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December 26, 2003 & 2004: Earthquake of Bam & Indonesian Tsunami

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December 26, 2004 at 7:58:53 local time a strong earthquake hit the island of Sumatra (Indonesia). The magnitude 9.1-9.3 earthquake lasted unusual long with 8-10 minutes and displaced an estimated 1.600 kilometer long segment of the seafloor by 15 meter. The water column above this segment was first pushed up and generated then a series of four waves travelling in opposite directions.

Video 1. The tsunami in the Indian Ocean is probably one of the most well documented natural disasters in modern history. “Tsunami: Caught on Camera” is a TV-documentary produced in 2009 using original footage (viewers discretion is advised).

Fifteen minutes after the earthquake the first tsunami hit the coast of Sumatra. Videos from Thailand show how the sea level first falls and large parts of the shores and even reefs emerge. Then suddenly a large single wave approaches, followed later by an even faster and bigger wave.

The tsunami travelled for 8 hours across the entire Indian Ocean, bringing destruction and death to the coasts of Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar and flooding almost completely the smaller islands in the Indian Ocean.
The tsunami of christmas 2004 killed more than 230.000 people and even more were injured.

One year earlier, in the morning of December 26, 2003, the city of Bam in the Iranian province of Kerman was hit by twelve seconds lasting magnitude 6.5 earthquake. The earthquake destroyed the mighty citadel of Arg-e-Bam, build during the reign of the Safawida-dynasty in the years 1501-1736. The citadel was build with bricks of clay and straw, like many other buildings in the city. This type of construction is very unstable even during a moderate earthquake. In just some seconds 80% of the buildings in Bam collapsed, more than 26.000 people died and 120.000 people lost their homes.


BARBER, A.J.; CROW, M.J. & MILSOM, J.S. ed. (2005): Sumatra – Geology, Resources and Tectonic Evolution. Geological Society Memoir No. 31: 304
BRYANT, E. (2008): Tsunami – The Underrated Hazard. 2.nd edition Springer: 338
KOZAK, J. & CERMAK, V. (2010): The Illustrated History of Natural Disasters. Springer-Verlag: 203
MANAFPOUR, A.R. (2004): The Bam, Iran earthquake of 26 December 2003 – Field Investigation Report. Halcrow-EEFIT Report: 59

David Bressan About the Author: Freelance geologist dealing with quaternary outcrops interested in the history and the development of geological concepts through time. Follow on Twitter @David_Bressan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. rab2411 3:23 pm 12/27/2011

    It is unfortunate that the author had neither a spelling nor a grammar checker, since the poor quality of each detract from an otherwise interesting posting!!

    Link to this

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