, Amsterdam, 2003) 638 pp.Google Scholar
  8. Evans, S.G. (2001), Landslides. In A Synthesis of Geological Hazards in Canada (ed.) Brooks, G.R.) Geol. Surv. Canada, Bulletin 548, 43–79.Google Scholar
  9. Fine, I.V., Cherniawsky, J.Y., Rabinovich, A.B. and Stephenson, F.E. (2008), Numerical modeling and observations of tsunami waves in Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound, British Columbia. Pure Appl. Geophys. 165(11–12), 2019–2044.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. González, F.I., Mader, C.L., Eble, M.C. and Bernard, E.N. (1991), The 1987–88 Alaska Bight tsunamis: Deep ocean data and model comparisons, Natural Harards 4, 119–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. González, F.I. and Kulikov, E.A. (1993), Tsunami dispersion observed in the deep ocean, In Tsunamis in the World (ed.) Tinti, S. (Kluwer Acad. Publ., Dordrecht 1993), pp. 7–16.Google Scholar
  12. Hebenstreit, G.T. and Murty, T.S. (1989), Tsunami amplitudes from local earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. Part 1: The outer coast, Marine Geodesy 12, 189–209.Google Scholar
  13. Kanamori, H. (1972), Mechanism of tsunami earthquakes, Phys. Earth Planet. Int. 6, 346–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Lander, J. (1996), Tsunamis affecting Alaska: 1737–1996, USDC/NOAA, Boulder, CO, 195 pp.Google Scholar
  15. Lander, J. (2003), Two decades of global tsunamis: 1982–2002, Science of Tsunami Hazards 21(1), 3–38.Google Scholar
  16. Miller, G.R., Munk, W.H., and Snodgrass, F.E. (1962), Long-period waves over California’s borderland. Part II, Tsunamis, J. Mar. Res. 20(1), 31–41.Google Scholar
  17. Monserrat, S., Vilibić, I., and Rabinovich, A.B. (2006), Meteotsunamis: Atmospherically induced destructive ocean waves in the tsunami frequency band, Natural Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. 6, 1035–1051.Google Scholar
  18. Murty, T.S. (1979), Submarine slide-generated water waves in Kitimat, British Columbia, J. Geophys. Res. 84(C12), 7777–7779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Murty, T.S. (1992), Tsunami threat to the British Columbia coast, Geotechnique and Natural Hazards, BiTech. Publ., Vancouver, BC, 81–89.Google Scholar
  20. Okal, E.A., Dengler, L., Arraya, S., et al. (2002), Field survey of the Camaná, Peru tsunami of June 23, 2001, Seism. Res. Lett. 73(6), 907–920.Google Scholar
  21. Ortiz, M., González, J.I., Ramírez-Mondragón, N.A., and Farreras, S.F. (2003), Quick field survey of the 22 January 2003 (M 7.8) Colima-Mexico earthquake-tsunami, Tsunami Newsletter 35(1), 3–5.Google Scholar
  22. Rabinovich, A.B. (2008), Seiches and harbour oscillations. In Handbook of Coastal and Ocean Engineering (ed. Kim, Y.C.) (World Scientific, Singapore) (in press).Google Scholar
  23. Rabinovich, A.B. and Stephenson, F.E. (2004), Longwave measurements for the coast of British Columbia and improvements to the tsumami warning capability, Natural Hazards 32(3), 313–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Rabinovich, A.B., Thomson, R.E., Bornhold, B.D, Fine, I.V., and Kulikov, E.A. (2003), Numerical modeling of tsunamis generated by hypothetical landslides in the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia, Pure Appl. Geophys. 160, 1273–1313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rabinovich, A.B., Thomson, R.E., and Stephenson, F.E. (2006a), The Sumatra Tsunami of 26 December 2004 as observed in the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans, Surveys in Geophysics 27, 647–677.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rabinovich, A.B., Stephenson, F.E., and Thomson, R.E. (2006b), The California Tsunami of 15 June 2005 along the coast of North America, Atmosphere-Ocean 44(4), 415–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rabinovich, A.B., Lobkovsky, L.I., Fine, I.V., Thomson, R.E., Ivelskaya, T.N., and Kulikov, E.A. (2008a), Near-source observations and modeling of the Kuril Islands tsunamis of 15 November 2006 and 13 January 2007, Advances in Geosciences 14, 105–116. Scholar
  28. Rabinovich, A.B., Thomson, R.E., Titov, V.V., Stephenson, F.E., and Rogers, G.C. (2008b), Locally generated tsunamis recorded on the coast of British Columbia, Atmosphere-Ocean 46(3), 343–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Rapatz, W.J., and Murty, T.S. (1987), Tsunami warning system for the Pacific Coast of Canada, Marine Geodesy 11, 213–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Tanioka, Y., Hirata, K., Hino, R., and Kanazawa, T. (2004), Slip distribution of the 2003 Tokachi-oki earthquake estimated from tsunami waveform inversion, Earth Planets Space 56, 373–376.Google Scholar
  31. Thomson, R.E. (1981), Oceanography of the British Columbia Coast, Can. Spec. Publ. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 56, Ottawa, 291 pp.Google Scholar
  32. Titov, V.V., González, F.I., Bernard, E.N., Eble, M.C., Mofjeld, H.O., Newman, J.C., and Venturato, A.J. (2005a), Real-time tsunami forecasting: Challenges and solutions, Natural Hazards 35, 41–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tirov, V.V., Rabinovich, A.B., Mofjeld, H., Thomson, R.E., and González, F.I. (2005b), The global reach of the 26 December 2004 Sumatra tsunami, Science 309, 2045–2048.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wigen, S.O. (1983), Historical studies of tsunamis at Tofino, Canada In Tsunamis—Their Science and Engineering (eds. Iida K. and Kawasaki, T.) (Terra Sci. Publ. Comp., Tokyo, Japan, 1983), pp. 105–119.Google Scholar
  35. Wigen, S.O. and White, W.R.H. (1964), Tsunami of March 27–29, 1964, West coast of Canada, Report, Department of Mines and Technological Surveys.Google Scholar
  36. Yeh, H., Titov, V., Gusiakov, V., Pelinovsky, E., Khramushin, V., and Kaistrenko, V. (1995), The 1994 Shikotan earthquake tsunamis, Pure Appl. Geophys. 144, 855–874.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frederick E. Stephenson
    • 1
  • Alexander B. Rabinovich
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Hydrographic ServiceInstitute of Ocean SciencesSidneyCanada
  2. 2.P.P. Shirshov Institute of OceanologyRussian Academy of SciencesMoscowRussia

Personalised recommendations