Science Experiment – Tsunami

By AG Education 12 December 2017
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Simulate a tsunami’s impact on a coastline in your own wave tank

About this experiment

Tsunamis are one of nature’s most powerful forces, and can cause devastating destruction to coastlines. Though scientists have developed better prediction and warning systems for the coming of the giant waves, humans still cannot stop the underwater landslides, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions that cause them to occur. However, coastlines can be better prepared to take impact based on the set of structural barriers facing the waves. See for yourself how differing coastal landscapes are affected by a surge of water.


  • Plastic storage container (about 75cm long x 40cm wide x 15cm deep)
  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard houses – can be made from the bottoms of small milk cartons
  • Model trees – can be made from small bits of leafy branches
  • Water
  • Rocks
  • Mud
  • Sand
  • Sturdy piece of cardboard (about the same width as the container)


  1. Scrunch pieces of newspaper into balls and use them to line the bottom of one half of the container.
  2. Firmly press mud on top of the newspaper, piling it higher at the end of the container in order to create a downward slope.
  3. Place houses atop the slope and trees towards the base of the slope (near the “coastline,” so that they’re like mangroves.)
  4. Fill your “ocean” by pouring water into the empty end of the container until its level matches that of the coastline.
  5. Use the piece of cardboard to forcefully thrust water from the back of the container toward the coastline, creating “waves.”
  6. Examine the impact of the water surge on the landscape. How much has the coastline deteriorated? Did the water completely overtake the houses? Did the trees reduce some of the water’s impact?
  7. Now, readjust your landscape by removing the houses and trees and adding mud to the slope and coastline or water to the ocean if necessary. Reposition the houses atop the slope and add a new combination of coastal features, like more trees, rocks, sand, etc.
  8. Repeat steps 5 and 6 using as many different landscape combinations as you like. How do additional environmental barriers impact a wave’s effect on coastal homes?

When natural barriers are able to receive some of the impact of the tsunami, the force of the wave is reduced, resulting in slightly lesser impact on higher-situated, manmade structures. Planting mangroves can be a proactive strategy in tsunami-prone areas to better protect coastlines in the event of a giant wave.

Do you want to keep learning? Find more experiments here!